Chair: Kate Maltby
Hon. Secretary: Rosemary Waugh
Contact for matters about the Drama section: diary@katemaltby.com

The founder members of the Circle were mostly drama critics who believed, being on the whole freelancers, that in unity lay strength. In 1913 they decided, under the auspices of the Institute of Journalists, to set up this organisation. SR Littlewood (Daily Chronicle), JT Grein (who first brought Ibsen’s Ghosts to London in 1891) and John Parker (the 1913 editor of Who’s Who in the Theatre) arranged the first general meeting in the Hall of the Institute of Journalists. On that occasion Grein took to the stage and said, “Well, gentlemen, here we are! Let us do something. I propose that we begin by electing William Archer to the chair.” Archer, who translated the plays of Ibsen, was a leading critic of the day, and duly became Chair (with Littlewood as Honorary Secretary). He was succeeded in 1925 by Parker, who remained in office until his death in 1952. Their very first business concerned something which still matters today: the problems of getting review tickets from promoters.

Drama critics who have been President of the Critics’ Circle include St John Ervine (1929), Ivor Brown (1934), James Agate (1938), Sir Harold Hobson (1955), Philip Hope-Wallace (1958), JC Trewin (1964), Jack Tinker (1992-94), Jane Edwardes (2000-2002), Charles Spencer (2008-10), Mark Shenton (2010-2018) and Henry Hitchings (2018-2020).

The section’s Theatre Awards were set up in 1989, after much debate about whether critics should make awards. That debate is over and now all sections do so; the Circle as a whole presents an annual award for Services to the Arts in Britain.

The Theatre Awards include four awards named after particular critics. Since 1996 the Theatre Awards have included the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Tinker was a much-loved critic for the Daily Mail. In 2001 a new award was instituted in memory of the husband and wife critical partnership of John and Wendy Trewin. This took the form of a medal for the Best Shakespearean Performance of the year. In 2016, after the death of their son Ion Trewin, it was renamed the Trewin Medal.

In 2016, the award for best new or revived musical was also renamed. It became the Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical, in honour of the late Peter Hepple’s outstanding contribution to the Critics’ Circle, of which he was Hon. Gen. Secretary for many years. In 2020, the section’s award for Best New Play was renamed The Michael Billington Award for Best New Play, in honour of Michael Billington’s retirement as Chief Critic of the Guardian, after nearly 50 years with that paper.

The section is also affiliated to the International Association of Theatre Critics, a body with similar aims on an international scale. The IATC holds a congress every two years. Details of IATC aims and activities can be found at www.aict-iatc.org

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