Category Archives: News
So the Olivier Awards have been and gone for another year, and as a result what have we have learnt the state of theatre – London theatre, sorry to anyone reading further afield but it is a very parochial affair – in 2013. Well their own website leads with ‘A curious night at the Olivier’s’, which rather sums it up for me. It was a list of winners that doesn’t reflect the experiences of this website’s year in theatre.
To look at those celebrating last night would be to imagine a rather staid and conservative theatre scene. However there has been a vitality and verve to theatre – witness the excitement over Punchdrunk announcements, tickets to see Branagh’s Macbeth selling out in less than 10 minutes in Manchester or new plays by young playwrights that embraced quantum theory (Payne), neuroscience (Prebble) or a play that covers everything and nothing in eighty minutes (Butterworth) – that is broadly absent from the list of winners.
Perhaps this could have been guessed at by looking at a nominations list where Lucy Prebble’s The Effect was almost shut out and where the Best New Play category included just one play not reflecting on historical events or retooling an existing story for the stage.
One may argue that last year’s big winner – Matilda – is hardly a broadside against conservatism. However Matilda was the first time anything had walked home with seven awards and it was deservedly seen as a stunning achievement and that a brilliant production had been rewarded for managing the rare feat of capturing hearts, minds and wallets of critics and the public alike.
It does rather undermine the perceived value of the achievement if the next year we see another play walk-off with exactly the same number. Whilst critics have warmly received ‘A Curious Incident…’ and the public continue to throng through the doors, it does not seem to have reached the groundswell of public love and critical affirmation that marked the success of Matilda – which swept everything before it and which was the must-see performance from its very first outing in Stratford.
It is clear A Curious Incident… is good but is it seven awards good? Is it so good that we feel happy that the ‘A Dolls House’ at the Young Vic, ‘Constellations’, ‘This House’ and Complicite’s ‘Master and Margarita’ walk away with nothing? And when we talk about magnificent interpretations of novels, how did the adaptation of Bulgakov’s impossible Master and Margarita not even get a mention? The problem with placing so much attention on just three productions – A Curious Incident, The Audience and Sweeney Todd – is that it doesn’t even remotely capture the spectrum of success of what has been, in all honesty, a relatively mediocre year for theatre in London.
The success of The Audience has more than a little of a smattering of one eye on the need to reward the private sector for at least trying a new play, and a more cynical person may suggest that the value of the international market may have had a role to play. Helen Mirren as Best Actress? She might have won it for her awards speech more than the actual part.
It was a pleasure to see Nicola Walker win for ‘A Curious Incident’, a stalwart of TV and of downtrodden wives and mothers everywhere, and without having seen the production it is hard to imagine a more perfect piece of casting for the mother of the 15-yr old lead. Equally commentary seems satisfied with the victory of Luke Treadaway in the role; a part that is catnip for award judges, as it is basically the modern day answer to the ‘idiot savant’ – something that is a little bit out-of-kilter with modern understandings of mental health. As usual it was a strong year and personally a win for Rupert Everett would not have been amiss but Treadaway seems deserving of the accolades.
With an equally impressive set and technical team it suddenly becomes easier to count up those seven awards. However the Complicite team can feel short-changed not to have picked up a single technical award for their visually stunning take on Bulgakov’s masterpiece. As usual it is mind-boggling that Cheek By Jowl were not nominated for anything – despite the Barbican being a home from home.
Everyone on the Best New Play shortlist can feel hard done by for losing out to something that restaged an existing story – surely there are so many adaptations that this can be a separate category. And ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ Best Revival – a truly interminable evening that deserved nothing and for which the praise of critics from every quarter is something that is genuinely unfathomable, even the cast – Suchet, Metcalfe, Soller, all usually so excellent – were dire.
If this year’s Olivier Awards has proved anything to me, it is that this was not a stand-out year for British Theatre; that this reviewer has, Sweeney Todd excepted, has missed most major plays of the year; and that the Donmar needs to re-establish its identity with great haste. A lot of attention has come Josie Rourke’s way and so far the response has been muted at best – where is this year’s Inadmissible Evidence or Anna Christie?
Very good news emanating from our cousins across the pond, as Matilda opens to rave reviews from pretty much every critic on Broadway. Whilst it doesn’t make the show any less brilliant if it fails to convert to our American friends, a Broadway smash is still seen as the gold standard for any musical – and there are many West End hits that failed to become the next ‘Phantom’ (over £5.5 billion sales worldwide and counting).
As the Guardian points out, there is money to be made in this market – the RSC anticipating £11 million advance by the end of the first day. £2.5 million was made in previews alone. It recouped its £7 million costs in London in ten weeks and plays at 98% capacity ever since its October 2011 opening. However without the Broadway gold star then it makes the global tour of ‘Les Mis’ that much more likely, it means opening up to tours of Australia and Asia, across Europe and indeed anywhere else where it could be marketed.
There may be some in the art world that still sneers at playing to the gallery, at the rather déclassé notion of thinking about returns on investment, but this ignores the 15% real terms cut to the RSC’s Arts Council funding. It ignores just how much productions like Les Mis and Warhouse lined the coffers of publically subsidised theatre companies in the times of plenty so that now, when times are difficult and will continue to be so for some time, we see the National managing to erect a completely new temporary space in ‘The Shed’ rather than cutting costs and going dark whilst the Cottesloe is renovated. It allows the RSC’s annual tour to Newcastle to be reinstated.
In the week of Thatcher’s death it seems appropriate that the biggest product in British Theatre is a musical subsidised by the public sector. It was entirely in keeping with her vision that success in theatre equated directly to success at the box office, and to this Matilda appears to of hit the brief. However could Matilda have been made purely with private investment; could the private sector have brought the true subversive nature of Dahl to the stage? Could they have taken the risk on such a child-centric production? Would they have wanted to spend money on a production that decries the traditional family, that cocks a sneer at perceived lower-brow passions and that hires a lyricist as dynamically witty as Tim Minchin?
Last week the nominations for the Olivier Awards were revealed and if its place at the end of the long awards season means it is an unlikely place to find many surprises, the shortlist does provide potential of scope for eyebrow raising omissions. Most people in theatre – who don’t work for the RSC – will be mightily relived that the Matilda juggernaut is no longer crush all of the competition. Looking across the nominations, it seems impossible that anything will come close to the level of dominance that Matilda achieved. The leading contender, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, has eight nominations and could conceivably end up with five awards given the excellent technical work underpinning the show.
As usual the subsidised sector leads the nominations but the private sector is not totally unrepresented. However the lasting impression of the shortlist is the absence of controversy and also the absence of anything that really stands out. For the first time in a number of year there doesn’t seem to be a new play that blew everyone away or a revival that places an actor at the very top of their game.
Thinking back through the last few Best Actor winners, the Mark Rylance of Twelve Night does not appear comparable to the Mark Rylance of Jerusalem. James McAvoy is good but not near the level of Chiwetel Ejiofor in the 2008 Othello. Rupert Everett appears to be getting rave reviews in The Judas Tree and good easily be the dark horse in the pack for a play that continues to build an unstoppable momentum.
This year’s round-up takes its cue from the Oscars and includes a number of special awards dedicated to certain fields. So without further ado we have:
This special award is made of cast-iron and essentially means that whether or not the judges have actually seen the play in question, they are duty bound to give the award to this actor. It’s cast-iron qualities means that its long-lasting and on receipt of one, you are more likely to come home with another in the future. Not to be mistaken for the Tomei Award, which is made of stone and causes your career to sink equally fast.
The Deakins is given to those who suffer from unrecognised brilliance. The ability to from award show to award show and be cast over due to the fact you are so darn good that people already think that you have won one. Unfortunately as a result you have never won an award. This award is for you.
So just because you star and direct something that goes on to win Best Film means you will at least get nominated right? I mean, you even went to the effort of growing a dashing, auteur beard for the occasion. Wrong, sucker. I mean they loved absolutely everything about the show, well, apart from the way it was directed and the main star was pretty irritating as well.
*Note: Apologies for the terribly boring formatting below. WordPress is still completely inept at handling tables. Or more possible is the fact that I am equally inept at handling tables in WordPress. Why you can’t just past from Word it keep the formatting is beyond me. God knows where the lines are. I can see the lines and then they disappear. *Sigh* Technology Fail.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
The Judas Kiss
|As noted this doesn’t feel as much as gold star category as it has done in previous years. It is hard to look beyond a Rylance / Everett shoot-out for the win. Rafe Spall is good with a very difficult text but not stretched, McAvoy is the weaker of the two Shakespeare and Treadaway may just be a little young to take it from such established titans.|
|The Day-Lewis Award: No lock-in here, but I fancy the almost unrecognisable Rupert Everett against the gender-bending but still strangely recognisable Mark Rylance.
The Deakins Award: Again nothing stands out, probably Rupert Everett.
The Ben Affleck WTF Award: It is telling that I cannot think of a single person more deserving than these five. Maybe Christopher Ecclestone in Antigone but even that was slightly underwhelming
A Doll’s House
Kristin Scott Thomas
|If the men have not lived up to expectations then Michael Billington was able to find an almost entire shortlist of women who might have expected to be represented.It is hard to see (particularly after last years Cumberbatch / Lee-Miller double) how they could split Lia Williams and Kristin Scott-Thomas. However Hattie Morahan is so much of a lock for the Day-Lewis they might as well rename it the Morahan for next year.|
|The Day-Lewis Award: Hattie Morahan. That is all.
The Deakins Award: Since Kristin Scott-Thomas and Helen Mirren are already in the upper firmament of stars, they can hardly claim the Deakins. So again it must go to Morahan.
The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Lia Williams for sure. But also how there is no space for Harriet Walter in the Donmar’s Julius Caesar is absolutely outrageous – for me the stand-out female performance of the year without question. Also, given Rafe’s nomination, Sally Hawkins may feel a little hard done-by not to get a look in.
|Best Actor in a Supporting Role|
|Paul ChahidiTwelfth Night
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
|For this I campaign on an anyone but ‘Kyle’ ticket. Having given total support for his emergence after The Young Vic’s The Glass Menagerie a volte-face is in operation after watching this car crash of a show. Strangely beloved by critics, no-one I went with could comprehend why such a stiflingly long and boring production could have had everyone in such raptures.|
|The Day-Lewis Award: Richard McCabe – because we love a Peter Morgan play and Helen Mirren won’t win.
The Deakins Award: Paul Chahidi – if only that someone wins who isn’t Kyle Soller.
The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Reversing it for this award – Kyle Soller, really? (Fine actor, just not in this).
|Best Actress in a Supporting Role|
The Last Of The Haussmans
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
|Having not seen any of these performances bar Cush Jumbo it is difficult to provide a fair judgement. All were well received and again are, if anything, stronger than their male counterparts.|
|The Day-Lewis Award: In a strongly contested field Helen McCrory may edge it due to the intergenerational vote-grabbing of The Last Of The Haussmans .
The Deakins Award: Pass.
The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Linda Bassett in People. I thought as far as Supporting Parts are concerned this was the kind of scene-stealing performance in a populist play that is guaranteed a nomination. Surprised to see People miss out across the board.
|MasterCard Best New Play|
|ConstellationsThe AudienceThe Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-TimeThis House||Well a win for Constellations would be a final feather in the cap for what has been an obscenely successful year for the 29-yr old playwright, Nick Payne.However this may prove a bridge to far and whilst I hope that an adaptation won’t win, I think the sheer complexity and vision of This House will see it through.|
|The Day-Lewis Award: This House. Not without flaws but you have to admire the vision.
The Deakins Award: Constellations. A play that shows a deeply complex topic can sell-out the West End.
The Ben Affleck WTF Award: The Effect. Lucy Prebble’s follow-up to ENRON was one of the most anticipated of the year and sold-out almost instantly. Despite picking up two acting nominations, it has been snubbed for new play and best director. Ouch.
|Stephen DaldryThe Audience
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
The Master And Margarita
|Stephen Daldry’s return to the stage can be met with a significant yawn; The Audience proving to be a rather bland affair given the previous vehicles that Peter Morgan has found for Dame Mirren.The other three are technically complex in varying ways. McBurney deserves great credit for bring Bulgakov’s masterpiece to the stage with some degree of coherence.Herrin’s This House is remarkable for the way it gels such difficult material and Marianne Elliott combines visuals with superb performances from the leads.|
|The Day-Lewis Award: Marianne Elliott. The only director to get both visual and acting nominations for the play.
The Deakins Award: Marianne Elliott. For the above reason.
The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Rupert Goold, like Lucy Prebble, must be feeling somewhat aggrieved by the nominations. Still he does get to be Artistic Director at the Almeida, so there’s always that.
|Best Actor in a Musical
Michael Ball – Sweeney Todd
Alex Bourne – Kiss Me, Kate
Tom Chambers – Top Hat
Will Young – Cabaret
|Michael Ball has this locked in. He has won pretty much everything going and a better Mr Todd in a better production it is hard to imagine.|
|Best Actress in a Musical
Heather Headley – The Bodyguard
Imelda Staunton – Sweeney Todd
Summer Strallen – Top Hat
Hannah Waddingham – Kiss Me, Kate
|Until seeing Kiss Me, Kate then I would have put the house on Imelda Staunton helping Sondheim sweep the board. However Hannah Waddingham’s performance is sunshine in an otherwise cloudy production and is most deserving of the win.|
|Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical
Adam Garcia – Kiss Me, Kate
Debbie Kurup – The Bodyguard
Siân Phillips – Cabaret
Leigh Zimmerman – A Chorus Line
|Having only seen Adam Garcia, all I know about this is that Adam Garcia surely can’t win. There must have been something better. My money goes on A Chorus Line.|
|Best New Musical
|Christ, best new musical includes a remake of a woeful 1990’s film with one massive song, and (how is this anything but technically not a revival) of the 1935 classic with Fred ‘n Ginger.For that reason hopefully the flop Loserville will win it.|
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
|I suspect that Long Day’s Journey Into Night will win. It sends a cold shiver down my spine but I think it will. Any of the others are more deserving but lets face it Macbeth and Twelfth Night are revived every other bloody year.|
|Best Musical Revival
A Chorus Line
Kiss Me, Kate
|Sweeney Todd. The Day-Lewis Award for certainty.|
|Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre
Caroline Horton for You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy at the Bush theatre
The production of Red Velvet at the Tricycle theatre
The season of new writing at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court theatre
Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd for You Me Bum Bum Train, presented by Theatre Royal Stratford East
|The usual suspects are deservedly well-represented here. The Royal Court with its normal stellar seasons, the Bush gets a nod and its nice to see Jerwood recognised.Hopefully the Tricylce will win but I have a fear that You Me Bum Bum Train may get the prize and even worse fear that it may encourage others to follow in its footsteps.|
Excellent news this week as Rupert Goold was announced the new artistic director of the Almeida Theatre, following Michael Attenborough hugely successful tenure. Now firmly established as one of the most influential theatres that bridge the gap between the West End and the regions, it is difficult to remember that 11 years ago the Almeida was running a sizable deficit and that Attenborough not only turned this on its head but did so whilst also almost doubling the number of new productions.
Rupert Goold has a challenge on his hands but the freedom of the role, and his own prior knowledge of the space through working on Headlong co-productions, allows him to enter on a firm footing. His own uniquely stylistic flair, as recognisable in theatre as Tarintino is in film, make the possibility of creative control over an entire programme a most enticing one proposition for the audience.
Goold’s Macbeth was praised to the heavens by critics on both sides of the Atlantic; brilliantly designed, blessed with the stand-out performance from Patrick Stewart’s illustrious career and one more than equalled by Kate Fleetwood’s splendid Lady Macbeth. Goold’s production manages to maintain the golden thread that so often eludes directors of style; every element contributes something to the whole enabling the sum to be so much greater than the parts. Most pleasingly, it is also available for anyone to see as it was expertly captured for the BBC; rather sickeningly Goold proves himself to be equally at home in this medium, and the transfer retains a spirit and vitality that was sadly lacking in the televised version of Hamlet with David Tennant.
The extent to which I think this is seminal viewing is the fact that I am prepared to suggest buying something from Amazon in order to do so – boycott be damned, it is just too good.
Rupert Goold is only the latest in a line of seat-swapping that has amounted to a seismic shift in the theatrical landscape. The last couple of years have come to feel like a pivotal moment for the next generation to pick up the baton from their predecessors. Coinciding with a new political landscape, we are seeing the emergence of a new wave of directors and producers who will be charged with guiding British theatre through the murky quagmire of reduced funding and a more oppositional approach to politics.
It is too early to say but it could mean a return to more overt political dramas. One of the problems of the Labour regime is that they remained difficult to criticise following the experience of almost twenty years of Conservative power – and even more so when they pumped more money into the cultural landscape than it had seen in years. Where Labour were criticised, most excoriatingly by David Hare, was on foreign policy, or more accurately their foreign policy in Iraq – less was said about interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo.
During the Labour years it is hard to think of many plays that really sought to tackle domestic policy until the financial meltdown made everyone realise how far the country had sleepwalked into inequality under the watchful eyes of a supposedly centre-left government. One can only hope that the shake-up can also dislodge the art of the politics and reveal a new generation of dramatists less concerned with the ‘I’ than the ‘We’.
The most high profile, and contested, position up-for-grabs was that to succeed Michael Boyd as Artistic Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Whilst the National Theatre has more power and money, it is hard to dispute the RSC still carries the most prestige – flying the flag for Shakespeare and under Boyd’s leadership emerging from the mire with a reinvigorated sense of self. It is questionable whether anyone other than Gregory Doran had a look in, and the press release is rather telling ‘‘Greg Doran is a perfect choice for the RSC and is well known to all our audiences. His long history with the Company[…]’. It contains every impression of wanting to promote from within and maintaining a sense of continuity in a company that has too often lost its focus. Gregory Doran is without doubt an exceptional director but could well be seen as a safe pair of hands. However is this a bad thing when dealing with Shakespeare? Every year there will be attempts to reinvent Shakespeare for the modern age, most will be terrible and a few will not. In many ways it is much harder to breathe life into more traditional staging that are more interested in the text than in assuming what Shakespeare may have meant the text to mean.
Continuing outside of London, but yet further North, the National Theatre of Scotland has announced that Laurie Sansom will take over from Vicky Featherstone – herself off to the Royal Court to keep the merry-go-round spinning. The National Theatres’ of Wales and Scotland are probably the most important, and successful, developments in British theatre over the last 15 years. Vicky Featherstone was a hugely influential part of that culture of success, and was instrumental in bringing the widely acclaimed Black Watch to the stage, and the hugely entertaining Alan Cumming one-man Macbeth.
It is a shame that her departure was partly overshadowed by claims of a parochial attitude among the Theatre’s management but one hopes that they Royal Court will be the chief beneficiary of the time that she has spent outside of London. As an added intrigue, the poaching of Lucy Davies from the National Theatre of Wales to be an executive director at the Royal Court means that both have suffered a significant loss of leadership and one hopes that a firm hand is kept on the rudder of both organisations.
And the final move, and probably the most written about, is that of Josie Rourke taking the reigns at the Donmar Warehouse. Already a year into the programme we have seen an interesting array of productions that, if not setting the world alight are at least suggestive of a non-confirmist mindset. Durrenmatt’s The Physicists is not a play that has aged gracefully but it is still good to see it revived, whilst an all-female Julius Caesar may have caught some predictable flak but it provides challenge and most importantly provides new insight into the group dynamic of political leadership that a traditional cast production cannot achieve. It does feel like we are still waiting for Rourke to stamp her authority on her tenure but it also feels like that production is not far away.
So what are you planning to do on Sunday? Recover from Saturday’s exertions, watch the EastEnders omnibus, iron your shirts, lose yourself on the internet. These may all be fine outcomes but if you are looking for something more then I suggest wandering down to the Arcola to dabble in the world of the short-form play.
The Miniaturist Programme has been running since 2005 and is the theatrical equivalent of a bag of Revels. You know that, with five plays clocking in at under 2o minutes each, if you keep going you will eventually find the coffee cream. The short-play format, like the short-story, has struggled to attract the mainstream but the beauty of the form is that it could widen access to theatre to a non-traditional crowd, as in one evening you can showcase a myriad number of possibilities about what the theatre can achieve.
Working as a great showcase for those involved, it also teaches discipline in writing and a ruthless focus on cutting out the extraneous – this is an oft-lost skill for those with resources behind them and many has been the play where fingernails make long-lasting impressions into my palms as scene after scene rolls on with no purpose other than highlighting the vanity of the writer. It is little surprise that two modern masters who sit at different ends of the spectrum – Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter – can both point to superb early work in one-act plays.
So if you’re bored than you could do worse than find yourself at The Arcola at either 17:00 or 20:00 on Sunday 25 November.
Check out more here: http://www.miniaturists.co.uk/index.htm