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Salisbury Playhouse’s boss Gareth Machin: ‘There is a desire to demonstrate that the city is open for business, that it’s moving on & that it doesn’t want to be defined by what’s happened here.’

Gareth Machin is the artistic director of Salisbury Playhouse in Wiltshire. He is also the director and writer of Moonfleet, a new British musical based on the well-loved novel by J Meade Faulkner. Set amongst the cliffs and caves of 18th century Dorset and is the story of a young man’s search for adventure and fulfilment. Haunted by the ghost of the marauding pirate Blackbeard, Moonfleet is a village of intrigue and drama where shadowy smugglers lurk. “Writing musicals is clearly very complicated because so many elements come into play,” he explains. “Also, generally they are very expensive to produce. Russell (Hepplewhite) and I have been working on it for an awfully long time and there have been a lot of challenges to adapt it for the stage.”

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Gareth Machin

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During rehearsals for Moonfleet an international espionage drama has played out in the narrow lanes and shopping precincts of the small cathedral city, after the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It must have been unsettling; how would he describe the mood of the city? “It has been a challenging few weeks and there has been a lot of uncertainty,” he says. “But there has also been incredible resilience and we have been able to continue the work that we are doing here. Our audiences have remained very loyal, for which we are very grateful. There is a mood in the city that although this isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination, there is a desire to keep demonstrating that the city is open for business, that it’s moving on and that it doesn’t want to be defined by what’s happened here.”

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The cordon around the bench in Salisbury where the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, collapsed.

Following a successful bid for joint national portfolio funding from Arts Council England (ACE) the merger of the three arts organisations in the same postcode: Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury Arts Centre and Salisbury International Arts Festival have collectively become ‘Wiltshire Creative’, and will commission, develop and produce cross-artform. What does this mean for the identity of the three – very different – organisations? “It’s a huge opportunity for the arts in Salisbury,” he says. “With public funding inevitably being very challenging, it is an incredible vote of confidence from the Arts Council, in the quality of the artistic offer, in what is a relatively small city like Salisbury. The level of investment that had been going to three organisations has been retained and consolidated in one large pan-arts organisation. It feels like we now have a more sustainable model, in terms of finance. But it also means artistically we will be a far more resilient company, artistically in so far as we will be working across different art forms, commissioning artists across different art forms. We will create a much more coherent and straightforward offer for Salisbury and the wider region.”

Unsurprisingly, at the 2011 census the population of the civil parish was 95.73% white. To his credit, he doesn’t subscribe to 50/50 gender quotas; when it comes to selling tickets, choosing suitable artists must continue to matter more than gender? “Sometimes the most obvious ways of defining diversity are not necessarily the most interesting way to define diversity, in a city like Salisbury,” he says simply. “But we want the broadest representation of voices and people within this organisation that is genuinely reflecting our wider community. We will never get this absolutely right because it will be a continual process. I think the fact that it is so high up the agenda now is incredibly useful.”

On the subject of the ongoing revelations of abuses of power and sexual harassment within the industry he muses: “We have had to look at the procedures and processes that we have in place, so that if ever a situation arose here, we are confident that our systems are robust enough to be able to properly deal with a situation should it ever arise. It has been a very useful opportunity for us to review and have that conversation with our wider staff.”

What, I ask, are the qualities that make a good artistic director? “That’s the hardest question you’ve asked,” he says. A pause. “It’s not that far away from what qualities you need in a rehearsal room. You need to be comfortable bringing people in who are a lot cleverer than you, know a lot more than you and be comfortable with managing them and their ideas and be able to listen and be able to respond. Your job ultimately is to bring the best out of other people and to shape a lot of people’s different ideas and shape them into something that is coherent and strong. That’s what you do in a rehearsal room and that is how you are running a building.  In terms of vision and ego it is a balance because you have got to have a bit but if you have too much, it’s a problem.”

More than most, Machin is aware that his theatre can’t live on past glories. “I think there are a lot of lazy preconceptions about Salisbury audiences,” he says defiantly. “One of the great joys being here as long as I have, is that the audience still consistently surprise me at what they are up for. When I started here, the idea of doing new plays on the main stage was pretty scary. Whereas actually Barney Norris’s Echo’s End or Worst Wedding Ever, which we did a couple of years ago, are two of the best-selling shows in the time that I have been here. That in itself is hugely encouraging; we are allowed to swear on the main stage and people don’t walk out,” Machin says, smiling.

“With Moonfleet, I feel like we are developing a piece that we are all very proud of and we want to tell everybody that it is happening.”

Moonfleet runs at Salisbury Playhouse from Thursday 19 April to Saturday 5 May. The production is supported by Salisbury Playhouse’s Commissioning Circle.

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Olivier Awards 2018: A blow-by-blow account

It may not have seemed like it, but 2017 was actually a record year for London’s theatre industry with 246 productions, 15,000,000 million tickets sold, 99 new plays, 13 new musicals and 45 dance and opera productions.

Thanks to a combination of blazing new musicals (An American in Paris, Girl From The North Country & Hamilton) and outstanding new plays (Ink, Killology & The Revlon Girl) it’s a great time for British theatre.

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The Olivier Awards were broadcast live from The Royal Albert Hall on Magic FM, which was quite funny because the unsuspecting public heard the host Catherine Tate, swear multiple times. It didn’t go well. The ‘highlights’ were broadcast into a condensed 90-minute slot on ITV1 at 10.20pm. Tate was the host who promised us a safe pair of hands but delivered us nothing really.

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Catherine Tate

Most of Tate’s presenting carried a frisson of shambles – it was also incredibly clumsy, with an ill-judged quip about the Time’s Up movement and a joke about sexual harassment. She forgot to wear her Time’s Up badge too. Hm.

Unsurprisingly, the ratings averaged just under 600,000 TV viewers (down 40% on the 1 million people who tuned in in 2017 when the ceremony was scheduled in the prime-time slot between 8-9pm.) This does need sorting out; broadcast the ceremony live and hire a decent host.  Cheers!

Anyway, hip hop musical Hamilton opened the show and swept the board, winning seven of the thirteen awards it was nominated for, including best actor in a musical, best new musical and outstanding achievement in music. The Ferryman duly won best new play, best director for Sam Mendes and best actress for Laura Donnelly. The National Theatre clinched five trophies including best musical revival for Follies and best revival for Angels in America.

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The cast of Hamilton

Bryan Cranston won best actor for his role in Network (Andrew Garfield was robbed). Denise Gough won best actress for her sublime performance in Angels in America. James Graham won the award for best new comedy for Labour of Love, which was good news.

More amazingly still is the fact that the Bob Dylan musical Girl From The North Country (which felt like mastery on stage) won two awards. Sheila Atim (best supporting actress in a musical) and Shirley Henderson (best actress in a musical).

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Girl From The North County’s Sheila Atim

There were two rather lovely, but similar, tap performances from the cast of Young Frankenstein and 42nd Street in the first half. Lots of glitz and glitter too.

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The cast of Young Frankenstein

The fiasco, however, was the In Memoriam segment, where Michael Sheen introduced the segment, thanking those included “and many others who aren’t… for your contribution to our stages.” Unfortunately, they left out Sir Peter Hall. Which was pretty stupid but what can you do. Hall was the creator of the Royal Shakespeare Company and built up the National Theatre and died in September last year.

I lost the thread of what was going on and before I knew it American musical theatre legend Chita Rivera popped up, marking the 60th anniversary of the London opening of West Side Story. She seemed happy to be there so that was good.

“We are hugely sorry for the oversight of leaving Sir Peter Hall out of our In Memoriam,” said the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) in a statement this morning. Good grief.

David Lan was awarded a special award in recognition of his work leading the Young Vic for the past 18 years, before retiring earlier this year. He gave a rousing and genuinely political speech. It felt like the show should probably have just ended there. It didn’t though.

There was then a special performance celebrating 50 years of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, featuring Jason Donovan, Linzi Hateley and Lee Mead. The anti-climax of a performance had just enough star quality to hide the song’s distinct lack of brilliance.

You (the audience) have been amazing. I have been adequate for my price range,” said Tate closing the ceremony. Indeed.

Actually, theatre is often at its best when it takes you by surprise and other than Tracie Bennett (her victory lap performance of I’m Still Here is worth watching on ITV Player) not winning anything for her performance in Follies, this year had a pungent whiff of inevitable to it all. Shame really.

FULL LIST FOR THE OLIVIER AWARDS 2018 WITH MASTERCARD

AMERICAN AIRLINES BEST NEW PLAY

The Ferryman at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre and Gielgud Theatre

BEST NEW COMEDY

Labour Of Love at Noël Coward Theatre

BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION

Flight Pattern by Crystal Pite for The Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE

Francesca Velicu for her performance in English National Ballet’s production of Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre Du Printemps at Sadler’s Wells

BEST ENTERTAINMENT AND FAMILY

Dick Whittington at London Palladium

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Vicki Mortimer for Follies at National Theatre – Olivier

DELTA LIVE AWARD FOR BEST SOUND DESIGN

Nevin Steinberg for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Bertie Carvel for Ink at Almeida Theatre and Duke of York’s Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Denise Gough for Angels In America at National Theatre – Lyttelton

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN AFFILIATE THEATRE

Killology at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, a co-production with Sherman Theatre Cardiff

BLUE-I THEATRE TECHNOLOGY AWARD FOR BEST SET DESIGN

Bob Crowley and 59 Productions for An American In Paris at Dominion Theatre

WHITE LIGHT AWARD FOR BEST LIGHTING DESIGN

Howell Binkley for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST ACTOR

Bryan Cranston for Network at National Theatre – Lyttelton

BEST ACTRESS

Laura Donnelly for The Ferryman at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre and Gielgud Theatre

BEST DIRECTOR

Sam Mendes for The Ferryman at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre and Gielgud Theatre

BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION

Semiramide at Royal Opera House

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA

Joyce DiDonato and Daniela Barcellona for their performances in Semiramide at Royal Opera House

BEST REVIVAL

Angels In America at National Theatre – Lyttelton

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC

Hamilton – Composer-Lyricist: Lin-Manuel Miranda; Orchestrator: Alex Lacamoire at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER

Andy Blankenbuehler for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

MAGIC RADIO BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

Follies at National Theatre – Olivier

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Michael Jibson for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Sheila Atim for Girl From The North Country at The Old Vic and the Noël Coward Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Shirley Henderson for Girl From The North Country at The Old Vic and the Noël Coward Theatre

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Giles Terera for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

MASTERCARD BEST NEW MUSICAL

Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

SPECIAL AWARD

David Lan

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Our creative curriculum isn’t going down without a fight: The Big Arts & Education Debate

The English Baccalaureate (EBbacc) in its current form is depriving the next generation of creative talent. Since 2010 there has been a 28% drop in the number of children taking creative GCSEs, with a similar drop in the number of creative arts teachers being trained. The Government’s ambition is to see 90% of GCSE pupils choosing the EBacc subject combination by 2025. Alarming, eh?

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The EBacc leaves no room for creative, technical and artistic subjects. The structural problems of this ‘performance measure’ are causing the arts to be eroded in our school curriculums. Currently, the EBacc – which measures schools’ performances – does not include arts subjects. Anyone with their head screwed on will recognise that the Department for Education is at the mercy of a Conservative government in headlong pursuit of Brexit and with no great sympathy or appreciation of the cultural sector.

It’s probably worth mentioning that during 2015-2016 (before the EU referendum) the creative industries grew at twice the rate of the wider economy, according to the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Economic Estimates for 2016. This information also reveals that the creative industries make up 5.3% of the UK economy. Arguments that the sector as a whole continues to thrive – despite funding cuts – fall on deaf ears.

But a creative education is a valuable phenomenon, socially, politically as well as aesthetically. The arts offer young people certain experiences that other subjects cannot give, for it is a democracy which functions on a transformative level, despite, or maybe because of its poverty. Whether many of our young people swim or flounder as chaos swirls and globalised multinationals determine everyone’s lifestyle will depend on our humanity today. We have to act now.

On Friday 20 April I will be hosting The Big Arts & Education Debate alongside Birmingham Rep’s Associate Director, Steve Ball. This symposium will take place on the Rep’s main stage and will provide a space to discuss the challenges facing our education system that is increasingly individualistic in its narrow vocational thrust rather than being nourishing and inclusive.

Taking part in The Big Arts & Education Debate is playwright James Graham; Indhu Rubasingham, Artistic Director of Tricycle Theatre; Cassie Chadderton, Head of UK Theatre; Ammo Talwar, CEO of Punch Records; Christine Quinn, West Midlands Regional Schools Commissioner; Pauline Tambling CBE, CEO of Creative & Cultural Skills and Tim Boyes CEO of Birmingham Education Partnership.

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James Graham

The rise of initiatives such as Bacc For The Future and the London Theatre Consortium’s Creative Learning Symposium are shining a light on the current crisis, with 200 organisations and 30,000 individuals determined to bring about change. To deprive state educated children the opportunities to pursue a career in the arts is nothing short of perverse. Diversity is a big priority, but this should include class too.

The Big Arts and Education Debate is a prophetic and practical opportunity to come together to address this very serious situation. We very much look forward to seeing what recommendations and solutions that we can achieve together next month.

The Big Arts and Education Debate takes place at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Friday 20 April, 2 – 5pm.

Tickets £10 / £5 concessions are available from birmingham-rep.co.uk / 0121 236 4455.

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The Gate, Ellen McDougall: ‘There is an unconscious bias in the way that we categorise people and often that is invisibly prejudiced.’

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Ellen McDougal

Ellen has just come from rehearsals for the world premiere of Effigies of Wickedness, a project that she is directing, in collaboration with English National Opera. The cabaret includes a number of songs banned by the Nazis in the ’30s. During the Nazi reign, the Weimar cabaret performed the songs as a celebration of difference but were later exiled. What can audiences expect from this unlikely collaboration? “For me success will be opportunity to bring together different worlds: opera, there’s also the cabaret scene in London that some of the artists we are working with are really connected with. When the music was first written it came out of a very strong queer community from Weimar, Berlin. What I don’t want it to be is a chocolate box all escape to the 1930’s. That said, the satire and wit in the music is incredibly joyous,” says McDougall.

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Effigies for Wickedness 

For most of our time together, McDougall, artistic director of the Gate, Notting Hill looks me right in the eye and gives long, careful answers. Where does she get her confidence? “I don’t know… I don’t know that I’ve got loads of confidence,” she says.

” remember writing Purni Morell an email after I left the studio at the Unicorn, where I was director in residence very early on in my career. She’d sent me to Vienna to see shows. I wrote her this email saying: ‘having you believe in me helped me to believe in myself’. I think that is definitely one example of where confidence can be found. By being backed by somebody that you truly admire.”

I ask Ellen whether her gender has ever held her back professionally. “It’s impossible to answer that question as I’m not the person giving me opportunities, I guess,” she says thoughtfully. “But I would say that I haven’t always been very front-footed as a director. I think there is sometimes a structure in theatre where directors are expected to be loud, confident and demanding; in terms of getting pitches listened to or getting people’s attention and that’s never been something I’m comfortable doing or doing very well. I think those structures are founded on patriarchal patterns but the idea that that favours men is probably true,” she says.

McDougall is leading the way in a renaissance in fringe and pub theatre that is often a stomping ground for radical emerging artists. But with conversations currently raging around fair pay on the fringe, does she think that the fringe model is broken? “There are big important questions about diversity, about who is getting the chance to make work and then there is a conversation about who is privileged enough to be able to afford to work for free,” she explains. “The thing of treating artists badly and expecting too much of them and putting demands on them in structures that exclude anyone on low income; the subsidised sector is as much to blame, I would say, probably across the board. We need to be interrogating those structures more rigorously and thinking about the way we talk to artists and we need to be including them in those conversations. That’s a more useful debate to be having, I think.”

What is her best quality? “I like to think that I’m collaborative and that I’m good at listening,” she says. “I’m definitely rigorous, borderline perfectionist. I like to think that I am imaginative. I went to an artist talk in the summer as part of the Shubbak Festival and the panel were female artists from the Arab world and one of them said that she hadn’t noticed initially but she’d suddenly realised that her work was often described in the terms that you would use to describe settings on a washing machine – such as delicate or soft. But that idea that somehow the way her work was being viewed was gendered. The serious thing that she was pointing out was that there is an unconscious bias that goes on in the way we categorise people and often that is invisibly prejudiced,” says McDougall.

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Ellen McDougall 

In 2011 Ellen received an Olivier Award nomination for her first show, Ivan and The Dogs. What, I ask, does she think of the 2018 nominations? “I think that the idea that there is a best is weird,” she says with a smile. “The idea that art can be quantified and compared is really weird. When I went to the Olivier’s in 2011, I was nearly sick everywhere because I was so nervous. I mean, they announced the category my show was nominated in after a performance by Barry Manilow. Sean Holmes’ production of Blasted won and he spoke about Sarah Kane and what she might have made of it all after the reception that show had when it first opened. Having said that, getting people excited about all forms of theatre is really brilliant, and it definitely does that.”

At this point, we discuss climate change, rising CO2 levels, melting of ice caps and the wildlife TV series Blue Planet. It is a subject that is very close to McDougall’s heart. “The context of making theatre in the knowledge of climate change: how the way we make stuff, the stories we tell. The structures need to change in order to account for that. I feel like it is something that should be on the agenda all the time – it often gets dropped off because it requires deep thought and a willingness to experiment. But we’ve got to talk about it and think about it because it relates to everything. To me, it underpins so much of what is happening in the world. Brexit, the swing to the right… And somewhere I think the knowledge that we all have that climate change is happening and it is fucking terrifying is in conversation with all that.”

Pia Laborde Noguez 2 Trust, Gate Theatre.

Trust, Gate Theatre. Photo credit: Ikin Yum 

She’s not finished. “I’m proud that Trust had a set that was largely recyclable or reusable and some of the things that weren’t recyclable or reusable are things they have recycled from a previous show at the Gate. There is an economy that is starting to happen within what we are doing in our season that means we are trying to lower the impact of our footprint with the shows and that is something we will continue to do and interrogate. I think there is something incredibly exciting about empowering artists to think about how the things they make are made.”

Effigies for Wickedness (Songs banned by the Nazis) runs 03 May to 02 June.

Box Office 020 7229 0706

 

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The Royal Shakespeare Company’s, Erica Whyman: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were talking about the ideas that our distinguished and emerging women have?’

I am sat in Gregory Doran’s office at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s HQ on International Women’s Day and have just presented Erica Whyman OBE with a single sunflower to mark the occassion.

“You are the second man to wish me a Happy International Women’s Day,” Whyman grins then resets. “Actually, that feels new to me. There are new desires to make lasting progress but in the raw and complex aftermath of the Me Too movement, it is not as easy as it sounds,” she says.

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Erica Whyman OBE

Erica is deputy artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company; she has been at Stratford five years now and has achieved some remarkable things. Whyman too has long spoken out about inequality, particularly in theatre. With a new generation and real conversations taking place. How, I ask, does she feel about International Women’s Day today? “I had some discomforts with it,” she recalls. “But in the last decade I think moments to illuminate what our thinking is about gender are not bad things.”

She is a working mum in a high-pressure leadership role. What advice does she have for others wondering how to juggle this responsibility? “I’d say don’t feel oppressed if you don’t want to have children and don’t feel oppressed if you do. If it means that you can’t work in a way that some of your peers work – that’s ok. Let’s change the culture together,” says Whyman. 

Who, I ask, were her inspirations growing up? “I have retrospective ones like Joan Littlewood or Katie Mitchell. People who carved space for me to exist,” she explains. Yet, with hindsight, it was Whyman’s mother and her “rogue views” that helped her find her place in the world. “Because what she did was argue with me,” she declares. “She argued with me for thirty years and that taught me how to argue. It made me think very hard about a whole variety of issues. She was quite out there; she didn’t think there should be female doctors, for example. But she was incredibly powerful and passionate as a person. She was herself. So, the combination of spending a lot of my childhood being embarrassed and confused by my mother was an indirect but vital source of inspiration. In a geeky way it was books, I did get excited by Virginia Woolf,” says Whyman.

The critically acclaimed production of the RSC production of Hamlet starring Paapa Essiedu has been on a UK tour and just opened at Hackney Empire. Whyman is thrilled with the response. “Paapa is an amazing Hamlet and he is surrounded by a genuinely extraordinary cast,” she says. “There is a kind of physical explosive energy to both the production and Paapa’s performance. It’s a fantastic way to see the play in a whole new light.” 

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Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet.

We are talking the week of the Olivier Award nominations and the RSC have been overlooked – for the second year running. Does it bruise? “Yes, it does bruise us…” she says cautiously. “I spent eight years in Newcastle Upon Tyne, before that I worked in Notting Hill and in Southwark – before Southwark was sexy. I have spent my life in places that the centre of the establishment likes to think are peripheral: European theatre, theatre made in the North, theatre made by women etc. So, I am probably a little more sanguine; I expect the RSC to be overlooked. Will we survive it? I should say so.”

The RSC have chosen female directors for all plays in the summer 2018 season. Whyman says that this was not a deliberate move. What would a more equal future for women look like? “Polly Findlay, who I’m working closely with at the moment on Macbeth, puts it better than I can. She says: ‘I’d really like to be talking about our ideas.’ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were talking about the ideas that our distinguished and emerging women have?”

Erica is in the middle of rehearsals for the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. “I couldn’t be more excited by it,” she says quickly. “It’s a much better play than I thought it was, it keeps revealing itself to me to be truly great. It portrays Romeo and Juliet as widely equal in a world that doesn’t expect that. Both the depths of emotion he is capable of and the types of courage that she is capable of are surprising. My cast is properly diverse and I am thrilled by that because it doesn’t feel like boxes on a piece of paper. When Beth Cordingly, playing Escalus, walks on stage and says “What, ho! You men, you beasts,’ to stop the fighting it rings with contemporary resonance and a sense of male violence.”

Audience development is key to the future. What does she think of the current conversations around arts coverage? “We need to get critics out of London,” she says. “Perhaps we are in a transition from what we think our established audience is: as a newspaper, as a theatre or indeed politics,” she says. “We have this idea of an audience who are middle aged and I think we’re wrong about them, because I’m middle aged and they are wrong about me,” says Whyman.

Shakespeare is one of the only compulsory cultural figures left on the curriculum. Whyman acknowledges the challenges that this presents her peers. She is definitely alarmed at the current state of affairs. In my lifetime of two or three different forms of Conservative…” She quickly corrects herself to say that that is not the right word. “Wealth creation governments, that have had an absolute logic to them: create the wealth and enable it to be distributed. Well, they have failed.” 

“I recognise the realities of life, I watch the news. It feels like we are in a crisis.” She takes a little pause. “It’s about being able to say who we are effectively and working in a way together, that is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

We have been talking for almost an hour and our time together is nearly up. Is there anything that she’d like to add? “It is easy to be bleak about the state of the world and I am bleak about the state of the world,” she continues, more resilient than sad. “But my greatest privilege is that I see how lively and intelligent and rich that a generation of theatre-makers instincts are about audiences and not just about art. It is also an exciting time because I think people’s blood is up.”

She is smiling as she says that and I believe every word.  

 

Hamlet runs at Hackney Empire until 31 March 2018 

Macbeth runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 20 March to September 2018

Romeo and Juliet runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 21 April 2018 and will be broadcast live to cinemas on the 18th July 2018, with a UK tour planned in 2019.

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Competition: win a pair of tickets to The Grinnning Man

Well, it’s that time of the year when I like to run a competition and, as luck would have it, The Grinning Man’s ‘people’ have chucked a pair of tickets my way in order to draw attention to the fact that it’s a) still on and b) worth watching. 

See the source image

In order to stand a chance of winning tweet (@mrcarlwoodward) me 3 reasons why you deserve to win.

Closing date is Monday 12 March at 3pm.

Good luck!

The Grinning Man runs at Trafalgar Studios until 17 April

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The Olivier Awards 2018: who should win, and who will win

Olivier-Awards

The shortlist this year is pretty shocking in the main (where is The Grinning Man in Best New Musical?!?) but from the nominees I’ve been given I have picked our deserving winners, and I’ve also taken a guess at who might actually win.

‘FYI’ Hamilton has become the most nominated production in Olivier Awards history with 13 nominations, which is not surprising. 

OLIVIER AWARDS 2018 WITH MASTERCARD

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical

Shortlist: Michael Jibson for Hamilton, Ross Noble for Young Frankenstein, Jason Pennycooke for HamiltonCleve September for Hamilton

Who I want to win: Ross Noble – hero. 

Who I think will win: Michael Jibson

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical

Shortlist: Sheila Atim for Girl From The North Country, Tracie Bennett for Follies

Rachel John for HamiltonLesley Joseph for Young Frankenstein

Who I want to win: Lesley Joseph can do one.Tracie Bennett’s effortless mastery of the whole ‘singing some good songs quite well’ ‘thing’ in a supporting role is unbeatable. 

Best New Musical

Shortlist: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Follies, Girl From The North Country & Hamilton 

Who I want to win: Choosing between all these shows is like choosing your favourite child – if I had a gun to my head I would pick Follies.

Who I think will win: Hamilton, obvs.

Best Entertainment and Family

Shortlist: David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny, Derren Brown: Underground at Playhouse Theatre, Dick Whittington & Five Guys Named Moe. 

Who I want to win: As much as I admired Cameron Mackintosh’s pop-up Spiegeltent and I’d quite like to go to the pub with Derren Brown – I simply love Dick. So it’s the triumphant Dick Whittington at the London Palladium, for me. Who I think will win: Dick Whittington 

Best Theatre Choreographer 

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Shortlist: Andy Blankenbuehler for HamiltonBill Deamer for FolliesKate Prince for Everybody’s Talking About JamieRandy Skinner for 42nd Street, Christopher Wheeldon for An American In Paris

Who I want to win: Well we’re spoiled for choice here. I’d say Bill Deamer for Follies: world class choreography. 

Who I think will win: Bill Deamer for Follies 

 Magic Radio Best Musical Revival

Shortlist: 42nd Street, Follies & On The Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Who I want to win: Only three nominees here which seems a bit rude. Follies is the best of the lot, though, isn’t it? Who I think will win: I’m predicting a surprise win for On The Town and if something else happens on the night I’ll simply come back and edit this post.

 Best Actor in a Musical

Shortlist: Ciarán Hinds for Girl From The North Country, John McCrea for Everybody’s Talking About JamieGiles Terera for Hamilton & Jamael Westman for Hamilton. Who I want to win: Tough one but going with my gut; Giles Terera Who I think will win: Giles Terera. 

Best Actress in a Musical

Shortlist: Janie Dee for FolliesShirley Henderson for Girl From The North CountryImelda Staunton for Follies & Josie Walker for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. 

Who I want to win: Imelda! Come on you buggers, show some respect to Britain’s greatest musical theatre chanteuse. Who I think will win: Basically if Imelda wins for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf then Janie Dee will get it, and if she doesn’t then Imelda will win etc.

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Follies

Best Revival

Shortlist: Angels In America at National Theatre, Hamlet at Almeida Theatre, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? & Witness For The Prosecution at London County Hall

Who I want to win: Angels in America has made its mark on a global level with a Broadway run in full swing. It is also a masterpiece. Who I think will win: Follies. 

Best New Comedy

Shortlist: Dry Powder (Hampstead Theatre), Labour Of LoveMischief Movie Night, &The Miser. 

Who I want to win: In a normal world James Graham’s buoyant Labour of Love will walk this, but we don’t really live in a normal world. Who I think will win: Mischief Movie Night 

Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre

Shortlist: The B*easts at Bush Theatre, Killology the Royal Court, The Red Lion at Trafalgar Studios 2 & The Revlon Girl at Park Theatre

Who I want to win: In terms of the show that I’d happily sit through again this’ll have to be The B*easts. Who I think will win: I predict a smash and grab win from The Revlon Girl. 

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The Revlon Girl

White Light Award for Best Lighting Design

Shortlist: Howell Binkley for HamiltonPaule Constable for Angels In America, Paule Constable for Follies & Jan Versweyveld for Network. 

Who I want to win:  Paule Constable. No contest. Who I think will win: Paule Constable for Follies. 

Best Sound Design

Shortlist: Tom Gibbons for HamletGareth Owen for Bat Out Of Hell The MusicalEric Sleichim for NetworkNevin Steinberg for Hamilton

Who I want to win: I’ll be happy with anyone except Bat Out Of Hell. Anyone.  Who I think will win: Tom Gibbons for Hamlet. Revolutionary! 

Best Costume Design

Shortlist: Hugh Durrant for Dick Whittington at London Palladium, Roger Kirk for 42nd Street, Vicki Mortimer for Follies & Paul Tazewell for Hamilton. 

Who I want to win: Vicki Mortimer. Who I think will win: Vicky Mortimer (by a country mile)

 Blue-i Theatre Technology Award for Best Set Design

Shortlist: Bunny Christie for InkBob Crowley and 59 Productions for An American In Paris, Rob Howell for The Ferryman & Vicki Mortimer for Follies. 

Who I want to win: Bob Crowley is a genius and 59 Productions have established themselves as a unique force of nature. Who I think will win: Vicky Mortimer for Follies.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Shortlist: Bertie Carvel for InkJohn Hodgkinson for The FerrymanJames McArdle for Angels In America & Peter Polycarpou for Oslo

Who I want to win: Bertie Carvel. Who I think will win: Bertie Carvel.  

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Shortlist: Bríd Brennan for The Ferryman, Denise Gough for Angels In America, Dearbhla Molloy for The Ferryman & Imogen Poots for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? 

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Denise Gough in Angels in America

Who I want to win: As much as I like Imogen Poots (and that ‘muchness’ is somewhere in the region of ‘not much at all really’), I’d have to go for Gough here. Denise Gough. Who I think will win: Denise Gough.

Best Actor

Shortlist: Paddy Considine for The FerrymanBryan Cranston for NetworkAndrew Garfield for Angels In AmericaAndrew Scott for Hamlet

Who I want to win: Andrew Scott’s Hamlet was one for the ages. La Scott 100%. Who I think will win:  Andrew Garfield will win, presumably. 

 Best Actress

Shortlist: Laura Donnelly for The Ferryman, Lesley Manville for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Audra McDonald for Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill & Imelda Staunton for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who I want to win: The best shortlist of the lot. Imelda Staunton to win. Who I think will win: Imelda Staunton. 

Best Director 

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The Ferrymam

Shortlist: Who I think will win:  Dominic Cooke for FolliesMarianne Elliott for Angels In AmericaRupert Goold for Ink & Thomas Kail for Hamilton & Sam Mendes for The Ferryman. 

Who I want to win: Marianne Elliott. Who I think will win: Sam Mendes. 

 Virgin Atlantic Best New Play

Shortlist: The Ferryman, Ink, Network & Oslo. 

Who I want to win: I’d say in any other year Ink would and would win this. Who I think will win: The Ferryman. 

Mastercard Best New Musical

Shortlist:  An American In Paris, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Girl From The North Country, Hamilton & Young Frankenstein. 

Who I want to win: Girl From The North Country. Who I think will win: Hamilton. 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that.

Bookmark this page and come back on the night of the Olivier’s to see how I did, but be quick because I’m definitely going to come back and change all my predictions so that it looks like I knew what I was talking about.

And if you’re an artist and you don’t win, don’t worry – the awards are overrated and will look ridiculous on your mantelpiece. 

 

 

 

 

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Chickenshed’s Lou Stein: ‘There is a world of actors who are not given opportunities because of perceived disability and we have to continue to open doors because they have so much to offer.’

Don’t know his face? You’ll certainly know the fruits of his labour. Lou Stein, the American director, founded the Gate, Notting Hill in 1979, ran Watford Palace theatre and is now the artistic director of Chickenshed – the inclusive theatre company based in north London.

He is the ultimate unsung hero.

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Lou Stein

Chickenshed are in the middle of a vibrant Spring season. The varied programme of work addresses the issues of man-made climate change, protest and an exciting reimagining of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He is also responsible for 70 full-time staff. Artistic directors face more scrutiny than ever, does he feel the pressure? “As Artistic Director there is a great deal of harnessing and managing the energy of this wonderful company,” he says, smiling.

Stein’s artistic vision is a society that enables everyone to flourish and Chickenshed’s mission is to create high quality theatre that celebrates diversity and inspires positivity and change. What are the biggest challenges in 2018? “I think the biggest challenge for Chickenshed is certainly the social and political atmosphere at the moment,” he explains. “Charities are coming under a certain scrutiny but with Brexit, Trump and cuts to local authority funding, there is less money coming in to all charities and that is a real challenge. One of the things I’m interested in doing is making things sustainable and continuing our important role as an inclusive company with strong social aims.”

Born in Brooklyn, Lou moved here in the late 70’s. What on earth does he think of Trump?  “I feel so distant from American politics now,” he replies, dropping his tone, speaking more slowly. “Part of my reason for moving to Britain in the late 70’s was partly political and I didn’t like what was going on in my country at that time. I certainly look at it’s leadership now with disbelief as I think a lot of people do – I don’t think we are in an irreversible downturn – however there is a lot of damage being done.”

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Lou in rehearsals

Chickenshed is effectively a theatre as well as a higher education college. What does he think about English schools cutting the number of pupils taking subjects such as dance and fine art after the introduction of the EBacc? “What is going on is devastating,” he replies. “It’s a time bomb in a lot of ways. Firstly, the role that music, theatre and art plays in the development of individual’s confidence is undervalue by the educational authorities. My son – who enjoys music and arts- may never have the opportunities, except through Chickenshed, that other students have.  There will be a huge drop out of talent without access to a creative curriculum. I think all theatre is political and that the education of theatre in schools is highly political and very important,” says Stein.

What does he think of Chichester Festival Theatre’s aim for a 50:50 gender balance in their 2018 acting company? “I feel like we at Chickenshed are way ahead of the curve because of our inclusive practices,” he says.  “If I take the monolog season: eight plays and seven of them feature female voices and characters. What’s more four of them are directed by women and six out of seven of the plays are written by women. I get worried about subscribing to quotas because it is important that decision makers genuinely believe in the issue of inequality, not because they are made to believe in it.”

Stein believes, too, that the shift in arts journalism; the slicing of word counts and the new wave of theatre bloggers, is a positive thing. “I think that it is not necessarily a bad thing that the newspaper critic is becoming less dominant,” he says. “Now you get a fresher collection of voices. Throughout your career what tends to happen is that there will be critics who like what you do, champion you and there are some that don’t. There are a lot of new voices online and as a director I’ve found that very liberating,” says Stein.

He is sanguine about the future. “I’d like us to open our eyes to those people from the disability world,” he says. “It is time for the theatre world to fully embrace the opportunity to widen their understanding of what diversity means,” he says.  “There is a world of actors who are not given opportunities because of perceived disability and we have to continue to open doors because they have so much to offer.”

One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest  runs at Chicken Shed, Studio Theatre 17 Apr – 12 May. Box Office: 020 8292 9222

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Critic overlooks moral location of Baz Bamigboye’s scoops.

I was disappointed to read Matt Trueman’s Opinion piece for The Stage: ‘Baz Bamigboye’s envious critics overlook hard journalistic graft.’

In it he disapproves of my recent Open Letter to London Theatre PRs – asking them to address their relationship with The Daily Mail. My open letter was not an attack on Baz’s credentials as a journalist. However, Baz and the Mail are inextricably linked

Trueman writes: “My colleague Mark Shenton regularly tweets his dissatisfaction at what he deems preferential treatment, while blogger Carl Woodward recently called for a boycott of Baz’s column.”

Trueman refers to my blog as a ‘boycott’. It is not a boycott. His use of the term boycott reveals a distinct lack of the understanding of the English vocabulary.

He continues: “To suggest as Woodward does, that he (Baz) has all his “scoops handed over” by obliging press reps is not just naïve, but positively insulting.”

By the end of the last paragraph, however, something unexpected had happened. The article had become so pompous and self-righteous it was making me laugh. Quite a lot.

How so? Well, it’s purely down to the fact that this is not accurate arts journalism, obviously, it’s littered with political propaganda and is a contemptuous way to treat readers. Alan Lane brought some sense to proceedings with his response to Trueman’s article.

I mean, really there’s no point in getting Trueman’s back up any further (for me, or anyone), since the last thing that anyone wants is for his stance on Baz having ‘exclusives’ to harden. I obviously hit a nerve. 

As a result of today’s article Baz even dismissed his sources. The mind boggles.

If one of our leading theatre critics wants to defend a right-wing tabloid that whips up hatred and bigotry, then fine. But I’m really tempted to suggest Trueman can take a run and jump.

Update:

Cheap journalism thrives on whipping up feelings. When we talk about tolerance it is a moving line – then there’s a grey area. In the heat of the moment I referred to Matt Trueman as witless and I was not entitled to do so. I have apologised for that.  

 

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Bat Out of Hell, 42nd St & Everybody’s Talking About Jamie all won at the 2018 WhatsOnStage Awards – The Ferryman won too, obviously.

The winners of the 18th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards were announced this evening, celebrating the best of UK theatre.

In a move that some people are referring to as a real wake-up call for the industry, oft-ignored award winner Sonia Friedman Productions ‘scooped’ seven ‘gongs’ including Best New Play for The Ferryman (James Graham’s Ink was robbed), Best Direction for Sam Mendes, Best Supporting Actor in a Play went to Fra Fee and Best Play Revival Award went to Robert Icke’s Hamlet. The Harry Potter play: Cursed Child won two awards as well.

Friedman herself walked off with the Equity Award for Services to Theatre Award, which is nice.

Other winners included Lucie Shorthouse who scooped the Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sunset Boulevard won the Best Regional Production Award and Hair which took the Best Off-West End Production Award.

Sadly, The Band didn’t win Best New Musical – that went to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. The awards are the only major theatre prizes to be voted for entirely by the audience, which explains everything.

You can see the full list of winners below if you like

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY SPONSORED BY RADISSON BLU EDWARDIAN                              • David Tennant, Don Juan in Soho

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY • Olivia Colman, Mosquitoes

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL SPONSORED BY THE UMBRELLA ROOMS                               • John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL SPONSORED BY 100 WARDOUR ST                                      • Carrie Hope Fletcher, The Addams Family

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY                                                                                           • Fra Fee, The Ferryman

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY SPONSORED BY TONIC THEATRE                     • Juliet Stevenson, Hamlet

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL • Ross Noble, Young Frankenstein

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL SPONSORED BY NEWMAN DISPLAYS        • Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

BEST NEW PLAY SPONSORED BY JHI MARKETINGThe Ferryman

BEST NEW MUSICAL SPONSORED BY SHINE CREATIVE SOLUTIONS                                   • Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

BEST PLAY REVIVALHamlet

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL SPONSORED BY R&H THEATRICALS42nd Street

BEST DIRECTION • Sam Mendes, The Ferryman

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY • Randy Skinner, 42nd Street

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN SPONSORED BY WHITE LIGHT
• Patrick Woodroffe, Bat Out of Hell

BEST VIDEO DESIGN SPONSORED BY PRG XL VIDEO • 59 Productions, An American in Paris

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
• Roger Kirk, 42nd Street

BEST OFF-WEST END PRODUCTION SPONSORED BY LES MISERABLESHair

BEST REGIONAL PRODUCTION SPONSORED BY MTI EUROPESunset Boulevard

BEST ORIGINAL CAST RECORDING SPONSORED BY ENCORE RADIOLes Miserables

BEST SHOW POSTERHarry Potter and the Cursed Child

BEST WEST END SHOW SPONSORED BY JOE ALLENHarry Potter and the Cursed Child