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National Youth Theatre and Contact, Manchester: Putting young people centre stage

With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby
With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby

In this age of extremes, I often find myself at the sharp end of funding squeezes, local authority cuts, and am continually alarmed by the devastating demise of arts in our state schools.

As you can imagine, it truly depresses me. 

So, I was delighted to be invited to a soft-launch of the National Youth Theatre’s award-worthy £4m refurbished premises on Holloway Road.

The National Youth Theatre’s HQ, Holloway Road, London

The organisation nurtured Daniel Craig, Helen Mirren, Zawe Ashton and many more of our theatre legends.

Speaking at the supporters event, dynamic NYT CEO and Artistic Director Paul Roseby said: “Cuts to the arts in our state schools have led to a significant pressure on organisations like ours that work with young people to bridge the gap. What’s going on across these revitalised spaces here are all about giving young people the chance to start again. Failure is what we are about, and we embrace that as much as success.”

He continued: “If you are a youth organisation you have to stick your neck out; it’s now more important than ever before.” 

Certainly, school reforms have caused pupils to move away from arts subjects such as dance, music and art, and towards more traditional academic subjects such as geography and English. What’s more, recent analysis of government data shows that the number of GCSE music and drama students has fallen by a fifth over the last decade.

Outside the M25, Manchester’s Contact Theatre on Oxford Road, closed in 2017 but has also just reopened following a £6m ‘youth led’ revamp. 

First established as a theatre in 1972, in 1999 Contact reinvented itself as a multi-disciplinary creative space specialising in producing work with, and providing opportunities for, young people aged 13 to 30. 

Contact Young Company, Everything All of the Time

What’s so brilliant about Contact is under Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Matt Fenton, this significant refurbishment was led by a dedicated team of young people at Contact – who had their say on everything from light fittings to consultations with the architects.  

Speaking at the Press Night of Contact Young Company’s excellent show Everything All of the Time, Fenton said: “Young people should have access to free, high-quality and world-class creative resources to express themselves, to find their politics, find themselves and to then go out into the world and do amazing things. Contact has always done that, but this building now allows us to do that at such a higher level.” 

The iconic Contact, Oxford Road in Manchester

There has been a radical growth in the knowledge economy and creative industries over the past decade. It goes without saying that an education that includes creative subjects facilitates critical thinking and increases emotional resilience.

Quite simply, it is a proven fact how small investments return massively more than was spent and the cultural impact it has on our children is huge. What might a viable, authentic, enduring kind of ‘levelling up’ look like?

Nobody I speak to understands what it means – despite the government’s levelling-up fund of £4.8bn, and places now bidding for help with “town and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural heritage assets”. 

Anyway, according to a recent report UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre cultural organisations across the UK save the NHS £102 million a year thanks to the physical and mental health benefits to attendees.

Remarkably, the report found that the NHS saves a yearly total of £11.91 for every person partaking in such an activity, from a reduction in GP visits and use of psychotherapy services.

But as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the National Youth Theatre and Contact investing in these spaces for the next generation of dramatic talent offers us all hope. I left both occasions feeling a sense of optimism that I had not felt for some years.

There is an overwhelming sense, too, that we are at a turning point and that the arts can and must play a leading role in developing talent, protecting communities, as well as in fighting cuts in higher education and cultural education in schools.

It demonstrates, quite pertinently, that in order avoid widening inequality of access to the arts, that theatres across the country must enact their civic duty – not only to plug the gaps, but to truly level up every part of the UK.

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Bat out of Hell rocks Manchester Opera House

Bat Out of Hell is the first big musical to be staged at the theatre and it’s a night of delirious entertainment.

It’s a tale of unrequited love from different sides of the track, with a parent determined to keep them apart. Story wise, it is post-apocalyptic Peter Pan.

Jay Scheib’s totally electrifying production re-imagines the jukebox musical for these mad times.

If you saw the show in London you won’t be disappointed –  the flames, the cameras circling the stage, the video screen capturing and magnifying the action are all here. There’s no expense spared.

What’s more, this talented and vibrant cast navigate the luminescent and fast-paced production with high stamina and real flair. The songs are gloriously sung and the occasion allows everyone to let their hair down.

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby lead as Strat and Raven respectively, and are electric together. 

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby

Incredibly, Meatloaf’s three Bat Out Of Hell albums have sold a staggering 100 million copies globally. This lively and quirky show has been perfectly reconfigured for a UK Tour and features all the hits: Out Of Hell, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.

Jim Steinman’s soaring rock n roll anthems and Jon Bausor’s anarchic designs offer an extravagant sense of occasion, as well as a show with extremely high production values. The lighting and sound are world class here. 

It was great to see people having fun, and this high voltage and good-natured mega show is the perfect tonic to reinvigorate regional theatres and attract audiences back after a miserable 21 months. 

Vegas? Don’t bet against it. 

Bat Out of Hell runs at Manchester Opera House until 2 October and tours the UK through to November 2022.

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Our Voice – Arts Professional


Our Voice – an autobiographical theatre project for young Traveller girls-  is the most important thing that I have have done.

Despite the restrictions that the pandemic posed, we came together to deliver this female artist-led project and look forward to when we can create live theatre from these special stories together again. 

As theatre braces itself for the challenges ahead, it is time to talk about communities that we as a sector have excluded for too long.

Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings

The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster, has meaningful and long-standing relationships with local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities. Our Voice is a programme funded by Lancaster University and is free to all who take part. It aims to engage with young GRT people and their families and highlight available learning and career opportunities for them.

Originally intended to be in-person participation activities, these lively virtual workshops have been taking place throughout the lockdowns. They utilise drama and storytelling classes to share the rich culture and distinct histories of young traveller girls, especially those with little engagement or confidence when it comes to culture….

READ MORE ON ARTS PROFESSIONAL 

 

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Look Ahead: Theatre Streaming in March

At last! A roadmap – the prime minister has announced a timeline for when theatres and other live events venues may be able to reopen.

All being well, indoor and outdoor theatres will be allowed to reopen with social distancing from May 17.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

Anyway, here are some of the best shows streaming online now or later in March.

Whatever you decide to stream this month – please check out Richard Blackwood in Soho Theatre’s breathless reimagining of the tragic final hours of Christopher Alder’s life: Typical is a terrific and powerful monologue that deserves another life when All This is over.

Richard Blackwood in Typical

Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s Olivier Award winning Emilia will be streaming for all of March on a pay what you decide basis (from £1.00). A blazing take on Emilia Bassano, a 17th century poet who struggled to get her voice heard in a patriarchal world. Now you know.

Kiln Theatre is streaming a reading of new play Girl on the Altar by Marina Carr, streams for free on 5 March.

A new folk musical, by Robin Simões da Silva and Annabel Mutale Reed, Brother will be streamed live from Southwark Playhouse – the show follows a young transgender man finding his way in the world. Streaming live 5-6 March.

Recorded at the London Palladium and hosted by Sheridan Smith, Musicals: The Greatest Show featuredMichael Ball, Nicole Scherzinger and more belting West End classics with a couple of songs from recent British hits Six and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Not awful and still available on BBC iPlayer. 

Musicals: The Greatest Show – Layton Williams

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester’s latest digital offering is a multiple-choice cabaret featuring 14 musical performers. Conceived by Ryan Carter, The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is a clever concept; there are a possible 150 combinations in which to see a five-song concert. Available until 7 March.

The Old Vic has revealed two commissioned monologues created to mark International Women’s Day on March 8: Putting A Face On by Kiri Pritchard-McLean and Regina Taylor’s Aisha (the black album). Available on YouTube for free. 

Adam Kashmiry plays himself in excellent play Adam, the story of a transgender man who sought asylum in Scotland. Now, the BBC has teamed up with National Theatre Scotland for a specially crafted recording as part of the BBC Arts Lights Up for New Culture in Quarantine season. Following its BBC Four premiere, Adam will be available on BBC iPlayer.

The Whip, Juliet Gilkes’s resonant play about 19th-century slavery-abolition legislation, has had a new audio recording commissioned by the RSC. On YouTube until 16 March.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett and director by Tamara Harvey is a starry digital adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic with Gray depicted as an “influencer”. Streams 16-31 March.

Last year’s virtual celebration of the work of Stephen Sondheim, Take Me To the World is still available on YouTube – why not watch it again on Steve’s birthday, Tuesday  22  March. I’ll drink to that!

By the way, the original 1980 Broadway production of the Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin –  directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse  –is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

If you have a show streaming during the month of March or suggestions for my blog get in touch – this will be updated weekly. Cheers! E: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

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National Theatre to reopen with Death of England sequel Delroy starring Giles Terera


Today the National Theatre announces its commitment to begin creating new work again, with plans to resume socially-distanced live performances in the Olivier Theatre in late October.

A new one-person play, DEATH OF ENGLAND: DELROY, by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, will be directed by Dyer, and performed by Giles Terera. This follows on from Dyer and Williams’ play Death of England, which Dyer also directed, and which was performed by Rafe Spall to critical acclaim in the Dorfman Theatre, closing only weeks before lockdown.

The production team, together with Giles Terera, have been back at the National Theatre this week working on the play: the first artists to return to work in the building since it closed. The new play was commissioned by the NT’s New Work Department at the start of lockdown and written over the subsequent five months. It explores a different side of the Death of England story as it focuses on the character of Delroy, the best friend of Michael, the protagonist of the first piece.

London, 2020. Delroy is arrested on his way to the hospital. Filled with anger and grief, he recalls the moments and relationships that gave him hope before his life was irrevocably changed. This new work explores a Black working-class man searching for truth and confronting his relationship with Great Britain.

Delroy: Roy Williams, Giles Terera and Clint Dyer at the National Theatre ( Helen Murray )

Delroy: Roy Williams, Giles Terera and Clint Dyer at the National Theatre ( Helen Murray )

Government have now confirmed that indoor, socially-distanced performances can resume from this Saturday. Death of England: Delroy will begin performances in late October. Tickets will go on sale in September, when full details of the performance schedule, ticketing, and safety measures for audiences will also be available.

Speaking about the play Clint Dyer and Roy Williams said: “There’s a moment in Death of England at his father’s funeral where Michael tells Delroy, ‘you may act like us and talk like us, but you will never be one of us’. In telling Delroy’s story, we hope to take audiences on an illuminating journey into the Black British psyche and realities of a ‘tolerant’ England in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre said: “This week Death of England: Delroy will have its first workshop as we finally, carefully open the doors of the theatre to artists and put in place plans to start live performance again this Autumn.  Clint Dyer and Roy Williams have delivered another explosive piece of work; set during lockdown and charting its own fearless and provocative course through the same subjects as its prequel, and a very English reflection of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is so important for us to be welcoming artists back into the building again, and planning for doing the same for our much-missed audiences. The moment the incomparable Giles Terera steps out on the Olivier stage at that first performance will be an incredible one, and I’m thrilled to be reopening our theatre with such an important and timely piece of work.”

 

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Watermill Theatre announces outdoor summer season including actor-musician Camelot

Artistic Director Paul Hart and the team at Newbury’s The Watermill Theatre are thrilled to announce that, due to the progress with the government’s phased roadmap towards theatres re-opening to the public, they are now in a position to present a summer season of work outdoors. Audiences from far and wide will be able to enjoy two new shows from socially distanced tables, seating up to 4 people maximum, in the idyllic setting of The Watermill’s glorious gardens. A two-course pre-show dinner from the restaurant will be available to enjoy from 5.30pm, with evening shows starting at 7.30pm (Monday to Saturday), and cream teas available after matinée performances (Thursday and Saturday).

The first show will be a new three hander comedy version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes tale, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, devised by the company, with evening performances from 29 July – 8 August. This will be followed by a concert version of Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT, including actor-musicians, with evening performances from 17 – 29 August.

To ensure the safety of all, strict social distancing measures have been implemented, and this includes significantly reducing the number of audience members that can be welcomed onsite at any one time. There will be twenty tables available for each performance, which can each seat a maximum of four people from one party only. Tables are unreserved, and audiences will be able to select a table on arrival. Each table will be in its own 2msq area with space between neighbouring tables and aisles. Seats will be uncovered, and performances will go ahead whatever the weather. There will be hand sanitiser stations, a one-way system for accessing the toilets and signage to indicate routes and procedures. There will also be free onsite parking in the main car park.

The cast for THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is Victoria Blunt (previous credits at The Watermill: Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth), Rosalind Lailey (A Mini Summer Night’s Dream at the Watermill, The Railway Children, York Theatre Royal), and James Mack (previous credits at The Watermill: The Rivals, Journey’s End and Macbeth).

Casting for CAMELOT will be announced shortly.

Paul Hart said, “I’m so thrilled we’re able to bring you a summer season from our gorgeous gardens. The back lawn becomes Dartmoor in a bold and bonkers production of The Hound of the Baskervilles and I couldn’t think of anywhere more sublime to present Lerner and Loewe’s stunning score than ‘here in Camelot!’

I’m immensely proud of the team who have worked day and night to make this happen. I’ve been moved by theatres up and down the country working their socks off to create inspired work and community projects in impossible circumstances and I’m so looking forward to us conjuring some joy this summer. Come and join us for great theatre, al fresco dining, chilled rosé and the perfect location as the sun sets over the river- what could be more magical and frankly we all deserve it! And hopefully the rain will hold off…”

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Rebecca Trehearn to star in Stephen Schwartz musical RAGS

Rebecca Trehearn

Rebecca Trehearn

Rebecca Trehearn

Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester have announced that  Olivier Award-winning actress Rebecca Trehearn will star as Rebecca in the UK premiere of a new version of the Stephen Schwartz musical RAGS from 2 March – 6 April, with a national press night on 5 March.

Rebecca Trehearn most recently played Charity in Sweet Charity (Nottingham Playhouse) and Julie LaVerne in Showboat (Sheffield Crucible and West End), for which she won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. Her other notable credits include Oolie/Donna in City of Angels(Donmar Warehouse) opposite Katherine Kelly and Samantha Barks, Molly in Ghost (UK tour, cover Molly at Piccadilly Theatre), Fantine in Les Misérables(Pimlico Opera), 1st cover Killer Queen and Meat in We Will Rock You (Dominion Theatre), Marcy in Dogfight and Charlotte Goetze in Diary of a Teenage Girl (Southwark Playhouse).

Also in the cast are Valda Aviks as Rachel, Gavin James as Bronfman, Sam Peggs as Ben, Jane Quinn as Anna, Michael S. Siegel as Avram, Robert Tripolino as Sal, Tim Walton as Jacob (Jack) and Lydia White as Bella. Sharing the role of David are Lochlan White and George Varley. Completing the cast are James Dangerfield, Emma Fraser, James Hastings and Hanna Khogali.

RAGS is a heart-warming and powerful musical with book by Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and music by Charles Strouse (Annie), which tells the story of Russian immigrant Rebecca, who, with her son David, travels to America in search of a better life. Rebecca must decide what matters more to her – staying true to her roots or adopting a new cultural identity in an attempt to ‘fit in’.

RAGS will be directed by Bronagh Lagan with musical direction and new orchestrations by Nick Barstow, choreography by Grant Murphy, set design by Gregor Donnelly, costume design by Maggie Harwood, lighting design by Derek Anderson, sound design by James Nicholson and casting by Jane Deitch. RAGS is produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, Hope Mill Theatre in association with Knockhardy Productions and is presented by arrangement with MTI Europe.

LISTINGS INFORMATION

Rags

2 March – 6 April 2019

Press Night: 5 March 2019

Hope Mill Theatre

Hope Mill
113 Pollard Street
Manchester
M4 7JA

Box Office:  0333 012 4963

Tickets: £18 – £28 (Previews £16) Premium tickets available

Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Wed & Sat 2.30pm, Sun 3pm

hopemilltheatre.co.uk

www.facebook.com/HopeMillTheatre/

@hopemilltheatr1 / @HopeAria2019

www.instagram.com/hopemilltheatre/

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Young Frankenstein: do we all make our own monsters?

The gender roles in Young Frankenstein raise huge questions around our own collusion as audiences and Mel Brooks’ musical comedy starring Ross Noble, Hadley Fraser, Summer Strallen and Lesley Joseph is ruffling feathers.

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The background is that, in Natasha Tripney’s two-star review for The Stage she makes her case very pertinently about how certain attitudes towards women feed in to a culture that is damaging to women. “You could argue that I’m taking things too seriously, that this show is basically benign and just out to make its audience laugh, but this stuff matters. It adds up. It contributes to a culture in which men in positions of power, movie producers say, can treat women like they exist solely for their titillation and amusement. It’s damaging – and it’s just not funny anymore.

Similarly, Alice Saville wrote a piece for Exeunt (Let’s not forget that Tripney co-founded Exeunt) examining mass culture and sexism within the industry, but misses a trick of weighing the best of the present against the worst of the past. Saville too seems to think that the Guardian’s Chief Theatre critic is conspiring against women: “If the most common way to deal with women who call out sexism and harassment is silence, a close second is this time-honoured strategy of casting people who object to rape jokes and sexism as humourless. Michael Billington’s Guardian review seems to do so, too, albeit in a weird coded way – “This may not be a show for sensitive souls whose idea of a jolly evening is sitting at home reading Walter Pater. For the rest of us, who cherish popular theatre’s roots in laughter and song, it offers two-and-a-half hours of time-suspending pleasure.”

Good grief.

This recurring debate speaks volumes – and prompts this writer’s irony-meter to explode – especially when Young Frankenstein is a musical from a lost vaudevillian universe where the women were leggy and offence was given (and taken) in the spirit it was intended. This all happened in a time pre ‘Trial By Social Media.’

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Can the imagery of gender stereotypes, now so deeply carved on our brains, prevent us from looking beyond the roles assigned to us? I found the elements in question to be a subversive use of entertainment as a means of consciousness-raising. This show is portraying a period, with humour and accuracy.

I felt uncomfortable at times. But isn’t that the point?

Post-Weinstein, I was hyper-aware about my own gaze at the females on stage; but the performances in question here are very funny and subtly ridiculing that.

Even when Hadley Fraser lecherously embraces his fiancé and she pushes his tongue back into his mouth, singing ‘Please Don’t Touch Me’ – I couldn’t but applaud what in other hands might seem tasteless. It could be argued that the show is an inappropriate artefact and should be *at the very least* seriously reconstructed or consigned to the archives. Or, how about not watching it?

Amid the frenzy, we should also pause to remember the Mel Brooks’ heyday as a filmmaker was in the 1960s and 1970s, when sociopath Richard Nixon was in office. Brooks is one of the greatest comedians of the twentieth century whose work is slapstick, irreverent and certainly not polemic.

It’s true that some genres, such as comedy, have thrived on dementedly sexualised and explicitly demeaning imagery of leggy women and ‘funny-sexy’ for decades, but this old-fashioned approach should not represent a line being crossed. I think it’s slightly naïve to beat up the past with the stick of the present.

We know now that sex and sexuality is always going to be part of theatre, and always should be.

But that’s not to say it’s all plain sailing…

After the show I asked ten humans, who identified as female, whether they found anything in Young Frankenstein to be a) offensive or b) misogynistic. Interestingly, they all said no. One woman told me: “I am actually pretty sick and tired of all this right-on idiocy. I have three daughters and I have raised them as independent women. We have loved every minute of it.”

Another woman that I was sat next to told me: “I didn’t want a female Doctor Who – but here we are. I don’t need approval from anybody to enjoy the theatre, I don’t read reviews because the writers often bring their own agenda.”

Nevertheless, just because the ten women did not have a problem with the content of the musical as a misogyny-fest does not mean that no female humans will have a problem with the representation of women on stage.

If a lost British musical was unearthed tomorrow featuring a cartoon monster raping a woman in a cave as a term of abuse, would Cameron Mackintosh commission it, or would he censor it? He’d censor it.

Perhaps there should have been a 2017 sensibility to Young Frankenstein, in much the same way that racist elements are removed from repeats of 1970’s sitcoms on daytime TV. Arguments that “they’ve been playing it uncensored for decades” are irrelevant: society moves on, which is why slavery is a crime, marriage is equal, homosexuality is not a crime and why women are allowed to vote.

Obviously, the history of patriarchy is extensive and entrenched. So, do we remake these stories and tell them differently if we are going to change our own culture and its attitudes towards women? Progress on justice for women is slow, but it’s happening. Young Frankenstein has been directed with aplomb by Broadway’s finest director-choreographer, Susan Stroman. What’s that? A female director, in the West End.

Whether it is cynical, misogynistic, artistic, all three or none, perhaps this will prove a cultural blip, a peculiar aberration like the huge success of the Take That musical: The Band that theatre fans in the future will look back on as nothing more than a snapshot of pop culture in 2017.

But it is hard not to feel that in 2077, people are more likely to look back on the fuss around Young Frankenstein in the way we now regard the reaction, 50 years ago, to the uproar of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ featuring goose-stepping chorus girls and choreographed swastikas: as rather quaint.

I salute Young Frankenstein for sticking a bonfire under good taste and scorching political correctness. Theatre is full of surprises. All we can do, as audiences, is say it how we see it and respond accordingly because there’s nothing more miserable than silence.

We all make our own monsters and I don’t think that anybody associated with Young Frankenstein is one.

Anyway, there is something rotten in the world if you need approval to laugh at a Mel Brooks musical.

Go and see it for yourself.

N.B. I am, though, still upset that there wasn’t a gay bar in Transylvania.

Young Frankenstein runs at the Garrick Theatre until September 2018.

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UK Theatre Awards 2017: A blow by blow account

12.30pm I arrive at the Guildhall, London and head for the drinks reception in the Crypts. It’s quite posh. I have a glass of champagne and bump into theatre critic Mark Shenton. “Hello! I’m surprised you managed to fit this in between all your meetings,” he says, laughing. We have a quick gossip.

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Mark Shenton

12.45pm I mingle and bump into critics Lyn Gardner and Fiona Mountford, which is nice. “What on earth are you doing here!?,” Lyn says. I wouldn’t miss it for the world – congratulations, Mrs. I say. Bless.

12.55pm A man from Scottish Ballet asks me to take his photo around forty times – because the lighting is not flattering. I oblige. Great days.

1.00pm Everyone is having lunch. Here is the menu.

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(I was afforded a cheese roll, a banana and a Kit Kat. Beggars can’t be choosers.

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Guildhall, City of London: The Great Hall.

1.30pm The guy from Scottish Ballet appears. “I need somewhere to throw up my gum,” he says to me and the chap from UK Theatre. Words fail me. I suggest a bin around the corner.

2.00pm It’s starting. I think.

2.05pm Oh here comes Gemma Bodinetz who has won the Best Director award for artistic directorship of Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse’s new repertory season. “I’m looking forward to the whole thing now: I can get drunk,” she says. Amazing.

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Gemma Bodinetz

2.08pm “Yayyy Gemma!” Shrinking violet Sam Hodges is gate crashing my interview, which is a bit annoying. Oh well, he’s charismatic.

2.14pm Anyway, why is today so important to Gemma? “I’m absolutely thrilled…  It’s taken me 14 years to win this award. It’s a very important thing for us as an organisation,” she states.

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Samuel Hodges chatting away

2.16pm Let’s have a quick chat with Nuffield Southampton Theatres Sam Hodges then. He has just picked up the Renee Stepham Award for Best Presentation of Touring Theatre for Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. Why is today so important for him and this production, I ask. “It’s a massive deal; it was a glorious show. We’d never done anything on this scale and arguably we shouldn’t have – luckily our board backed this decision fully and this is the icing on the cake,” he says, smiling.

2.18pm I lose the thread of what’s going on and before I know it along comes actor Joseph Millson who has won Best Performance in a Play. What is it about regional theatre that is sexy? “I am hugely devoted to the supporting of local and regional theatres; it saved my life when I grew up in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “Even if it hadn’t doesn’t make you an actor – it gives young people such an independence.” He continues. “There’s something so individual and so much expression. If everyone just bought one ticket a year at their local theatre then everybody could reap the benefits.”

2.25pm I have a glass of white wine. 7/10.

2.30pm Sharon Duncan-Brewster has deservedly won Best Supporting Performance for A Streetcar Named Desire at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. “A lot of people do not venture out to do any work outside of London, so when I was asked to be in Streetcar I thought the only role I could play is the negro woman,” she says, candidly. What does this win mean to her? “Every city or town that I go perform in, there are people who look like me in the theatre and its time they saw themselves represented on stage,” she says. “I would love to see more of the amazing diverse work happening out in regional theatre coming into London,” she pauses and has a little cry. We have a hug.

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Sharon Duncan-Brewster

2.41pm I run to the toilet and bump into West End Producer Nica Burns(!) She looks fierce in a white gown- I am too scared to talk to her, which is a shame.

2.45pm Best Touring Production went to The Who’s Tommy, which was co-produced by New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich and Ramps on the Moon. The two organisations also received the award for Promotion of Diversity for their groundbreaking work in the inclusion and integration of deaf and disabled individuals. Here comes the Former Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, Kerry Michael. What more needs to be done on the diversity front, going forward? “We need continue making inclusive show because they are so exciting – we’ve got to keep winning awards which aren’t just about inclusion but are about high-quality art,” he replies. Indeed.

3.00pm There is a break. Everyone has a chat, dessert and more wine.

3.25pm Sheffield Theatres’ production of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which will open at London’s Apollo Theatre in November, wins Best Musical Production. John McCrea, who plays the eponymous role of Jamie, won the award for Best Performance in a Musical. Here come the boys.

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie lads

3.30pm I have a quick photo with John McCrea who is wearing a rather fetching scarf indoors. ‘Trendy’.

3.34pm Personality vortex Freddie Fox appears with Playwright Sir David Hare. Hare is the recipient of the Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts from The Shakespeare Guild. We have a photo (I’m really very shy) and I collar Freddie for a chat. “Stories need to be told everywhere all over the country and the world. Not just London. It’s a chance to be heard and seen and celebrated – it clearly means an awful lot to many people,” he says.

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Freddie Fox and Sir David Hare

3.40pm I decide to have another glass of wine. ‘Lol’.

4.00pm Lyn Gardner is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre award and so actual Emma Rice is here to introduce her. That’s pretty amazing. The whole thing feels quite exciting now.

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4.03pm “A critic being honoured by the theatre industry? John Osborne once suggested most of you are supposed to feel towards people like me the way: “a lamp-post feels about dogs.”” Gardner says, which gets a big laugh. She continues. “If you want to see theatre’s future, then get on a train.” The whole place erupts into applause. Inspirational.

4.10pm Lyn Gardner walks up to me clutching her award. I ask her how would she describe her state of mind? “Discombobulated,” she says. Why is this annual event so significant for the sector, I enquire. “Quite simply, too often regional theatre is not as celebrated as it should be. Regional theatre is a thing in itself – it is not simply a training ground or somewhere where people begin their careers until they move to London. It’s where the vast majority of the population live,” she says, emphatically. She’s got a point. Also, Surely she should get an OBE soon – Billington has one.

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Emma Rice and Lyn Gardner

4.12pm Emma Rice looks uncomfortable and our eyes meet. As someone who is moving forward with a regional company (Wise Children), why do you think regional theatre should be celebrated, I ask quickly. She smiles, enigmaticly. “At Kneehigh – we lived by the Joan Miró quote “To be universal, you also have to be local” – you find communities with stories to tell and friends that they want to tell them with. That’s integrity and that’s the real deal,” she says.

4.15pm What a day. The ceremony concludes and I go and find somewhere to eat a burger.

The end.

Find out more about UK Theatre at UKTheatre.org

UK THEATRE AWARDS 2017 WINNERS

The Renee Stepham Award For Best Presentation Of Touring Theatre

Nuffield Southampton Theatres for the world premiere touring musical production of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox

Best Show for Children and Young People

The Snow Queen, New Vic Theatre

Best Director

Gemma Bodinetz, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse new repertory season

Best Touring Production

The Who’s Tommy, New Wolsey Theatre and Ramps on the Moon

Best Supporting Performance

Sharon Duncan-Brewster, A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange Theatre

Best Performance in a Play

Joseph Millson, The Rover, Royal Shakespeare Company

Best New Play

Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery

Theatre Employee Of The Year

Jane Claire, English Touring Theatre and Liz Leck, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust

Clothworkers’ Theatre Award

Derby Theatre

Best Design

Jon Bausor, The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

Achievement in Dance

Scottish Ballet for the European premiere of Crystal Pite’s striking one-act ballet Emergence

Promotion of Diversity

New Wolsey Theatre and Ramps on the Moon for their groundbreaking work in the inclusion and integration of deaf and disabled individuals

Achievement in Opera

Scottish Opera, Pelléas And Mélisande

Gielgud Award

David Hare

Best Performance in a Musical

John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Theatres

Best Musical Production

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Theatres

UK’s Most Welcoming Theatre 2017 with Smooth Radio

The Mill at Sonning

Achievement in Marketing/Audience Development

Scottish Ballet for its Digital Season in April 2017

Outstanding Contribution To British Theatre 2017

Lyn Gardner

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Five Things You Should Know About Follies

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1.    Let’s cut to the chase: Follies contains some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in a musical.

It features Stephen Sondheim veterans Philip Quast, Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee. Most incredible of all, the way this sparkly ensemble revisit their former lives from 30 years ago to when they first met while working as Follies dancers. The ghosts of the past send shivers up your spine. Also, Tracie Bennett in particular steals the show on a few occasions in a hall of mirrors for all shades of misery

2.    With a near 30-year history and a world-class reputation, Sondheim shows are no strangers to the National Theatre (Judi Dench appeared in ‘A Little Night Music’ in the Olivier, 1995 and Philip Quast in ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ in the Lyttelton Theatre, 1990 etc, etc and so on).

It’s hard to avoid the fact that most of Follies’ action takes place on a stage revolve resembling a merry-go-round in West Side Story. The beauty of this show lies in the precision that draws the multi-layered elements together.

3.    There are incredibly few directors who could carry off at least three quarters of this show. Dominic Cooke’s production for the National Theatre has kept the songs in the faithful style – the orchestra are sublime – but when Imelda delivers a refreshingly devastating low-key version of ‘Losing My Mind’, it’s the night’s highlight. A haunting exploration of character.

This is an inventively staged production with a cast and the arrangements are of a phenomenally high standard. As well as being expertly written the majority of these songs are also skilfully structured and only serve to reaffirm Sondheim’s Godlike genius.

 

4.    The choreography itself is beautiful, reflecting the sorrow, torment and human resilience in both the music and the performances. Everything slots perfectly into place in this magnificent evocation of showbiz. Sweeping across the stage are buckets of Swarovski crystals, sashes, sequined frocks and outfits that reel you in from start to finish.

This is the first time Dominic Cooke has directed a musical. Luckily, there’s a clarity of vision that’s practically unrivalled in the current musical theatre scene. Follies feels effortlessly enchanting.

5.    Vicky Mortimer’s show-making set and costume design uses a crumbling theatre on a revolving set to remind us how the characters’ lives are confined and ravaged by theatre; Bill Dreamer’s vivid choreography, deserves a mention again, his work with ‘Loveland’ pays hymn to the showbiz past; and the orchestra has a glorious, brassy ring.

The production’s centrepiece – to these eyes, anyway – is ‘I’m Still Here’, a track for which Apple Music single song repeat function could well have been invented. A dazzle to watch. 

But the show is not perfect and I can see people’s concerns about Imelda’s suitability as a ‘Showgirl’ or that her vocals may be underpowered. They are missing the point; these things add to the charm of the production. The no interval thing is a bit crap….

Nevertheless, nothing is left to chance here, folks.

I make that a considered, authoritative and concrete 9/10. Also: Looks like my work here is done. Time to go to the pub.

Follies runs in the Olivier Theatre at the National until 3 January.

‘FYI’ Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.