As suspected, the Evening Standard’s new editor Geordie Greig has not gone for one of the “usual suspects” to replace the London newspaper’s former drama critic, the famously acerbic Nicholas de Jongh, who left last month after 18 years in the job (See News, 30 Mar 2009). Rather than promoting one of the Standard’s existing deputies (Fiona Mountford and Nick Curtis) or poaching a critic from another paper, Greig has appointed author Henry Hitchings, who is described as “one of London’s most exciting new writers”.

An Oxford graduate (and Oxbridge is something he does have in common with other leading critics), the 34-year-old Hitchings was shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award following the publication of his text, The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English, which last year won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (the first non-fiction title in six years to do so).

Hitchings’ other titles are Dr Johnson's Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World (2005) and last year’s How to Really Talk About Books You Haven't Read. He’s also contributed articles to publications including the Financial Times, Guardian, New Statesman and the Times Literary Supplement.

Credentials aside, the appointment of Hitchings is clearly meant to signal a significant change in the tone of the Evening Standard’s theatre coverage, as part of the newspaper’s wider overhaul. According to the introduction to the new critic published last Thursday in the newspaper, under the banner “The new Standard: Reconnecting with London”, Hitchings’ reviews will be “witty and heartfelt” (as opposed to vicious or vitriolic, as in the paper’s past?). You can start judging for yourself from today (11 May 2009), from when Hitchings’ verdicts will start to appear in the redesigned and relaunched Evening Standard.