Book of Mormon wins big at 2014 Olivier Awards

Book of Mormon: big winner of the Olivier Awards 2014

Book of Mormon: big winner of the Olivier Awards 2014 (Image credit: Johan Persson)

It was a night of twists and turns at the Olivier Awards on 13 April, as the predicted big winners came away with smaller prizes and the underdogs prospered at the ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House.

Book of Mormon from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone came away with four prizes, including the coveted best new musical title. They were awarded with best theatre choreographer for Casey Nicholaw, best actor in a musical for Gavin Creel, and best performance in a supporting role in a musical for Stephen Ashfield. Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica also had similar success, collecting three awards for best new play, best director for Lyndsey Turner and best set design, as well as sharing two other prizes.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – which looked to follow in the footsteps of Matilda, leading this year with seven nominations –came away with two smaller nods at this year’s awards: best costume design and best lighting design, which the production shared with Chimerica. Fellow nominee leader for the 2014 awards Merrily We Roll Along also came away with just two prizes for best sound design, shared with Chimerica, and best musical revival.

In the acting categories, the best actress title went to Lesley Manville, and best actor in a supporting role was awarded to Jack Lowden, both for Ghosts; Rory Kinnear won best actor for his turn as Iago in the National Theatre’s production of Othello; best actress in a musical went to Once’s Zrinka Cvitešić; and best actress in a supporting role was awarded to Sharon D Clarke for the National’s The Amen Corner.

For the full list of winners and for highlights of the 2014 ceremony, visit www.olivierawards.com.

Central announces recruitment suspension to Initial Teacher Training courses

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama have announced that recruitment to their Initial Teacher Training courses has been suspended, affecting the school’s PGCE course and participation in the Department for Education’s Schools Direct scheme.

Students currently studying on these courses will be unaffected by the changes. Central’s Post Graduate Certificate Applied Theatre with Young People, run in association with the National Theatre, will be unaffected.

In a statement on their website, Central said: ‘This decision has been triggered by the continuing changes in government policy in this area and the practical effects of those changes on Central.

‘Central has a long and proud history in the field of teacher training. It remains institutionally committed to drama education and to the equipping of new generations of educators with the skills to provide high quality arts education. The school will take forward this commitment in these difficult times by continuing to offer different forms of provision appropriate to the professional development of specialist teachers. So too it will seek to create other learning opportunities for schools. The school, together with its partners, will continue to campaign vigorously for security in teacher training provision in our specialist area.’

Green room: Does the rising price of tickets mean theatre is no longer an accessible leisure activity?

In the new issue of Teaching Drama, we’re asking in our Green room debate:

Vote and let us know what you think.

Have expensive tickets led you to attend the theatre less often? Comment and let us know your thoughts.

Read the opinions of our panelists in our NEW issue of Teaching Drama, out next week!

Subscribe at  www.teaching-drama.co.uk, or to buy a digital copy, visit www.pocketmags.com.

Shakespeare’s Globe: The Merchant of Venice – performance review

The Merchant of Venice (Credit: Ellie Kurttz)

The Merchant of Venice (Credit: Ellie Kurttz)

Star rating
***
By Rachel Creaser, TD editorial assistant

Currently playing at Shakespeare’s Globe is The Merchant of Venice – part of the theatre’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank season, now in its eighth year. It provides 17,000 free tickets to state-funded London secondary school students. Subsidised tickets for schools from outside London have also been made available – 8,400 for this particular production.

This production of The Merchant of Venice has been specifically created with an audience of 11 to 16 year olds in mind. The Playing Shakespeare initiative allows students the opportunity to experience Shakespeare live, and for some this may be the first time they’ve seen the Bard’s work in action: and it’s a great first experience.

There was lots of energy in the production right from the off – as I made my way to my seat, I was accompanied by live musicians (who were fantastic throughout), watching the cast dance on stage, and move round the space interacting with the audience. This initial connection and atmosphere helps to ward off any feelings that Shakespeare and his ‘olde worlde’ language are off limits to young people.

The story follows Bassanio who is hoping to win the heart of wealthy heiress Portia, who is looking for a suitor. Lacking funds, Bassanio turns to his good friend Antonio for help with money to pursue his love interest. Antonio, acting as a guarantor, secures a loan for Bassanio with Jewish moneylender Shylock, who agrees to charge no interest – but, if the debt cannot be repaid, Antonio must repay Shylock with a pound of his flesh. When Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea – his only source of income to repay his loan to Shylock – he is brought before a court of law to plead his case.

Both Bassanio and Antonio look as if they’ve stepped out of an episode of Made in Chelsea in their sharp suits, and Portia is also decked out in stylish dresses and heels. These modern flecks help to make what is a relevant story to this era seem even more pertinent.

Catherine Bailey as Portia was enjoyable to watch – both confident and commanding, while still providing moments of wit. Mark Kane also had a great stage presence; particularly as the rather goofy clown-like Launcelot Gobbo – he received the biggest laughs of the evening.

This production is a great jumping off point for exploring the themes of the play further: Ognen Drangovski’s portrayal of Shylock sought audible sympathy from the audience, so it would be interesting to discuss with students how they felt Shylock was treated by the other characters. And what implications they felt his Jewish faith brought to the story. Also, what did they think was more important to Shylock:  money or his daughter Jessica?

The show’s microsite is just as user friendly and enjoyable as the Globe’s usual offerings, so take a visit to make the most of the resources available: http://2014.playingshakespeare.org.

Southwark Playhouse: The A-Z of Mrs P – Performance review

Sandor (Michael Matus) and Mrs P (Isy Suttie) (Credit: Jane Hobson)

Sandor (Michael Matus) and Mrs P (Isy Suttie) (Credit: Jane Hobson)

Star rating
****
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

There are hundreds of new British musicals in development at any one time, and on all sorts of obscure and imaginative topics. Sadly it is usually only those thought to have some major commercial value which make it all the way to a full production in a reputable theatre space. I say sadly because commercial value rarely serves as a marker for quality: witness Viva Forever!, the Spice Girls musical.

That a little show about the lady who developed the A-Z by walking the streets of London and drawing everything herself should have made it to the Southwark Playhouse with a variously award-winning star cast is a wonderful testament to the work of its writers Diane Samuels (of Kindertransport) and jazz musician and singer/songwriter Gwyneth Herbert.

The show is a delight. A moving storyline about a real family (though Phyllis Pearsall was notably something of an inventor of truths, so everything is to be taken with a smidgeon of salt); the portrayals of Phyllis’s exuberant and troubled parents by Michael Matus and Frances Ruffelle are particularly brilliant. I was unsure at first about Isy Suttie’s Mrs P, who seemed vocally too quiet, and stylistically too understated to carry either the audience’s interest or concern, but her characterisation really grew on me, and I appreciated her naturalism particularly in the context of two beautiful solo songs: award-winning ‘Lovely London Town’, and ‘A Girl Needs a Husband’.

THE A TO Z OF MRS P, Southwark Playhouse, London, UK.

Mrs P (Isy Suttie) and the cast of The A-Z of Mrs P (Credit: Jane Hobson)

The set design is beautiful, and the production is a good example for students of what one can do with a collaborative process to create ensemble-based sets and atmospheres: involving actor-made sound effects, for example, in not too clichéd a manner.

For me, the joy of the piece is in the writing – the way in which the cast slip from dialogue into song and out again with puns, plays on the alphabet and street names, and beautiful imagery would be particularly inspiring for any budding playwrights. The reworking of the same essential character to play all of London’s service-providing men: taxi drivers, delivery men, newspaper sellers, and so on, is a particularly nice touch, and played with a twinkle by Ian Caddick.

The show runs only until 29 March at the Southwark Playhouse, but I feel sure that it will have a life hereafter, and I certainly recommend it.

To find out more information, visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/index.php/the-large/the-a-z-of-mrs-p

Theatre awards voted for by young people return for third year

Second annual awards - "The Mousetraps" at Soho TheatreOn 9 March ‘The Mousetraps’ – the theatre awards voted for by theatregoers aged from 15 to 23 – return for their third year. The awards, which will take place at Soho Theatre, are presented by Mousetrap Theatre Projects Youth Forum, and are supported by The Society of London Theatre through funding from the Theatre Development Trust.

At last year’s ceremony, playwright Simon Stephens described The Mousetraps as ‘the most enjoyable awards ceremony I have ever been to’.

The categories for this year’s awards include:

The Show That You Are Still Talking About
Best Play
The Musical That Blew My Mind
Best Performer
Best Set/Design
Best Family Show
Inspiring Young Performer
Best Ensemble
Best Off West End Production
The Show That You Would Sell Your Soul to Be In

As well as the prizes for the above categories being awarded at The Mousetraps, the ceremony will also include performances from up-and-coming young talent, including Spoken Word artist Omar Bynon, The Wrong People, Emily Burns, Elinor Machen – Fortune and Scallywags.

Look out for results for the 2014 Mousetraps in the news pages of TD summer 1.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward the musical to close in early

The curtain is to fall on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest show Stephen Ward, a musical interpretation of the Profumo scandal, after less than four months following disappointing ticket sales. The musical, which cost £2.5m to stage, opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 19 December.

Untitled jStephen Ward producer Robert Fox said in a statement: ‘I am very sad to see the show close in London but firmly believe this piece will be seen by many audiences in the future.’

In response to the criticism the show had received, Lloyd Webber said in a letter to The Telegraph: ‘The difference between success and failure in musical theatre is a horrifyingly fine line. However, I believe that if you choose a subject purely because it appears commercial, catastrophe looms’.

According to statistics from The Society of London Theatre, out of the 24 longest-running shows on London’s West End, five are Andrew Lloyd Webber productions (Details correct as of November 2013: The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Starlight Express, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita).

Stephen Ward runs at the Aldwych Theatre until 29 March www.stephenwardthemusical.com

Winners of 2014 Off West End Awards revealed

The winners of the 2014 Off West End Awards, known as The Offies, have been announced. This year’s ceremony took place on 2 March and was hosted by Unicorn Theatre.

The offiesSouthwark Playhouse’s musical production Titanic came away as this year’s big winner with four prizes: best lighting designer, best choreographer, best costume designer and best musical production. Phoebe Waller-Bridge also had an impressive evening as she was awarded for best female performance and named most promising new playwright for her one-woman show Fleabag at Soho Theatre.

The award for best production for young people was shared by the ceremony’s host Unicorn Theatre for their production of Cinderella, which was co-produced with Travelling Light and The Tobacco, and Polka Theatre, who won for children’s theatre company Cahoots NI’s production Egg.

According to Off West End’s website, The Offies ‘help raise the profile and status of independent theatres in London by giving them greater power to promote their work individually and collectively and to reward the new talent that they nurture and that is essential to the future of our theatre industry.’

In a first, following this year’s awards the winners as part of their prize will receive advice from a industry experts in taking the next steps in their career. Industry figures taking part this year include the Young Vic’s artistic director David Lan, forthcoming National Theatre director Rufus Norris, and producer Sonia Friedman.

The full list of Off West End Award winners for 2014:

Best female performance
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho Theatre

Best male performance
Jamie Samuel for Jumpers for Goalposts at the Bush Theatre

Best new play
The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at the Tricycle Theatre

Most promising new playwright
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho Theatre

Best director
Michael Strassen for Billy at the Union Theatre

Best producer
Sasha Regan at the Union Theatre

Best artistic director
David Byrne at the New Diorama Theatre

Best lighting designer
Howard Hudson for Titanic (Southwark Playhouse) and Lizzie Siddal (Arcola Theatre)

Best sound designer
Ben and Max Ringham for Ring at Battersea Arts Centre

Best set designer
Oliver Townsend for Grounded at the Gate Theatre

Best costume designer
David Woodhead for Lizzie Siddal at the Arcola Theatre and Titanic at Southwark Playhouse

Best choreographer
Cressida Carre for Titanic at Southwark Playhouse

Best ensemble
Simple8 for Moby Dick and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (both Arcola Theatre)

Best production
Grounded at the Gate Theatre

Best musical production
Titanic at Southwark Playhouse

Best new musical
Glasgow Girls at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Best opera production
Puppet Opera Triple Bill by Third Hand at the Rosemary Branch

Best production for young people
Cinderella at the Unicorn Theatre co-produced with Travelling Light and The Tobacco Factory; Egg by Cahoots NI at Polka Theatre

Best TBC production (for shows that do not fall within other categories)
Tomorrow’s Parties by Forced Entertainment at Battersea Arts Centre

Special panel award
The Yard

For more information, visit www.offwestend.com/index.php/pages/the_offies.

The Courtyard Theatre: Poilu & Tommy – Performance review

IMG_9344

Poilu & Tommy at The Courtyard Theatre

Star rating
***
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

Being the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, 2014 has already brought with it a spate of artistic, musical and theatrical works to mark the occasion. One such is Poilu and Tommy, a production from Strasbourg-based theatre company Théâtre Volière with a mixed-nationality cast from England and Alsace.

The first thing to say about this production is that a good 30-40% of it is in French. This is something to consider taking a sensible and focused A-level group along to: there is a good deal to be had out of it with no French at all, but it is certainly the case that I enjoyed it more because I was able to understand both languages. For the purposes of a more general drama trip this may not be the first choice, but this review treats it as a production, rather than necessarily a production for teachers.

Mick Wood, the playwright and co-founder of the theatre company with his director-wife Natasha, writes in the foreword to the programme: ‘The marvellous poetry that emerged from the trenches has perhaps blinded us to the marvellous poetry that helped to dig them’ – this is a play which tries to elucidate ‘just what it was about the European culture of the fin-de-siècle that made it such fertile ground for the nationalist warmongers of 1914-18’. The fact of the cast being made up of actors from two nations really aids this aspect of the play – the tensions even between ally countries; the hints at the tensions within Alsace – so long fought over by France and Germany, are all made clearer by the linguistic and national characteristics displayed on stage. The play is shot through with French poetry, delivered well even if the audience doesn’t understand every word.

A number of performances stand out from this production which make it particularly worth seeing. Tom Grace plays beautifully the line between tragedy and comedy as Alfred, a young soldier in the trenches. He lands throwaway moments of comedy perfectly as he battles with Lula Suassuna as Charles – whose character is also created with commitment, but who lacks in a few moments the same perfection of timing. I saw the play on its opening night, and would imagine that the cast has since become ready to wait for unexpected laughter from the audience – the impression given was that they weren’t expecting to be funny, so they drove straight through a few lovely moments.

The real stars of the show are the two young boys, Jan and Gabriel Wood, as the young Charles and Alfred. With perfect French and English, and a simple and natural emotional truth, both are a true pleasure to watch. The production values are necessarily limited in a studio production from a touring company, but the set was well used – my only reservation being that the stomping of hard-soled shoes on sand-covered studio wood flooring was in danger occasionally of obliterating the lines altogether.

Poilu and Tommy plays at the Courtyard Theatre, London, until 8 March 2014. 
www.thecourtyard.org.uk/whatson/360/poilu-tommy

National Theatre: King Lear – Performance Review

King Lear

Simon Russell Beale as King Lear (Credit: Mark Douet)

Star rating
*****
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

I have seen four stage-Lears in my time – each excellent in some element or other – but for emotional truth this was unquestionably the most affecting. I attended with reservations: Simon Russell Beale has for many years been one of my favourite theatre actors, I returned twice to see his George in Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers at the National Theatre 10 years ago – but I couldn’t picture his Lear.

Immediately my fears were allayed. I felt disappointed by the production values of the opening, kingdom-dividing scene: classic Olivier Theatre stage-filling, two long lines of stern looking supernumerary soldiers, microphones and boardroom etiquette. I found myself transported to a large number of other Olivier productions which seemed to have begun (and continued) just the same, and wondered to myself how many of them had been directed by Sam Mendes.

However, Russell Beale’s performance snapped me back into the world of the play. He charged about the stage with a small-minded meanness, a cruelty, in fact, which decision and execution was a credit to actor and director alike. This was not to be an avuncular Lear treated badly by two impossibly selfish and heartless daughters, but a quick tempered tyrant whose offspring, with the exception of Cordelia, who is an exception rather than a chip off the old block, could be seen to be products of their upbringing. The whole thing made sense more than ever before, and the unrelenting progress of the tragedy brought me to tears periodically, throughout the production.

There are several reasons to bring any drama students to see King Lear: the simple truthfulness of the performances being foremost – Russell Beale, Adrian Scarborough as the Fool and Stanley Townsend as Kent each give beautiful accounts of themselves. However, for students studying the play I would say this is an essential production. Mendes makes the strongest decision I have seen about the strange textual anomaly which is the disappearance of the Fool relatively early in the play. An audience’s perception of the stricken King is inevitably and boldly altered when we see him in the fit of his madness beat his fool’s head in with a piece of lead pipe. One thinks back to Lear’s desperate sad plea to his loyal and open-hearted fool just a few scenes before: ‘O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven … Keep me in temper, I would not be mad.’ This production is a harrowing necessity.

King Lear is playing at the National Theatre until 28 May. All performances are sold out, except for day tickets and possible returns www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/king-lear.

The production will be broadcast to cinemas by NT Live on 1 May 2014: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/44084-king-lear