November 08, 2019
Katharine Viner congratulates ‘wonderful’ arts writer who is already a vital contributor to the paper
Arifa Akbar appointed as the Guardian’s chief theatre critic
Arifa Akbar has been appointed as the Guardian’s chief theatre critic. Akbar, who will take up the role in the new year, said she was “honoured, utterly thrilled and immensely excited” by the appointment. “I have always loved the Guardian and it has only grown more dynamic, diverse and campaigning under Katharine Viner, not just in its political coverage but across the arts too.”Viner, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, said: “Arifa is a wonderful writer on the arts, and as a theatre lover I’m delighted she has agreed to become the Guardian’s new chief theatre critic. Her reviews are thoughtful, evocative and insightful; they’re sometimes witty and often moving. I can’t think of a better writer to guide Guardian readers through all that is new and exciting on the stage.”Alex Needham, the Guardian’s arts editor, said: “I’m delighted that Arifa is our new chief theatre critic. Whether reviewing Claire Foy at the Old Vic or a performance in a sauna where the audience are all naked, Arifa brings wit, warmth and wisdom to everything she writes about.”Already a vital contributor to the Guardian’s arts coverage, Akbar has established herself as a critic with a bright, elegant writing style and adventurous tastes. She has been reviewing for the Guardian for several years and has interviewed major theatre talents such as Rupert Everett, Mark Gatiss, Sabrina Mahfouz and Polly Stenham.Akbar is currently arts editor at Tortoise Media and worked for 15 years at the Independent, where she was a news reporter first, then arts correspondent and literary editor. In 2005 she reported on the aftermath of the 7 July London bombings – coverage that was shortlisted for the “team of the year” award at the British Press Awards. She reported from the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and from Saudi Arabia, on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, in 2006. Akbar co-curated a Muslim festival of arts and culture for the British Library, London, held in 2018. As head of content for the publisher Unbound, she launched and edited the long-form literary website Boundless. An experienced broadcaster, she has contributed to BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and Saturday Review. She has also written for the Observer and the Financial Times, and judged prizes including the UK Theatre awards, the Costa book awards and the Women’s prize for fiction. Akbar is on the board of trustees of the Orwell Foundation.Born in London, Akbar developed her passion for drama on school trips to the National Theatre. “I would never have been able to afford to see these shows, or even feel entitled to inhabit such spaces, had it not been for the fact that my north London school took us on these theatre expeditions,” she said. “But, long before this, I remember watching puppet theatre in Lahore, Pakistan, where we lived as a family when I was four and five years old. It was a vivid and formative experience.”Akbar succeeds Michael Billington who is stepping down as chief critic at the end of December but will continue to contribute features and opinion pieces to the Guardian. “Michael is a truly hard act to follow but I intend to do the job justice,” she said. Today’s theatre is, she believes, “alive with imagination, passion and fury, talking directly to, and about, the world we live in. I hope to reflect that in my coverage and critiques.”
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