The Civil Shortlist

The Contenders

Well the plays have been revisited, the little grey cells put back into action and the oracle consulted. In short and without further ado, Civilian Theatre is proud to present the runners and riders in the inaugural shortlist for The Civil Awards. [Cue much fanfare, fireworks and underhand, dirty trick campaigns].

Bribes, whilst having little effect on the outcome, will still be gratefully received. Your comments and opinions are also welcomed.

Winners will revealed next week following a countdown of the Top 10 plays of 2013.

Best Actor – Male

  • James McAvoy          Macbeth (Macbeth)
  • David Tennant          Richard II (Richard II)
  • Serge Maggiani        Berenger (Rhinoceros)
  • Henry Goodman       Arturo Ui (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui)
  • Rory Kinnear            Iago (Othello)

Best Actor – Female

Best Supporting Actor

  • Kyle Soller                     Gaveston (Edward II)
  • Vanessa Kirby               Isabella (Edward II)
  • Jonathan Slinger           Parolles (All’s Well That Ends Well)
  • Ben Whishaw                Baby (Mojo)
  • William Gaunt                Dogsborough (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui)

Best Director

  • Susan Stroman              The Scottsboro Boys
  • Katie Mitchell                  Fraulein Julie
  • Jamie Lloyd                    Macbeth
  • Declan Donnellan           Ubu Roi
  • Gregory Doran               Richard II

Theatre / Theatre Company of the Year

  • Young Vic
  • Barbican Centre
  • Trafalgar Transformed
  • Harold Pinter Theatre

Surprise of the Year

Best thing to happen in theatre in 2013

  • The amount of £10 seats for the Michael Grandage season
  • Rupert Goold appointed as the next artistic director of the Almeida
  • The opening of The Shed

Biggest disappointment of the year

  • Not going to see Chimerica
  • The general flat direction and conservative productions in the Michael Grandage season
  • Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench in Peter and Alice 

Worse thing to happen in theatre in 2013

  • The growing trend to not allow people to book seats so that there is only one left on its own
  • The continuing upward creep of top-end theatre ticket prices
  • The cull of theatre critics across the mainstream press

Introducing the ‘Civil Awards’

Over the next few days, and in keeping with all the other blogs and newspapers that got there already – and in the right year – Civilian Theatre will be unveiling its inaugural annual awards and revealing our Top 10 plays for 2013.

Given the sheer amount of theatre available it is not difficult to find plays that were fantastic, moving and challenging but reflecting on what Civilian Theatre has been to see across the year (and the expectations that had built up in advance), it does not feel that 2013 was a vintage year for theatre.

It would be easy to equate the drop-off in quality with the cuts to Arts Council funding; the first cracks beginning to appear as the money begins to run out. However this only tells one half of the story – and if anything The Events by David Greig  An Actors Touring Company, Young Vic, Brageteatret & Schauspielhaus Wien Co-Production 9 October - 2 November 2013much of the best of the year’s theatre occurred in unexpected locations and in new voices that are beginning to emerge. Good theatre does not big budgets or big stars, it needs ideas and the willingness to take risks; in very different ways The Events and Fleabag proved this point.

Indeed the drop in quality, if anywhere, appeared at the top-end. The gap between bloggers and newspaper critics never appeared wider than in the debate around the Michael Grandage season. Routinely given 4/5* reviews in the press, the majority of the programme provoked the ire of seasoned bloggers who felt it promised much and then failed to deliver.

Civilian Theatre lauds elements of the programme: a West End season that was committed to drama and even included a new play; the sheer number of £10 seats, which if booked early enough didn’t have to be back of the balcony where the most pressing concern is not seeing the stage but rather calculating the risks of deep-vein thrombosis. However the dull production and conservative directions produced lifeless and leaden work that challenged the audience’s endurance rather than their intellect.

One rarely looks to the West End for intellectual challenge and radical drama but the publically-subsidised sectors also appeared more unfocused than usual. It is a transitory time in British Theatre and whilst this may bear fruit in the coming years, it felt that many people were still finding their feet. An honourable exception goes to the Almeida who – in snagging Rupert Goold – may have pulled off the biggest coup of all, and also managed a season that gave audiences, successively, Chimerica, Ghosts and American Psycho at non-West End prices.

Harriet Walter as  BrutusJosie Rourke’s tenure at the Donmar Warehouse has so far produced interesting plays in isolation but there has been little sense of coherence in the overall scheduling, and some productions that were just hard work full stop;Trelawny of the Wells proving that just because a play is forgotten doesn’t necessarily make it a classic in waiting.

That the National Theatre had an uneven year was unsurprising given all the speculation around the top job. Rufus Norris is a bold choice and one that is likely to bring a very different feel to the National and perhaps reshape to more accurately reflect a modern British theatre. He, like audiences, should benefit from the development of The Shed, particularly if its early inventive and innovative programming continues into 2014.

Outside of London, (or into the hinterland for this blog), the argument about funding distribution continues unabated. There was more change at the top as the National Theatre of Scotland lost Vicky Featherstone to the Royal Court (a canny move to breathe fresh, non-London-centric life into an organisation that is always at the risk of being subsumed by the voice of the metropolitan middle-class).

The other powerhouse, the RSC, have crafted a seamless transfer into handing the reigns to Gregory Doran. The RSC seem reinvigorated and scored a big hit with David Tennant in Richard II, and Doran seems to be keen to move through the history cycle as Henry IV Parts I and II are planned for 2014, which mark both the return of Antony Sher to the RSC and the continuance of a partnership with the Barbican that will seem them return as part of a 3-year deal.

Anyone winning 'A Civil' can expect a fine certificate as proof of their excellence. Lucky them.

The Civil Categories

  • Best Production
  • Best Actor – Male
  • Best Actor – Female
  • Best Supporting Actor
  • Best Director
  • Theatre / Theatre Company of the Year
  • Surprise of the Year
  • Best thing to happen in theatre in 2013
  • Biggest disappointment of the year
  • Worse thing to happen in theatre in 2013


<<You can find out everything that happened in 2013 here>>


2013: The facts and figures

As 2013 moves towards its conclusion, Civilian Theatre has delved into the back of the cupboard for some last little snippets for the year. There was no intention to see quite so many plays last year – and certainly not to end up writing up quite so many – it just ended up working out that way. It is only when there is time to sit back and reflect does one begin to find the surprising nature of what does/doesn’t make a post popular, and the fact that people may come from all over the world to read them. It was surprising to discover that Shakespeare made up only 17% of the plays that I saw this year – and only just holds off musicals (although Kiss Me, Kate is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew so it is 50:50). I also had to check that over a 1/3 of plays were new works, as these always seem as if they pass Civilian Theatre by. Less surprising but slightly depressing is that only six could be claimed to be pretty much entirely original texts.

47: Plays Seen      

38: Plays Reviewed

This includes:
8 Shakespeare Plays (17%)
7 Musicals (15%) + 1 Opera
17 were new works (36%), of which 6 were not based in existing literature or historical events (13%)
4 were in a foreign language (8%)


Most popular posts of 2013

1. Peter and Alice

Judy Dench, arguably one of the greatest female actors Britain has produced, and Ben Wishaw, spellbinding in the BBC’s Richard II, joining forces to take on the real-life counterparts of two of literature’s most enduring and imaginative childhood creations. It should have been perfect. It wasn’t.

2. Sweeny Todd / WAG: The Musical

Proving once again that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, and Civilian Theatre’s first experience of having a review filleted for *ahem* unrepresentative quotes. WAG: The Musical is the unwanted gift that keeps on giving.

3. Mojo

Ben Wishaw (again), Rupert Grint, Colin Morgan, That guy off Downton Abbey, Daniel Mays (something for the theatre fans). I cannot guess why this made it into the top 3. I did also learn not to underestimate the twitter power of Colin Morgan fans.


Top 10 Countries by Visitors (thanks guys!)

  1. United Kingdom
  2. United States
  3. Australia
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Germany
  7. Russian Federation
  8. Belgium
  9. Republic of Korea
  10. Ireland
  • Civilian Theatre was visited by people from 87 countries in 2013.  This represents 45% of all countries recognised by the United Nations.
  • However 20 countries only visited a single time. This includes China, which has an estimated population of 1.35 billion. So clearly room for improvement there.
  • Other countries with just a single visit include the Democratic Republic of Congo,  Kazakhstan and Guatemala,

The worldwide reach of Civilian Theatre

Visitors 2013

The 2013 playlist

  1. The El Train – Hoxton Hall, December
  2. The Shape of Things – Arcola Theatre, December
  3. Henry V – Noel Coward Theatre, November
  4. The Scottsboro Boys – Young Vic, November
  5. Passing By – Tristan Bates Theatre, November
  6. Mojo – Harold Pinter Theatre, October
  7. The Events – Maria Room @ Young Vic, October
  8. Hamlet de los Andes – The Barbican Pit, October
  9. The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Duchess Theatre, September
  10. Edward II – National Theatre, September
  11. Fleabag – DryWrite @ Soho Theatre, September
  12. The Secret Agent – Theatre O @ the Young Vic, September
  13. All’s Well That Ends Well – Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, August
  14. The Same Deep Water As Me – Donmar Warehouse, August
  15. Jekyll & Hyde – Red Shift & Flipping the Bird @ Maltings Art Centre, July
  16. Where the White Stops – ANTLER @ Battersea Arts Centre, July
  17. Circle Mirror Transformation – Royal Court @ Rose Lipman Community Centre, July
  18. Death in Venice – English National Opera @ Coliseum, June
  19. Mission Drift – The Shed @ National Theatre, June
  20. The Cripple of Inishmaan – Noel Coward Theatre, June
  21. Trash Cuisine – Belarus Free Theatre @ Young Vic, June
  22. Merrily We Roll Along – Harold Pinter Theatre, May
  23. Public Enemy – Young Vic Theatre, May
  24. Orpheus – Little Bulb Theatre @ Battersea Arts Centre, May
  25. Fraulein Julie – Barbican, April
  26. Macbeth – Trafalgar Studios, April
  27. Ubu Roi – Cheek by Jowl @ the Barbican, April
  28. Gibraltar – Arcola Theatre, March
  29. This House – National Theatre, March
  30. Peter and Alice – Noel Coward Theatre, March
  31. Watt – Gate Theatre Dublin @ the Barbican, March
  32. Mydidae – Trafalgar Studios, March
  33. In The Beginning Was The End – dreamthinkspeak @ National Theatre, February
  34. Rhinoceros – Théâtre de la Ville–Paris @ the Barbican, February
  35. Old Times – Harold Pinter Theatre, January
  36. Julius Caesar – Donmar Warehouse, January
  37. The human being’s guide to not being a dick about religion – Matt Thomas at the Canal Cafe Theatre, January
  38. Kiss Me, Kate – The Old Vic, January

Not reviewed (at least not yet)

  1. American Psycho – Almeida Theatre
  2. Richard II – Barbican
  3. Coriolanus – Donmar Warehouse
  4. Othello – Olivier @ National Theatre
  5. Candide – The Swan @ Royal Shakespeare Company
  6. Metamorphosis – Lyric Hammersmith
  7. Matilda: The Musical – Cambridge Theatre
  8. The Hot House – Trafalgar Studios
  9. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – Wimbledon Theatre

For all the 2013 reviews click here

A Night at the Theatre – Olivier Awards 2013

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, A Curious Incident...winner of 7 Awardstickets 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.

Another award for Helen Mirren, The Queen or possibly bothThe 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?

The Full Awards List

What does the Guardian say…

What does the Telegraph say…