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West End ticket prices are alienating an entire generation of audiences 🎭

TONIGHT at the Royal Albert Hall, London theatreland will gather for the annual Olivier Awards ceremony.

The Oliviers are seen as the most prestigious awards event in UK theatre.

To be eligible, shows must have played in a theatre that is represented within the membership of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).

Pop your teeth-grinding guards in and gather round, because it’s time to talk about theatre ticket prices again. Long-suffering theatre fans know that sky-high ticket prices are now par for the course and £395 “package” seats are a complete norm for the London theatres.

In 2015, the most expensive ticket in the West End was £152.25 for The Book of Mormon. It’s more than doubled in less than a decade. 

In recent months actors Cush Jumbo, Ralph Fiennes, David Tennant, and Andrew Scott have hit out against high and elite theatre ticket prices. Some people seem perfectly happy that theatre is now a luxury item. But not me.

This week, Patti LuPone remarked: “I don’t believe how expensive the tickets are at the door. It’s become an elite sport. If you’re going to develop audiences, you have to get young people in the theatre, and they have to see more than Back to the Future.”

On Broadway, the most expensive tickets cost $599 (£480) for Merrily We Roll Along

According to the Broadway League, the average ticket price for a Broadway show has hit a new record high — last season’s (2022-2023) ticket prices corresponded to more than $128.

But if that’s what the markets will bear, what are you supposed to do?

Indeed, while three quarters of Britons are willing to go to the theatre, fewer than half have been in the last 12 months.

A recent survey by YouGov found that 41 per cent of Londoners had been to the theatre in the past year (nationwide it was 31 per cent).

How much is too much for a theatre ticket? During a cost-of-living crisis anyone using dynamic pricing, a pricing strategy that businesses use to gain increased profits by driving up prices during high demand, needs to examine what exactly they are contributing to UK Theatre.

Newsflash: The cost of theatre tickets is the main reason people don’t go.

So, what’s the answer? Will commercial theatre ever not use dynamic pricing? Short answer: No. Because it’s easier, because it’s a habit, because producers and theatre owners can’t think of anything more constructive to do, and because it gets them instant cash.

For example, leading player Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) and their monopoly in the industry is harming customers and artists alike. Premium tickets for the Aladdin UK Tour at ATG’s Theatre Royal Glasgow are as much as £175.

What may sweeten the pill for theatregoers is that in some honest cases at least, the expensive premium seats are subsidising much cheaper tickets aimed at bringing in new, younger audiences.

Across the limited run of Jamie Lloyd’s Romeo & Juliet at the Duke of York’s Theatre, around 10,000 tickets for all tiers (including the front row) have sold out for £25 or less, 5,000 tickets were reserved for people under 30, key workers and in receipt of government benefits.

(Interestingly, Jamie Lloyd’s company recently became fully independent, after 10 years partnering with ATG.)

Up the road, at the Phoenix Theatre (ATG) Sonia Friedman recently revealed Netflix sci-fi prequel spin-off Stranger Things: The First Shadow is attracting “thousands of people who are coming to the theatre for the first time.”

Well, that’s great news.

There is a weekly TodayTix lottery for a dozen front-row ‘Shadow Seats’ at £19.50 each. That said, the venue is a 1,028 seat venue – so, around 1 per cent of seats are under £20 that 99.9999% people probably won’t win.

And if you want to sit in the stalls the cheapest seats are £75 — with a severely restricted view, because of the dreadful overhang from the level above. Top price tickets are as much £250. Of course, there is more price volatility, which can push prices higher due to a surge of last-minute demand.

Alas, despite rising wage bills, rampant inflation, dramatic energy costs, profits seem to be up for the usual suspects in the West End.

As for Andrew Lloyd Webber, recent LW Theatres’ accounts, reveal that sales rose by 19% to £190.7 million from £160.8 million in 2022, with the boost attributed to the end of pandemic disruptions.

In a report posted to Companies House LW noted: “We expect another full year of trading next year but anticipate our turnover and profitability will continue to be put under pressure by the cost-of-living crisis and high interest rates and the impact of these factors on consumer spending.”

Taking in the “broader economic environment”, the report emphasised LW Theatre’s aim to head off falling ticket sales by “continually monitoring and adjusting ticket prices”.

But let’s move on to Cameron Mackintosh Ltd – – that operates eight venues and produces Hamilton– the company saw turnover almost double year on year – to £186 million – Profit before tax was £45.5 million, compared with £18.9 million in 2022.

It was revealed recently that Delfont Mackintosh’s average ticket price for a play is £54. For a musical it’s £68.

Interviewed recently Cameron Mackintosh chirped, with all apparent sincerity: “You would be bloody lucky to get out of a decent restaurant, including a decent bottle of wine, for under £100. It is expensive … But it is not too expensive,”

Mackintosh added: “This is a very good system. This is capitalism working properly.” 

Honestly, no it is not.

In my wildest fantasies I’d like to think Sir Cameron would dwell on an irony here; in reality, people are contending with stagnant wages, high energy bills, staggering food prices and dreadful living standards — one in five tenants are now spending over half their salary on rent. 

Denying accusations of greed, SOLT responded to David Tennant’s criticism of “ludicrous” West End ticket prices, highlighting that average ticket prices have decreased when adjusted for inflation. Well, now. SOLT’s argument is irrelevant since pay does not go up by inflation.

The cheapest seats, which often have a restricted view, and induce vertigo increased by almost 13% this year compared with last. 

Of course, these conditions mean that rising ticket prices are alienating an entire generation of future audiences, it can’t just be left to the subsidised regional theatres to take moral responsibility for building tomorrow’s audiences

So how’s this for a plan? Transparent, clear up-front information about the cost of theatre – it would be a win for everyone.

It would demonstrate to the public how much it takes to get a show on. More schemes like Jamie Lloyd’s – ring fencing cultural opportunity for those from diverse backgrounds. 

And if Broadway publishes weekly grosses, what makes the West End so special not to?

But I’m not expecting two miracles in a week, ’cos all I’ve ever really wanted was West End theatre owners, producers and corporate companies like ATG to make theatre truly accessible. Theatre should be for everyone.

And the tragedy is that we all know it, and even the brilliant people who come up with the brilliant shows know it – but they’re still pushing premium prices because they think that it works in the very short term.

Yet in the long term, it really, really doesn’t – even the most shrewd producer should realise the damage that short-term financial gain does to public perceptions about theatre and who it is for. 

No doubt that well-oiled theatre PR machine will again defend sky-high ticket prices.

Ultimately, of course, one of the biggest questions for many remains: if theatre ceases to be a popular art for people in their twenties and thirties, will it become extinct for all but the wealthy?

Theatre is already being sidelined in favour of movies and gaming. The prominence of reviews and arts coverage is shrinking. Editors know that theatre is no longer an important part of the national cultural conversation. Yup, The Sunday Times now leads with only one theatre review and has all but given up on the idea of providing an overview of the theatre week in London.

Finally, change will not come from the generosity of those who profit from the existing state of affairs. It will emerge from the continued challenge of those who do not. 

Has the hour of need ever been greater?

The Olivier Awards will broadcast a highlights programme on Sunday 14 April at 10:10pm on ITV1.

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For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy writer and Director Ryan Calais Cameron’s vision is bold and unapologetic, weaving together a tapestry of vignettes that oscillate between introspection and explosive catharsis. 

Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s 1976 work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Calais Cameron’s play opens with six young men: Tobi King Bakare, Shakeel Haakim making his professional debut, Fela Lufadeju, Albert Magashi, Mohammed Mansaray and Posi Morakinyo. 

This is a memorable piece about Black masculinity and Black life in Britain, the wounds and crises of class conditioned by the background weather of race and identity. The nature of manhood is one of Mr. Calais Cameron’s chief concerns.

It’s an entirely unique vision and wrongfoots us from the start. Exhilarating and emotionally rich exploration of masculinity, mental health and the six men’s relationship with black history. The production’s emotional intensity is all the greater for the fierce restraint that the actors—and the characters—display.

One is passed over by the girls playing kiss-chase. Another is subjected to a “routine check” by police in Hackney. There’s the one who accuses his educated friend of being “whitewashed” as he tries to fit in. This was exciting, unnerving, bristling with youth and volume. 

The crucial thing is that this play – now on its second West End run – is urging people to look hard at these profound issues around human behaviour, and really think about what makes people who they are. 

Here, too, the entire ensemble’s acting is elegant, emotional, and superb in all its impacted pain and ongoing struggles. The combination of artistry and emotional directness in this play is overwhelming to me.

Anna Reid’s fluorescent playground set and costume design is terrific. The music — hip-hop, R&B, astute classical sound design and composition by Nicola T. Chang — is both surprising and perfect. 

Lighting wise, Rory Beaton paints the stage not in the gritty, neorealist tones expected of such streetwise stories, but with the rich textures and saturated colours of a waking dream that uniquely mixes music, movement, storytelling, and verse.

Overall, this is a provocative piece of theatre that delves deep into the complexities of the black male experience. With raw honesty and poetic flair, the production navigates themes of identity, mental health, and systemic oppression with an unflinching gaze. 

Red Pitch, a piece about three Black teenagers first seen at the Bush, is running up the road at the new Soho Place theatre. Watching this at the Garrick Theatre I noticed how racially and socially mixed the audience was compared with nearly every other West End show. 

But we’re starved of these narratives in the West End and Calais Cameron’s raw drama showcases why they are so hugely important.

Considering this started life at the 80-seater New Diorama in 2021, it’s a stunning achievement but also proves theatre can flourish on the small scale, by commissioning fresh, interesting work that doesn’t rely on expensive production.

Late to the party, I know. Alas, I doubt that I will see a better play in the West End this year.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is at the Garrick theatre, London until 4 May

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Opening Night

THE joy and the pain of writing about theatre is that, after a while, you realise you’ve seen almost everything theatre has to offer.

Please forgive any sense of over-indulgence, exaggeration or deja-vu that accompanies the following announcement, but I think I may just have watched the best worst musical of all time.

“I’ve been in the theatre all my life and I still don’t know anything about it,” cries one character. Well, quite.

After a few minutes of Opening Night, I began to get that depressed feeling, and, after a half hour, felt rather offended. 

In the West End, cynicism and pessimism are natural bedfellows. Do we really need another piece of musical theatre about sad actresses?

The show includes an immersive segment in which Sheridan Smith’s character, Myrtle, collapses in a drunken state outside the stage door with the scenes projected onto screens inside.

There’s so much going on – flashbacks and crosscutting – that you’re never allowed any peace. Why? To keep you from getting bored. It succeeds in that, but the effect is nerve jangling.

Something odd happened during Opening Night, which is based on the 1977 film of the same name, with music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright, on Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

One minute the star Smith was quietly contemplating how to ‘make magic out of tragic’.

The next, a dubstep backing track had kicked in and Smith was murdering ghost girl Nancy (Shira Haas), – who doesn’t exist – with a lamp. 

At which point — and I make no apology for this reaction — I exploded, with laughter, not just because the scene itself was unintentionally very funny, but I’d also noticed the entire row in front of me had left during the interval. 

Admittedly, it could’ve been even more mortifying if Cameron Mackintosh had popped out from behind one of the doors and joined in on backing vocals.

You could also describe it as “so bad it’s good”, but that would underestimate the scale of this one massively. 

I hated act 1. I left the Theatre delirious. 

Van Hove sets up promising situations and then the pay offs are out of step. The show is full of bits of dialogue that have lost what they connected with, character relations that have become disjointed, scenes that dribble off, so after the first 30 minutes or so the production loses momentum.

In the story, Myrtle, played by Smith, is having a nervous breakdown after the death of one of her fans, the very image of her younger self.

Various men letch over her. And so, it continues. A visual atrocity with an unnerving use of creepy physical intimacy, and a tired use of video footage. 

And, no, technically it’s not actually a musical, it’s a very po-faced play with jazzy music. Smith’s work doesn’t hold together here, but how could it? 

Opening Night is so epically, wonderfully, bloody awful it’s occasionally brilliant. 

Still, the cast are seriously talented, and they saw it right through to the bitter end and then, like trained psychopaths, carried on the curtain call as if nothing untoward had happened, cheerfully clapping along with no coordination and telling us: “You gotta make magic out of tragic.” 

This is clearly not just my opinion. Because I want to make it clear I am laughing at this show, not with it. One can have a fairly good time laughing at Act 2, but it doesn’t sit too well as a joke because the people on stage are being humiliated and underused. (I didn’t really enjoy seeing Sheridan Smith making a fool of herself)

The 16 credited producers clearly haven’t noticed what they’re doing, though, as they’ve spent the preview period chopping and changing this from an incoherent shambles into a dystopian Funny Girl

Without Smith the piece is extinct.

Someone really should’ve had a word here and said: “Ivo, darling, loved your A Little Life, but Sunset Boulevard did all this with more style.” But they didn’t.

This is not to deny that the actors do a good job. I thought Hadley Fraser tried his best. 

Yet, for all its skill, I found myself admiring Jan Versweyveld’s lighting more than relishing drama.

But look, when Van Hove goes wrong, he goes laboriously, painfully wrong.

Anyway, Opening Night is, at least itself: and has become more like a weird cross between Zorro – The Musical and Merrily We Roll Along — with zero joy or musicality. 2.5 wretched hours of dissonant play-within-the-play madness. 

Opening Night is at the Gielgud theatre, London, until 27 July

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Olivier Awards predictions 2024: who will win, who should win

Is Sunset Boulevard a lock across the board? Does Little Big Things have a chance?

Sheridan Smith, Nicole Scherzinger, Sarah Snook, James Norton and Andrew Scott are among the big names whose West End work during the past 12 months has today won them Olivier nominations.

Sunset Boulevard, starring Scherzinger, leads the pack with 11 nominations for Jamie Lloyd’s radical revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical.

No big surprises here this year, folks: it’s been an exceptional year for shows, from the excellent A Strange Loop to the wonderful Sondheim Old Friends concert. 

Yet the vast majority of the awards class show up dutifully while claiming to loathe it. 

Before we go on, 100% of the nominees for the Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director are men Stephen Daldry & Justin Martin for Stranger Things: The First Shadow, Rupert Goold for Dear England, Jamie Lloyd for Sunset Boulevard and Sam Mendes for The Motive & The Cue

Yup, a recent ‘The Women in Theatre survey’found that only 6% of respondents believe there has been an increase in opportunities for women in the sector since a previous survey in 2021.

Alas, despite the dominance of men in every profession in theatre, there seems to be no strategy to address it. 

Still, bravo to Rufus Norris for The National Theatre’s 15 nominations in total, including three of the four best new play nods for The Motive and the Cue, Till The Stars Come Down and Dear England.

But I have to say that Jamie Lloyd’s richly powerful and unashamedly alien melodrama Sunset Boulevard, Andrew Scott’s one-man Vanya and the brilliant Operation Mincemeat gets my support — and I suspect that of Olivier Award voters as well.

Certainly, I am delighted that Haydn Gwynne has been posthumously nominated for her role in When Winston Went To War With The Wireless at Donmar Warehouse, too. 

Anyway, here are my predictions for the biggest night in British Theatre.

The Olivier Awards 2024 with Mastercard will be on April 14 at the Royal Albert Hall.

Full list of nominations (plus who will win, who should win)

Noël Coward Award for Best New Entertainment or Comedy Play

Accidental Death Of An Anarchist by Dario Fo & Franca Rame, adapted by Tom Basden at the Lyric Hammersmith & Theatre Royal Haymarket

Should win: Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends, music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim at the Gielgud Theatre

Will win: Stranger Things: The First Shadow by Kate Trefry at the Phoenix Theatre

Vardy V Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial, adapted by Liv Hennessy at the Ambassadors Theatre

Best Family Show

Bluey’s Big Play by Joe Brumm at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall

Dinosaur World Live by Derek Bond at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Should win: The House With Chicken Legs, book by Sophie Anderson, adapted by Oliver Lansley at

Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall

Will win: The Smeds And The Smoos, book by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler, adapted by Tall

Stories at the Lyric Theatre

Gillian Lynne Award for Best Theatre Choreographer

Will win: Fabian Aloise for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Ellen Kane & Hannes Langolf for Dear England at  the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

Arlene Phillips with James Cousins for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Mark Smith for The Little Big Things at @sohoplace

Should win: Susan Stroman for Crazy For You at the Gillian Lynne Theatre

Mithridate Award for Best Costume Design

Bunny Christie & Deborah Andrews for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Ryan Dawson Laight for La Cage Aux Folles at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Should win / will win: Hugh Durrant for Peter Pan at The London Palladium

Marg Horwell for The Picture Of Dorian Gray at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Cunard Best Revival

The Effect by Lucy Prebble at the National Theatre – Lyttelton

Macbeth by William Shakespeare at the Donmar Warehouse

Should win: Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell at the Duke Of York’s Theatre

Will win: Vanya by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Simon Stephens at the Duke Of York’s Theatre

Best Musical Revival

Groundhog Day, music & lyrics by Tim Minchin, book by Danny Rubin at The Old Vic

Should win: Guys & Dolls, music & lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows at the Bridge Theatre

Hadestown, music, lyrics & book by Anaïs Mitchell at the Lyric Theatre

Will win: Sunset Boulevard, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics & book by Don Black & Christopher Hampton at the Savoy Theatre

d&b audiotechnik Award for Best Sound Design

Paul Arditti for Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix Theatre

Will win: Dan Balfour & Tom Gibbins for Dear England at the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

Adam Fisher for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Should win:Gareth Fry for Macbeth at the Donmar Warehouse

Outstanding Musical Contribution

Tom Brady for Musical Supervision & Arrangements and Charlie Rosen for Orchestrations for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Matt Brind for Musical Supervision, Arrangements & Orchestrations for Just For One Day at The Old Vic

Should win: Steve Sidwell for Orchestrations & Joe Bunker for Musical Direction for Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre

Will win: Alan Williams for Musical Supervision & Musical Direction for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Will Close for Dear England at the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

Should win: Paul Hilton for An Enemy Of The People at the Duke Of York’s Theatre

Will win: Giles Terera for Clyde’s at the Donmar Warehouse

Luke Thompson for A Little Life at the Harold Pinter Theatre & Savoy Theatre

Zubin Varla for A Little Life at the Harold Pinter Theatre & Savoy Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Lorraine Ashbourne for Till The Stars Come Down at the National Theatre – Dorfman

Priyanga Burford for An Enemy Of The People at the Duke Of York’s Theatre

Should win / will win: Haydn Gwynne for When Winston Went To War With The Wireless at the Donmar Warehouse

Gina McKee for Dear England at the National Theatre – Olivier

Tanya Reynolds for A Mirror at the Almeida Theatre & Trafalgar Theatre

Blue-i Theatre Technology Award for Best Set Design

Will win: Miriam Buether for Set Design & 59 Productions for Video Design for Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix Theatre

Should win: Bunny Christie for Set Design for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Es Devlin for Set Design & Ash J Woodward for Video Design for Dear England at the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

Soutra Gilmour for Set Design and Nathan Amzi & Joe Ransom for Video Design for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

White Light Award for Best Lighting Design

Jon Clark for Dear England at the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

Jon Clark for Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix Theatre

Paule Constable for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Should win / Will win: Jack Knowles for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role In a Musical

Should win: Grace Hodgett Young for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Zoë Roberts for Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre

Will win: Amy Trigg for The Little Big Things at @sohoplace

Eleanor Worthington-Cox for Next To Normal at the Donmar Warehouse

Best Actor in a Supporting Role In a Musical

Jak Malone for Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre

Cedric Neal for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Should win / Will winDavid Thaxton for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Jack Wolfe for Next To Normal at the Donmar Warehouse

TAIT Award for Best New Opera Production

Should win: Blue by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Innocence by the Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House

Picture A Day Like This by the Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House – Linbury Theatre

Will win: The Rhinegold by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Outstanding Achievement in Opera

Antonio Pappano for his role as Musical Director of the Royal Opera House

Should win: Belarus Free Theatre Company for King Stakh’s Wild Hunt at the Barbican Theatre

Will win: Marina Abramović for her concept and design of 7 Deaths Of Maria Callas at the London Coliseum

Best Actor in a Musical

David Cumming for Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre

Should win: Tom Francis for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Daniel Mays for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Will win: Charlie Stemp for Crazy For You at the Gillian Lynne Theatre

Best Actress in a Musical

Should win: Natasha Hodgson for Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre

Caissie Levy for Next To Normal at the Donmar Warehouse

Will win: Nicole Scherzinger for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Marisha Wallace for Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

Unusual Rigging Award for Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre

Will win: Blue Mist by Mohamed-Zain Dada at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre

Should win: A Playlist For The Revolution by AJ Yi at the Bush Theatre

Sleepova by Matilda Feyişayo at the Bush Theatre

The Swell by Isley Lynn at the Orange Tree Theatre

The Time Machine: A Comedy by Steven Canny and John Nicholson at the Park Theatre

Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director

Stephen Daldry & Justin Martin for Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix Theatre

Rupert Goold for Dear England at the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

Will win: Jamie Lloyd for Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre

Should win: Sam Mendes for The Motive And The Cue at the National Theatre – Lyttelton & Noël Coward Theatre

Best Actress

Should win: Laura Donnelly for The Hills Of California at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Sophie Okonedo for Medea at @sohoplace

Will win: Sarah Jessica Parker for Plaza Suite at the Savoy Theatre

Sheridan Smith for Shirley Valentine at the Duke Of York’s Theatre

Sarah Snook for The Picture Of Dorian Gray at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Best Actor

Joseph Fiennes for Dear England at the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

Mark Gatiss for The Motive And The Cue at the National Theatre – Lyttelton & Noël Coward Theatre

James Norton for A Little Life at the Harold Pinter Theatre & Savoy Theatre

Should win / Will win: Andrew Scott for Vanya at the Duke Of York’s Theatre

David Tennant for Macbeth at the Donmar Warehouse

The Londoner Award for Best New Play

Dear England by James Graham at the National Theatre – Olivier & Prince Edward Theatre

The Hills Of California by Jez Butterworth at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Will win: The Motive And The Cue by Jack Thorne at the National Theatre – Lyttelton & Noël Coward Theatre

Should win: Till The Stars Come Down by Beth Steel at the National Theatre – Dorfman

Mastercard Best New Musical

The Little Big Things, music by Nick Butcher, lyrics by Nick Butcher & Tom Ling, book by Joe White at @sohoplace

Next To Normal, music by Tom Kitt, book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey at the Donmar Warehouse

Will win: Operation Mincemeat, music, lyrics & book by David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson & Zoë Roberts at the Fortune Theatre

Should win: A Strange Loop, music, lyrics & book by Michael R. Jackson at the Barbican Theatre

Is Sunset Boulevard a lock across the board? Does Little Big Things have a chance?
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Theatre: are we f***ed?

The UK is in recession – which means the economy has been shrinking for most of the last year. 

Theatre is increasing being preserved for the wealthy, which will disproportionately affect the next generation of theatregoers

There has been a lot of discourse about ticket prices since the £400 tickets for Cock starring Taron Egerton fiasco. 

So let’s start with actor David Harewood: “My wife went to the theatre the other day, it cost her nearly £200 – who could afford that?”

Indeed, Harewood, Rada’s first black President, explained that theatre is at risk of ‘vanishing’ because of soaring costs and needs to be protected. 

Hard to argue with that.

Without wishing to over-egg a pudding that is already 90% meringue, audiences need increased transparency in ticket sales, and protecting from overpriced tickets.

In related news, then, Cameron Mackintosh Ltdrecently saw turnover almost double year on year – to £186 million – as the company reported its first full 12 months of accounts since the pandemic. Still, Mackintosh famously said “Theatre’s excellence comes at a price.”

Some guys have all the luck.

Plaza Suite in the West End, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, is selling “premium” seats at £395 (plus a £3.80 transaction fee!). That’s more than the average weekly rent for a studio flat in Primrose Hill.

Where does this end? Who are the people other than billionaire theatre owners, paid publicists, lapdoggy influencers and ATG staff defending premium prices? Literally nobody.

Increasingly, however, it’s not just me and David Harewood who are alarmed about eye-watering ticket prices.

Last year, Dominic West called West End ticket prices “crazy”.

Ralph Fiennes suggested to BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg that ticket prices are “worryingly high,” in the West End. “We can do it (lower prices),” he said.

David Tennant, recently said some theatre tickets had become “ludicrously” expensive and warned that young people would be deterred from going.

Society of London Theatre co-chief executive Claire Walker responded to Tennant’s criticism highlighting that average ticket prices had decreased when adjusted for inflation. Hmm.

Heck, even Patsy Ferran is uncomfortable with it all: “Theatre should be accessible. If tickets get to a certain price that only a very small amount of people can have access, it gets to be problematic… Prices have reached a point that is shocking to me, but maybe I should just get used to it.”

And it was unarguably powerful to hear Andrew Scott say seats costing £150 are driving away young people and risk keeping theatre ‘elitist’.

Scott told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme: “No matter how zeitgeisty or how modern you think your play is, if you are having to spend £150, no person between the age of 16-25 or beyond is going to be able to afford that. That is frustrating to me.”

Of course, these criticisms have been flung at the West End for over a decade, and they routinely bounce off armour-plated titans like ATG, a company with all the too-big-to-fail swagger of a debt collection agency.

A recent survey by The Stage newspaper showed the average price of the most expensive tickets was £141, but the average price of the cheapest had risen by more than inflation to £25. The latter development is a serious concern; these prices are creeping closer to Broadway levels.

Well, according to theatre producer Patrick Gracey, top prices “reflect demand and the willingness and capacity to pay by those people who want the best possible seats.”

He stated that it can cost up to £350,000 a week to operate a West End musical, which means that the production might need to sell £500,000 of tickets that same week to meet its operating costs.

Anyway, Cush Jumbo summed things up recently: “Audiences would be shocked to know what the actors performing on that stage are getting (paid) a week” she says. “Because it wouldn’t pay for two of those seats.”

Alas, even with the painful cost of living crisis, people are still paying the crazy prices. Of course, I agree this is a sensible way to balance the economical challenges of producing star driven work, with a limited run in the West End in 2024. But if you are on £34,963 a year – the median annual salary in the UK in 2022 – and after you have paid tax and national insurance, it would represent around one week’s pay.

Anyhow, I can’t believe it even needs to be said out loud: if no theatre producers agree to dynamic pricing on their shows, it would cease to exist. Trotting out ‘supply and demand’ won’t cut it. Economically, short-term salvation lies in the middle-class pound that extends to interval champagne and cheeseboards.

Nevertheless, I guess we are where we are. But what if that place is Birmingham? Or Bristol? Communities will soon be paying the price of horrifying 100% cuts made by the city councils to many theatre’s arts funding, in a move that has been termed “cultural vandalism” by many.

A holy slap has been delivered to theatres, and even a business built on pretending increasingly no longer avoids acknowledging it.

Suffolk County Council is exploring a new funding model after the total withdrawal of investment. Meanwhile, senior Labour councillors in Nottingham have refused to back proposed recent council cuts that included an 100% reduction to arts funding.

Surely it is now time for the bigger theatres to develop more innovative approaches to pricing, and address head on the issue that keeps most people out of theatres: the fact that the cost of going is often disproportionate to the experience offered. 

The increasing number of lotteries for tickets are not the answer, either. Often these lotteries involve very few tickets. 

Bring back day seats.

With the world on the brink of nuclear armageddon, I know this all sounds like a lazy swipe at the West End for being an uncaring behemoth, and of course it is, but there’s a serious point. 

We have got a big problem.

Indeed, judging by the commercialisation of theatre, current elitist trends and hundreds of comments on social media around this topic, perhaps 2024 will be the year the West End finally becomes a place where the young, working class and state educated are no longer welcome. 

That would be a tragedy.

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Sunset Blvd

“GREAT stars have great pride…”

For all its bravado, Jamie Lloyd’s Sunset Boulevardbook and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, is a bitter and queasy production, and the figure of Desmond is its greatest grotesque, a former Pussycat Doll of 47 striving to be 25, surrounded by video images of herself and entranced by her own face on a screen.

First thing is first, Scherzinger cannot act – it does not matter, though: her vocals are world class. 

This is musical theatre as gothic assault and battery, and like the recent sexy Oklahoma! grabs you by the balls from the first moment and never slackens.

Lloyd’s stylish revival opens with Joe Gillis, the narrator (Tom Francis), unzipping himself from a body bag. “I believe in self-denial,” sings Francis in Let’s Have Lunch, the line both a humorous take on his financial status and an acknowledgement of his sense of frustration. 

Desmond appears in just a black slip for most of the show and Soutra Gilmore’s design is dark. 

Crucially, video designers Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom deserve credit for the cinematography, initially distracting, it pays off in that it gives a nod to old Hollywood and the Insta-era. There are big screens and live relay cameras, while both the backstage at the Savoy and in the street. Watchers and watched.

The screen wins, every time.

Meanwhile, at 10086 Sunset Boulevard, in Desmond’s mad mansion, there is always champagne to hand, and enough money to cater to her every whim and to turn Gillis into a kept man. 

“Without me there wouldn’t be any Paramount studios,” she declares, discounting film crew on the lot: in Scherzinger’s hands she becomes a victim of her own mania.

The lyrics – bittersweet, sharp and accompanied by a fabulous orchestra – are left to speak for themselves.

David Thaxton as Max Von Mayerling (he is the only one writing her fan letters) is brilliant as Desmond’s fiercely protective servant and former husband. 

Though the musical may be 30 years old, Lloyd’s stripped-down, psychologically focused production forces us to contemplate the cost of needing to be adored – namely, the unquenchable thirst for validation that cultivates beneath a culture of self obsession.

The opening of Act 2 is pulled off to stunning effect. 

Fabian Aloise supplies incisive choreography for the lively ensemble. I really liked the tongue in cheek staging of This Time Next Year. But for traditionalists – which I would mostly class myself – it’s a curiously disengaging experience. (Just don’t expect any of them to smile at the curtain call).

Elsewhere, there is subtlety from Grace Hodgett Young as Betty. The triumph is in showing that the jauntiness is not separate from darker aspects but dependent on them.

There will be those who can’t stand it, I am normally wary of parachuting pop stars and reality stars into musicals, but this version is an almost total triumph. It works.

Every now and then there is too much mugging and self-consciousness, of working too hard on pressing a point, but the detail is unrelenting. Here, Jamie Lloyd demonstrates that he has a sense of humour, which is a relief. 

Norma Desmond still causes excitement when she enters the soundstage. After all, she is big – it’s the pictures that got small. This is a revival with razor sharp clarity and passion.

Sunset Boulevard runs at Savoy theatre, London, until 6 January 2024


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The Other Palace is just another example of the corporate takeover of theatre culture

To London’s Other Palace, a rolling mess. Honestly, the full catalogue of stories would take more than a book to cover.

As you may now have read, a summarily letter was sent to casual front of house workers that had the professionalism of a Bank Holiday sing-a-long matinee of We Will Rock You.

The blanket letter sent from some kind of middle-management bunker began: “Dear Staff Member,” — have these people not heard of mail merge?

“I am writing to give you notice that your current contract with The Other Palace ends on 3rd September 2023. We have some new roles as detailed below available for the new show which starts on 8th September 2023.”

In 5 days? It went on to promise that the new roles with “fixed weekly hours” would mean “more stability within the team on all positions”.

Right you are. Aware that they can do whatever they want, though, the grim letter asks employees to send a brief paragraph for the role they wish to apply for and ‘why we should re-hire you’.

Where do you even start? It’s called fire and rehire – it seems nearly all corporate West End theatre operators are currently cynically exploiting things in this way to drive down casual workers pay and conditions. Join a union, kids. 

However, The Other Palace’s behaviour exposes much more than just low pay and poor terms and conditions; it also highlighted the significant legal imbalance that exists between arts workers and their employers.

But wait! A brazen statement followed: “The Other Palace issued a letter to FOH employees on casual & fixed-term contracts due to end on 3 Sept. We were pleased to let them know that there was the opportunity to continue working with us should they wish to be considered & are delighted by the number who are interested.”

There is simply no moral failing of theirs that would not cause their employees to passionately excuse it or love them more for it. Obviously. 

In a recent profile, fresh from a spin class, Other Palace artistic director Paul Taylor Mills said that he had stopped engaging in conversation on Twitter as an act of self-preservation. “It’s too aggressive for me.”

Fair enough. Bizarrely, a go-to phrase of Mr Taylor Mills is ‘Be Kind’.

Sorry what? Far be it for me to speak for all “real people”, but as a real person I have to say my overall impression is that the only people who are not usually being kind are the people in positions of power who deploy the phrase.

And yet, everything being someone else’s fault is surely not the most appealing strategy. 

Crucially, The Other Palace allegedly has and continues to put its loyal staff under tremendous stress and pressure. Why do we assume that they will do it for love?

In the meantime, key Theatre service staff are surviving on less and less. Where’s the sense and where’s the future in that? Where is SOLT?

Last week, one prominent West End theatre operator terminated FOH contracts with 2 weeks notice – one usher who contacted me said: “We didn’t even get a letter!” 

Of course, the entire theatre industry is facing the impact of a bleak economic reality, with the real challenges of Brexit and the hangover from the pandemic. Nobody disputes that.

But maybe corporate theatres like The Other Palace should think about treating casual workers with some dignity. As the cost of living crisis bites, maybe all theatres – Nimax, LW Theatres, Delftont Mackintosh and ATG should think of the ways that poor decision making, firing and rehiring loyal staff is impacting frontline staff and their wellbeing. And how about a little more transparency from West End Theatre owners around their commitment to paying staff Living Wage – not just Minimum wage.

These small steps may just help shift a theatre culture that currently sees nothing unusual in a cheap, often young drama school students, actors in the casual workforce subsidising its success.

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Olivier Awards 2023

Hire a host; tell a few jokes; sing the songs; give out the awards. We can and will quibble over the actual awards, but it’s hard to argue with a show that pretty much did the thing it was supposed to.

The 2023 Olivier Awards left me generally elated. Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Prima Facie, My Neighbour Totoro and A Streetcar Named Desire all got the gongs they deserved.

But organisers need to slice proceedings – feed everyone – get back to basics, broadcast it live and start it earlier in the day.

For, it’s no exaggeration to say, the live ceremony was simply too clunking at over three and a half hours.

Neat host Hannah Waddingham wore a stunning array of outfits (four in total) and opened this year’s ceremony with the awards’ first ever original musical number, written by Pippa Cleary, who wrote The Great British Bake Off Musical.

It all added up to an event to remember and that would’ve been way beyond the ability of any other living British musical theatre star.

Ted Lasso star Waddingham started her acting career in musical theatre, and it showed.

“I hope I’ve earned my supper,” said Waddingham. She did that in spades.

So in the spirit of the night’s big — and big-hearted — winners, let’s get on with the highlights.

It was great to see Paul Mescal win best actor for his brutal, mesmerising performance in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Streetcar director Rebecca Frecknall, collecting Best Revival, paid tribute to the show’s creator: “I just have to thank Tennessee Williams, really. He gave us magic instead of realism, and that’s what we needed.”

As for Jodie Comer winning best actress in Prima Facie – my personal preference would have been for Patsy Ferran’s complex turn in A Streetcar Named Desire. But Comer gave a spirited, theatrical and highly watchable performance and she radiates star quality. The courtroom drama opens on Broadway next week.

In total the Almeida landed six awards. Will Keen bagged best supporting actor for his role in Patriots, and Tammy Faye snatched two awards: Katie Brayben for best actress in a musical and Zubin Varla for best supporting actor in a musical.

The biggest winner of the night, however,  was the RSC’S enchanting My Neighbour Totoro, an adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s 1989 anime film. Best Director was awarded to Phelim McDermott.

My Neighbour Totoro also went on to take the much sought after Best Entertainment or Comedy award. The magical show returns to the Barbican later this year.

Across the decades Standing at the Sky’s Edge, set on a Sheffield council estate and based on the music of Richard Hawley, won Mastercard Best New Musical.

The brilliant show, that I first saw at Crucible Theatre in 2019, recently finished a sell-out run at the National Theatre, also led to Hawley and Tom Deering taking home the award for best original score or new orchestrations.

Thrillingly, Standing At The Sky’s Edge will transfer to the Gillian Lynne Theatre, in London’s West End, from February 2024. It is a wonderful show.

And yes, Magic FM had to apologise for the rock star’s bad language. Hawley, ignoring his designated 40 second acceptance slot, eventually proclaimed: ‘Sheffield, we love you! Will you marry us?

Rock ’n’ roll, people. Rock. And. Roll.

Elsewhere, Sir Derek Jacobi was given the lifetime achievement award for his contribution to theatre. Jacobi told The Guardian that instead of risking becoming “elitist” through high ticket prices, theatre should be easily accessible and “part of our blood and bones”.

Jacobi added, the industry was in danger of being left up a certain “creek without a paddle”, and he had been shocked to see prices of £150 or more for a seat in the stalls in London’s West End. Me too.

That being said, winners Arthur Darvill, Chris Bush and Beverley Knight called out the government for not prioritising youth theatre and for failing to see its value in shaping cultural careers.

Knight, who performed twice, won best supporting actress in a musical for her performance as Emmeline Pankhurst in Sylvia at the Old Vic.

Theatre, she said, has often been seen as the preserve “of the middle classes and upwards, dominated by people who are mainly white – and who are older because they’re the ones who can afford it”

The government must not think of theatre as “something frivolous”, she said: “You don’t know what the arts does for kids.”

Her comment is one that should be addressed urgently by educationists, arts bodies and politicians alike.

Until next year…

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Olivier Awards 2023: the winners in full

My Neighbour Totoro has scooped six wins at the Olivier Awards 2023, with Jodie Comer and Paul Mescal winning best actor and actress.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s My Neighbour Totoro had the most wins, triumphing in six out of the nine categories it was nominated in, including best entertainment or comedy play and best director.

Rebecca Frecknall’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre won three awards, including best actor for Mescal, best revival and best actress in a supporting role for Anjana Vasan.

Other acting winners included Katie Brayben, Beverley Knight, Arthur Darvill and Will Keen.

The National Theatre’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge won best new musical, while Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! won best musical revival.

The winners in full

Best revival

Winner: A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre|

Also nominated:
The Crucible at the National Theatre
Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre

Best actor in a supporting role

Winner: Will Keen for Patriots at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh and Kaine Lawrence for For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre
Elliot Levey for Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre
David Moorst for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
Sule Rimi for Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre

Best actress in a supporting role

Winner: Anjana Vasan for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Rose Ayling-Ellis for As You Like It at @sohoplace
Pamela Nomvete for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
Caroline Quentin for Jack Absolute Flies Againat the National Theatre
Sharon Small for Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Best set design

Winner: Tom Pye for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Miriam Buether for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
Ben Stones for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Mark Walters for Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium

Best costume design

Winner: Kimie Nakano for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Frankie Bradshaw for Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre
Hugh Durrant for Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium
Jean Paul Gaultier for Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show at Roundhouse

Best actress

Winner: Jodie Comer for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Also nominated:
Patsy Ferran for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre
Mei Mac for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre
Janet McTeer for Phaedra at the National Theatre
Nicola Walker for The Corn Is Green at the National Theatre

Best actor

Winner: Paul Mescal for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Tom Hollander for Patriots at the Almeida Theatre
Rafe Spall for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
David Tennant for Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Giles Terera for Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre

Outstanding achievement in opera

Winner: William Kentridge for his conception and direction of Sibyl at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Sinéad Campbell-Wallace for her performance in Tosca by English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Antony McDonald for his design of Alcina at the Royal Opera House

Best new opera production

Winner: Alcina by Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House

Also nominated:
Least Like the Other by Irish National Opera and Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House
Peter Grimes by Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House
Sibyl at the Barbican Theatre

Best new play

Winner: Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Also nominated: 
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy at the Royal Court Theatre
Patriots at the Almeida Theatre
To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre

Best director

Winner: Phelim McDermott for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Rebecca Frecknall for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre
Robert Hastie for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Justin Martin for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Bartlett Sher for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre

Outstanding achievement in affiliate theatre

Winner: The P Word at the Bush Theatre

Also nominated:
Age Is a Feeling at Soho Theatre
Blackout Songs at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
Paradise Now! at the Bush Theatre
two Palestinians go dogging at the Royal Court Theatre

Best entertainment or comedy play

Winner: My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated: 
Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium
My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) at the Garrick Theatre and the Ambassadors Theatre
One Woman Show at the Ambassadors Theatre

Best family show

Winner: Hey Duggee the Live Theatre Showat Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre

Also nominated:
Blippi the Musical at the Apollo Theatre
Midsummer Mechanicals at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe
The Smartest Giant in Town at St Martin’s Theatre

Outstanding achievement in dance

Winner: Dickson Mbi for his choreography of Enowate at Sadler’s Wells

Also nominated:
Manuel Liñán for his choreography of ¡VIVA! at Sadler’s Wells
Raquel Meseguer Zafe for her dramaturgy of Ruination by Lost Dog at the Royal Opera House
Catrina Nisbett for her performance in Family Honour by Spoken Movement at Sadler’s Wells

Best new dance production

Winner: Traplord by Ivan Michael Blackstock at 180 Studios (The Strand)

Also nominated: 
Light of Passage by Crystal Pite at the Royal Opera House
Pasionaria by La Veronal at Sadler’s Wells
Triptych: The Missing Door, The Lost Room, and The Hidden Floor by Peeping Tom at the Barbican Theatre

Best musical revival

Winner: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Also nominated:
My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum
Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo
South Pacific at Sadler’s Wells

Best original score or new orchestrations

Winner: Richard Hawley and Tom Deering – music and lyrics by Richard Hawley and orchestrations by Tom Deering – for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre

Also nominated:
David Yazbek, Jamshied Sharifi and Andrea Grody – music and lyrics by David Yazbek, orchestrations by Jamshied Sharifi and additional arrangements by Andrea Grody – for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Joe Hisaishi and Will Stuart – music by Joe Hisaishi and orchestrations and arrangements by Will Stuart – for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre
Daniel Kluger and Nathan Koci – orchestrations and arrangements by Daniel Kluger and additional vocal arrangements by Nathan Koci – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Best theatre choreographer

Winner: Matt Cole for Newsies at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre

Also nominated:
Lynne Page for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Kate Prince for Sylvia at the Old Vic
Basil Twist for puppetry direction for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Best lighting design

Winner: Jessica Hung Han Yun for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Natasha Chivers for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Lee Curran for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre
Tim Lutkin for The Crucible at the National Theatre

Best sound design

Winner: Tony Gayle for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Bobby Aitken for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Drew Levy for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Ben and Max Ringham for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Best actress in a supporting role in a musical

Winner: Beverley Knight for Sylvia at the Old Vic

Also nominated:
Maimuna Memon for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Liza Sadovy for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Marisha Wallace for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Best actor in a supporting role in a musical

Winner: Zubin Varla for Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Sharif Afifi for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Peter Polycarpou for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Clive Rowe for Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo

Best actor in a musical

Winner: Arthur Darvill for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Also nominated:
Alon Moni Aboutboul for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Julian Ovenden for South Pacific at Sadler’s Wells
Andrew Rannells for Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

Best actress in a musical

Winner: Katie Brayben for Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Anoushka Lucas for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Miri Mesika for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Faith Omole for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre

Best new musical

Winner: Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre

Also nominated: 
The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Sylvia at the Old Vic
Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

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Shirley Valentine Proves Sheridan Smith Is Our Funniest Star

“I’m going to Greece for the sex — sex for breakfast, sex for dinner, sex for tea and sex for supper!” shrieks Sheridan Smith as Shirley Valentine in this knowingly playful revival.

The same age as Shirley, Smith performs this midlife monologue with heart-catching charm (“It’s like theMiddle East, there are no solutions”) and this classy production exhibits real affection. Smith is disarmingly good.

Sheridan Smith as Shirley Valentine

Like a wonky Samuel Beckett character, Shirley’s most responsive confidante is ‘wall’. And later a rock.

In these circumstances, any change could only be an improvement. Things really get going towards the end of act 1 as she slams the door on her marriage and sets out into the future.

Willy Russell, author of Educating Rita and Blood Brothers, once said of the latter that it was for people who don’t like musicals. Shirley Valentine is a play for people who don’t like plays, I think.

It’s entirely engaging and brilliant.

Anyway, fizzing Shirley heads for Greece where she blossoms like a flower in the sun, always playing directly to gallery. A lovely long bask in Smith’s maturing talent.

Structurally, this play is pretty much a music hall stand-up, directed with efficiency by Matthew Dunster. His production shrewdly offsets Paul Wills’ monochrome kitchen designs with pastel costumes and gorgeous beams of Mediterranean lighting designs by Lucy Carter. 

Fortunately, Smith more than delivers the goods in this swift-moving show about a woman who catches a glimpse of the life she could be living. Playfully cooking chips and egg, Shirley reveals her innermost thoughts to us, thereby endearing herself artlessly to the audience.

“Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and thoughts if they can’t be used?”, Smith says out loud – the power lies in its honesty.

Shirley’s ability to transcend the limitations of the class system is a camp joy to behold: as she conclusively tells us at the play’s end, she is now free to make her own life choices. Of course, women have moved on since it was written. Today, they know they have choices but that was only dawning on people like Shirley back then.

Reviews have been correctly brilliant. An encouraging sign that we as a community can accept the fact that they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Is this what civilised society looks like? Perhaps.

It seems to me that Russell is a writer of genuine nobility, with a rare gift and wit for humanity. (Although The Stage did label the production ‘well-worn’, but Smith is quite literally above average when it comes to the whole being-a- performer and transcending the material thing, so I’m not sure if this really proves whatever point it is I’m trying to make.)

West End Producer David Pugh’s production is a love letter to live theatre – breaking the Duke Of York’s box office record for advance bookings totalling £4million in the process – and entertaining as hell.

During act 2 on the opening night, Smith accidentally knocked a wine glass prop onto the stage.

SMASH.

Her knowing composure, and ability to stay in character during the hiccup, was astonishing reminding everyone she is, by a distance, the funniest actor in the West End right now.

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

And if she hadn’t been awarded an OBE already, I’d be starting a petition.

Shirley Valentine runs at the Duke Of York’s Theatre, London until 3 June 2023.