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ENO ditches plus-ones for critics as it launches drive to find new voices among reviewers

The London Coliseum, home of English National Opera. Photo: Mike Peel

English National Opera is to scrap plus-ones to established reviewers, as it launches a new scheme aimed at developing new critical voices.

ENO Response will give 10 members of the general public the chance to review the 2019/20 season. Each review will be published on its website and promoted through its social media channels.

However, as part of the new initiative, plus-ones for established critics will be stopped.

Critics have hit out at the plans, with the Spectator’s Alexandra Coghlan saying it would damage the “long-term viability of the profession”.

She told the Observer [1]: “Reviewing a show for most of us takes place after a day’s work – often a poorly paid one, in this profession. Many of us regularly work 13 or 14-hour days, leaving for work in the morning and returning after the opera.”

She added: “This process is repeated multiple times a week. To take away second tickets not only isolates us from the typically – and crucially – social process of culture-going, but also from our partners and friends. Lose this anchor and you lose the long-term viability of the profession and with it the expertise and experience built up over many years’ work by critics.”

Observer critic Fiona Maddocks said: “There are so many reasons a second ticket is important. Critics, none of us rich, can introduce newcomers to opera. It’s our passion. We’re the best advocates. Going with someone also normalises what can otherwise be a somewhat specialised activity. This decision may backfire. Expect a revolt.”

However, ENO chief executive Stuart Murphy said the company had been giving away 80 free tickets for opening nights – 40 for journalists and 40 for their plus-ones.

Murphy said there were no plans to take away guest tickets from invited editors.

“Financially it is not sensible for us. And a lot of people criticise the critics, so it will be quite good to let others have a go and, I suspect, find out that it is not as easy as it looks,” he told the Observer.

He said established critics would be “more than welcome to bring as many paying additional guests as they wish”.

ENO is collaborating with Lucy Basaba, founder and editor of theatre website Theatre Full Stop, on Response.

She will provide writing advice and feedback over the course of the season.

In 2016, the National Theatre announced its intention to scrap plus-ones for critics, but later reinstated them following a backlash.

National Theatre reinstates critics’ plus one tickets [2]