drama critic

Michael Billington (critic)

Michael Keith Billington (born November 16, 1939) is a British author and arts critic. He lives in London, has been drama critic of The Guardian since October 1971, and is "Britain's longest-serving theatre critic."

Author of several biographical and critical studies of subjects relating to British theatre and the arts, including books about Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Sir Tom Stoppard, and Sir Alan Ayckbourn, he is the official biographer of 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature Harold Pinter. In 2007 Faber and Faber published both Harold Pinter, the revised and updated edition of Billington's 1996 critical biography The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, and his award-winning State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945.

Billington blogs for both guardian.co.uk and Whatsonstage.com.

Personal life and education

Billington was born on November 16, 1939, in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, and attended Warwick School, an independent boys' school in Warwick. He earned a BA from St Catherine's College, Oxford (1958–1961), which later conferred upon him the honorary degrees of MA (1967) and Honorary Fellow. As a member of Oxford University Dramatic Society, in 1959, he played "The Priest" in The Birds, by Aristophanes, his only appearance as an actor, and, in 1960, he directed a production of Eugène Ionesco's The Bald Prima Donna, a performance of which was attended by Harold Hobson, the drama critic for The Sunday Times. Though it won "an Oxford drama competition" and was an entry in that year's National Student Drama Festival ("NSDF 1960"), which Hobson had co-founded in 1956, Billington's directorial debut was not well received at the Festival, yet Billington credits Hobson with having "changed my life." After the Festival, he decided to forego pursuing a career as a theatre practitioner to "follow" Hobson's "footsteps" and become a critic of theatre too; five years later, they would become colleagues at The Times.

Billington married Jeanine Bradlaugh in 1978; they have one daughter.


After graduation from Oxford, in 1961, Billington began working as an arts critic in Liverpool, for the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo. From 1962 to 1964, he served as public liaison officer and director for the Lincoln Theatre Company, in Lincolnshire. From 1965 to 1971, he reviewed television, movies, and plays as an arts critic for The Times; from 1968 to 1978, he was also film reviewer for the Birmingham Post, and from 1968 to 1981, for The Illustrated London News. In October 1971, he left The Times to become theatre critic for The Guardian. Beginning in the 1980s, he was a London arts correspondent for The New York Times, and, since 1988, he has also served as drama critic for Country Life.

Billington has been a presenter on Critics Forum and Kaleidoscope (now Front Row), both broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and contributed regularly to other British arts and drama radio and television programmes.

Billington has taught in the University of Pennsylvania's Penn English Program in London since 2006, and he teaches courses in theatre at King's College London, where he has been a visiting professor since 2002.

After attending the December 2005 Nobel Banquet, in Stockholm, on the occasion of Harold Pinter's being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Billington attended the international symposium "Pinter: Passion, Poetry, Politics", which he had organised, in part celebrating Pinter's being awarded the Europe Theatre Prize, in Turin, Italy, in March 2006.

In March 2007 Faber and Faber published Billington's book State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945, which won the 2007 annual Theatre Book Prize from The Society for Theatre Research, presented to Billington by Sir Donald Sinden on April 1, 2008. Billington has spoken about the book at various venues, including the Warwick Arts Centre, at the University of Warwick, and has reviewed his reviews.

In April 2007, Billington presented an invited paper on "Is British Theatre As Good As It Claims?" to the Elizabethan Club, at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, prior to moderating a panel discussion at the conference "Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter", at the University of Leeds, where he attended and later reviewed the production Being Harold Pinter, by the Belarus Free Theatre.




Books by Billington

External links

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