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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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Europe’s Theatres in Crisis as Venues Face Going Dark

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#SAVESTAGELIGHTING

As the theatrical landmark event of the year, the Olivier Awards approach us this weekend, a sinister cloud looms in the not too distant future.

In a nutshell this cloud comes in the form of proposed EU legislation which would ban the sale of almost all stage lighting units.

On the face of it, this may seem like somewhat of a trivial issue but when you examine the consequences of such a move, it is evident that this would cause cultural devastation across the continent.

Every size of venue will feel the impact of this, from local village halls, right the way up to the leading stadiums and arenas.

It will be immediate and overwhelming.

The shows we have all come to know and love would close as a result of this. War Horse, Curious Incident, Hamilton, Wicked, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Mousetrap, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the list is endless: they would all be lost within a matter of months.

If we can’t have shows there is little use for venues, and so many of the continent’s finest venues and producing houses would face unavoidable closure.

If there are no venues, there are fewer shows, meaning that there are fewer jobs for actors, musicians, directors, designers, technicians, scenic artists, carpenters, ushers, bar staff, agents, critics, admin staff, accountants, cleaners, security… you see where I’m going with this?

The list doesn’t just stop at theatre shows: Glastonbury, Electric Picnic, Oxegen, Sziget, Tommorrowland would all be brought to their knees. As well as all of the individual tours of the leading music artists in Europe.

Put simply, to our knowledge there are no forms of live performance reliant on stage lighting that are currently capable of surviving with this legislation in place.

In response to this, the Association of Lighting Designers (ALD) has launched the #SaveStageLighting campaign to protect the future of venues and theatres across Europe against the devastating effect of the EU’s proposed Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019.

The #SaveStageLighting Campaign must demonstrate to the EU Energy Directorate, the widest possible cultural opposition to these proposals. Performances rely on theatrical lighting; it is the glue that binds every aspect of a performance together. Theatre lighting relies on having the right tools available to create just the right effect at just the right moment.

A successful outcome to the #SaveStageLighting campaign is essential to secure exemption for stage lighting from these proposals. The consequences of failure would be catastrophic to the entertainment industry and European culture.

What does the Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019 entail?

The Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019 proposes that after September 2020, only lighting fixtures that meet a certain level of energy efficiency will be allowed to be sold within the EU. In effect, they want to bring all stage lighting units under the same regulations that govern industrial and domestic lighting. The efficiency level that has been set is now so high that there are currently almost no products capable of achieving it, nor will there be within the given timescale.

What will the real impact of the plan be on European theatre?

At the first level, the impact is crippling in a financial sense. To replace stage lighting fixtures alone with new EU-approved sources would mean buying an entirely new rig of LED lighting units which is costly in itself. However, the requirement for venues would be full replacement of the building’s lighting infrastructure, including dimmers, cabling and control consoles as well as fixtures. To budget for and implement within two years will prove difficult for larger venues. For smaller venues it will be ruinous, and they will literally go dark.

More troubling still, however, is that currently very few theatrical-quality LED lighting fixtures come close to matching the beauty, subtlety, richness and poetry of tungsten light sources. The indication from LED manufacturers is that no new fixtures of this type will be able to meet these new regulations, even by 2020. The reality at the moment is that as units become irreplaceable, the entire repertoire of work reliant on those products will close until suitable replacement instruments are designed and manufactured.

With recent studies showing that stage lighting typically accounts for less than 5% of a theatre’s total energy consumption, focusing forced expenditure on the other 95% of a theatre’s energy consumption, where much greater energy savings are possible, surely makes greater economic sense.

We are appealing for your support. Follow us online at @SaveLighting on Twitter and @SaveStageLighting on Facebook. From there you’ll easily be able to find our petition, links to your MEPs and ways to contact the EU directly.

Lets do everything we can to #SaveStageLighting!
Robbie Butler
Lighting Designer and #SaveStageLighting campaign coordinator.

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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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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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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

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The Dancing Club, Caroline Jester: ‘Work that inspires me is a diversity of work.’

The Dancing Club is a new play for community owned spaces, school and village halls, libraries, arts centres and theatres. Produced by Pippa Frith and written and directed by Caroline Jester, The Dancing Club is based around the remarkable and inspirational true story of Kidderminster legends Frank and Wynn Freeman and their selfless drive to get a town dancing.

I caught up with writer and director Caroline Jester recently. Here is what we discussed.

Hi Caroline! Can you tell me a bit about The Dancing Club and what led you to this project?

Most of my career to date has been developing work in cities but coming from a town where there is little provision for the arts I have always had a fascination with how to explore these towns in connection with the arts. Towns that have an industrial heritage, so distinct from villages and cities, where the main industry has died out and they are often forgotten in terms of arts provisions. I use playwriting as a tool in many ways in my practice as well as to develop plays for the stage and I wanted to see if a verbatim approach could facilitate audience development in these towns. Verbatim is often used as a response to an event so this was an experiment as I wasn’t reacting against an event but trying to create the event. I thought back to my childhood and remembered the dancing school I went to for six years and started from there. I discovered this had run for over fifty years and started as a ballroom dancing school but became a space where youth culture exploded across the generations, including being a place where the likes of Marc Bolan and Fleetwood Mac played gigs in the room above a butcher’s shop.

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Sounds interesting. How did you go about collecting the testimony and information?

I interviewed over 100 residents of the town aged 25 – 90 and over 150 people came to readings of early drafts, so an audience was developing. Steve Elias had his BBC series ‘Our Dancing Town’ on at the same time where he was connecting generations through dance in Yorkshire towns so we connected and he is now the choreographer on the show that is about to tour.

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As well as The Dancing Club being out on tour you have a new book out: ‘Fifty Playwrights on Their Craft. Tell me more about that, it sounds like a huge project.

I interviewed 25 – my US collaborator, Caridad Svich interviewed the other 25 – very much a UK US collaboration – the premise of it was to think about an intergenerational conversation. So, it is a book of interviews with writers of different generations but writers from different perspectives on their craft and what that means to them as playwrights. A key aim was to ensure 50/50 male-female –Artists in the US seem to have a much greater appreciation or knowledge of predecessors and practitioners.

What did you think about the recent Rita, Sue and Bob Too debacle around ‘working class voices’ being censored at the Royal Court

I didn’t seen this production but I did hear that one of the arguments to reinstate the production was because if it wasn’t shown then it would be one less ‘working class’ voice on our stages. I think we have to be careful when we use the term ‘working class voices’ because to be working class does not mean you are part of a homogeneous group of people. No one ‘working class’ voice will be the same and I feel we should steer clear of the use of the word ‘authentic’ in these discussions as well. From what I know about Andrea Dunbar then she could be categorised as being working class based on economic status and having lived on a council estate but there have been others, there are others and there will be others who also have a similar biography so can’t we look beyond this and have a conversation solely about the work instead? A bigger question is whether there will be any social housing rather than any ‘working class voices’.

What inspires you as a theatre-maker?

Work that inspires me is a diversity of work and I hope I am inspired and open enough to contradict my own beliefs in what is good and challenging work, and this is something that constantly changes.

The Dancing Club opens at Kidderminster College and then tours to Shropshire, Bewdley, Malvern, Bromsgrove, Smethwick, Wolverhampton, Worester & Cumbria.

For more information: https://www.thedancingclub.co.uk/

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Open letter: It’s time to put an end to the toxic West End PR culture.

Dear all,
Long story short, it’s time to put an end to the toxic West End PR culture.
There are times in life when you have to say, “do you know what, let’s not put up with idiocy anymore.” The Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn piece arguing that two dads are not ‘the new normal’ crossed the line. Freedom of speech isn’t a passport to spout hatred and bigotry.

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For too long PR and The Daily Mail have had a toxic relationship with ‘scoops’ being handed over to their ‘Entertainment Reporter’ Baz Bamigboye. London theatre PRs extend Baz preferential treatment — when they owe equal attention to all media.

But the more you find out about theatre, and the more you find out about the way theatre works, don’t you find yourself realising that nothing, not even Baz’s scoops, really happen by accident?

The Daily Telegraph Chief Theatre Critic, Dominic Cavendish summed it up recently with this Tweet. 

Arts journalism and arts journalists deserve better. What are we, the theatre-consuming community, to take from all this? Well we can simply say that enough is enough.

I call on the following Press Managers / Publicists to restore the Arts PR business in the interests of preserving the sense of an inclusive, free and fair press and in recognition of transparent arts journalism.

NT Press Office

RSC Press Office

The Almeida Theatre

Emma Holland PR

Target Live

Jo Allan PR

Kate Morley PR

Cornershop PR

Draper Conway

Royal Court Theatre

Kevin Wilson PR

Premier PR  

Amanda Malpass PR

I will be updating this blog in 7 days time – I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Carl Woodward 

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Nuffield Southampton Theatre’s Sam Hodges: ‘I want to take work to London but I don’t want to compromise our artistic identity.’

Sam Hodges
Sam Hodges in Rehearsals

Sam Hodges in Rehearsals

NST, Nuffield Southampton Theatres new venue is situated in the heart of the city and has a 450-seat main house alongside a 133-seat studio. The inaugural production at NST City is the world première of the Howard Brenton play The Shadow Factory, which is set in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. The production features state of the art technology and video projections by the Tony Award-winning 59 Productions. Exciting times.

Samuel Hodges is the creative and executive Director of NST Theatres. How would he describe the past few months? “It turned out to be a quadruple unknown,” he says. “This is a brand-new piece theatre in a brand-new building, there is also the community chorus amongst the state of the art technology – so we went into the process with so many variables. I’m really pleased with how it has come together – Howard has said it is his love letter to Southampton, the birthplace of the Spitfire aircraft.”

So, how is he dealing with the pressure of launching a brand-new venue? “Right now, there is a genuine sense of anticipation around the opening of this building, which has surprised all of us and exceeded all of our hopes. There is a genuine buzz of curiosity and investment. What’s interesting is not only the number of people but the distance they are travelling. In terms of our ability to be more accessible and more visible and be more open to people across the county,” says Hodges.

The Shadow Factory

The Shadow Factory

By contrast, Hodges is deeply aware of the gamble and pressure of getting a show like The Shadow Factory off the ground, not to mention the involvement of a community chorus. Making theatre with local amateur participants doesn’t diminish the art but gives it new purpose. “It has been glorious and exciting,” he says.

“I’m not going to lie, we were given the building far too late and were given the keys just before we started rehearsing the show. As a director you aren’t always sure of the tone of you work, because you are so close to it. I tend to enjoy design and movement. All previews are a time of balancing things. I do feel like we are doing justice to the story,” says Hodges.

His 2018 season, contains some inspiring projects, including co-productions with Theatr Clwyd and English Touring Theatre, while Hodges directs a workshop musical adaptation of cult film Son of Rambow. “It is an ode to the 1980’s – it’s a sort of modern day Oliver Twist,” he says. “It’s a musical I’ve been working on for three years with songwriter Miranda Cooper. It is a Nuffield Southampton Theatres workshop production in association with The Other Palace, London. Essentially an opportunity to workshop for 3 weeks and have public fairings along the way– it might get off book and be fully realised– it’s about getting feedback and having the space to develop it.”

This is the passion that drives Sam. Is he inspired by successes of other regional theatres like Bristol Old Vic? (which currently has two home-grown shows in town The Grinning Man and Long Day’s Journey Into Night.) “Our audience is incredibly diverse; in terms of age and background and embracing new ideas: they are up for it,” he says. “I want to take work to London but I don’t want to compromise our artistic identity. The reason for taking work into London, generally, is about developing the theatre and the cities brand on a national level – the reason I suppose I’m going slowly in that direction is that I want to make sure that by the time we get there is it isn’t by doing a celebrity-led version of the Important of Being Earnest. I do think Bristol are doing excellent work – it’s about work that lifts a theatre and lifts a city,” says Hodges

 

We talk about the writer/director relationship. I refer to the recent Twitter thread that I started ‘playwrights being told off.’ Does he think playwrights are bullied in the rehearsal room? “No. But I do feel that they can be a very odd and powerless situation for a writer. The sort of unspoken rule of a rehearsal room is that it is the directors room. Howard is an absolute joy: a combination of sage and calm and mischievous. I’d say it is about negotiation. You do worry the writer hates what you are doing – more often they are listening to the rhythm of their own words. I’ll come out of a preview but he’ll just say: ‘That word – needs to go…’ We’ve disagreed on quite a few things but that’s part of the process.”

The Shadow Factory stars Anita Dobson (aka Angie, of EastEnders) wife of rock guitarist Brian May as leading lady. How was it sitting next to a living legend in for the first preview? “Extremely surreal,” he says, laughing. “It’s a different level of legend isn’t it? He was pretty laid back and I think he enjoyed himself. He definitely gave Anita feedback – you always know when your actors have had their other halves in. Brian was the first person to buy a drink from our bar, which was pretty special.”

Craig David was recently announced as a patron of NST, a role that will see him championing the theatre’s work. Why him? “Craig David is Southampton born and bred,” he says when I bring this up. “We are trying to build a local network of support. We are expanding our programme of theatre to include music, amongst other things, within artistic the programme out patrons are figureheads but ideally, they are individuals through which younger audiences can come through the doors and share an affinity with. I must admit I did get a load of text messages after the announcement: Craig David – exclamation mark, exclamation mark, heart emoji. Craig joins our other patron Harriet Walter, I’ve always been a huge fan of Harriett’s and she lives just outside of the city,” says Hodges.

There is a still a challenge ahead, though, as he says “It’s not always about saying what you want – it’s about delivering what we said we would. One of our main focuses and priorities has been putting together a team that works for what we want to achieve. Which I think we have done. I feel immensely proud of all of our staff.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE TRAILER OF THE SHADOW FACTORY

The Shadow Factory runs at the NST City, Southampton from 16 February to 3 March.

Box Office 023 8067 1771