Theatre figures recognised in 2015 New Year honours list

Kristin Scott Thomas, pictured Electra (Credit: Johan Persson)

The 2015 New Year honours list has recognised a range of individuals holding performing, artistic and administrative roles in the theatre and stage sector.

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who starred in The Old Vic’s Electra last year, has been made a dame for her services to drama. Stage and screen actors Sheridan Smith and James Corden have both been awarded OBEs. Actress and writer Meera Syal, most recently seen performing in the National Theatre’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, has been awarded a CBE for services to drama and literature.

Paul Kerryson (Credit: Paul Adams)

Leicester Theatre Trust’s Paul Kerryson (Credit: Paul Adams)

Artistic director of Leicester Theatre Trust Paul Kerryson, also outgoing artistic director of Leicester’s Curve, has been awarded an MBE for his services to theatre in Leicester. Also being honoured with an MBE is Graeme Phillips, Liverpool’s Unity Theatre artistic director who is stepping down from the role after more than three decades; he is being recognised for his services to the arts in Liverpool. Founder and artistic director of Northern Broadsides Barrie Rutter has also been awarded for his services to drama with an OBE.

P11_ES_DEVLIN_INTELLIGENT_LIFE_473_V2Retreat_1 David Ellis

Stage designer Es Devlin (Credit: David Ellis)

Design talents of the theatre world have also been acknowledged in this year’s honours: stage designer Es Devlin – whose recent work includes I Can’t Sing! at the Palladium, American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre and the 2014 Olivier Award-winning Chimerica – has been presented with an OBE for services to stage and set design; and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s associate designer Tom Piper has been awarded an MBE for services to theatre, and as well as for services to First World War commemorations, for his part in the poppies installation at the Tower of London.

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Theatre casualties in Arts Council national portfolio announcement

Richard Frame (Hermia), Thomas Padden (Theseus) & Sam Swainsbury (Demetrius)

Propeller in performance: the theatre company’s future is thrown into doubt without Art Council funding

Arts Council England (ACE) has revealed the organisations who will, and will not, be part of their national portfolio for 2015–18. All-male Shakespeare company Propeller, Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and radical touring company Red Ladder have not made ACE’s portfolio list, resulting in loss of funding.

Propeller were told by the ACE, ‘’We decided that, taking into account the quality and level of your artform provision available nationally, we preferred other applications.’ Responding to ACE’s comments, the company and Propeller’s director Edward Hall said: ‘Whilst a lack of commitment from ACE to high-quality touring theatre on a financial basis is perhaps understandable, Propeller’s national reach and quality of work cannot be called into question as our track record amply demonstrates. I am sorry that this decision will prevent us from continuing to pursue our national touring programme which has delighted so many thousands of people and which will prevent our company from pursuing its commitment to delivering affordable, high-quality drama in the regions.’

News of Orange Tree Theatre’s funding loss from the ACE came as the new artistic director Paul Miller began his first day in the role. He told BBC news: ‘I think the big, national contradictory pressures that are on the Arts Council were just so great that something had to give – and on that occasion it was us.

‘Once upon a time, the Orange Tree was a fledgling start-up company that had its first Arts Council funding. For new younger companies to get into the system, it means that existing organisations cannot simply take for granted that they will continue to be regularly funded. There are still many ways in which we can continue to take wonderful theatre in our lovely space. We just have to find a financially different way of doing it.’

Other organisations face smaller cuts: The Barbican will lose 18% of funding, while The Southbank Centre, National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company will each receive a 3.6% reduction.

Some theatre organisations enjoyed a boost, with increases in funding for Unicorn of 28% and Hull Truck of 46%; welcome news for Hull Truck following the ACE’s assessment of the theatre company earlier this year as facing ‘immediate and serious financial risk’.

This year saw a 2% rise in the allocation of funding to regional companies, with 47% dedicated to organisations in London and 53% to those outside of the capital.

ACE chair Sir Peter Bazalgette said of the portfolio announcements: ‘We are in the premier league of creative nations and this portfolio will keep us on top in an era of tight funding. We can delight in our arts organisations and museums for the sheer inspiration they bring to our daily lives as well as their contribution to the creative sector. I’m proud that we’ve been able to deliver such a strong and well balanced portfolio.

‘With 46 new entrants to the national portfolio, with increased funding for grants for the arts, and with creative people and places being maintained at its current level over the next period, this settlement represents a commitment by Arts Council England to new talent and building England’s arts and culture capacity all over the country. When funding is declining you have to set priorities – this we have done.’

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.

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.

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

ATG owners top The Stage 100 List

Chief executives Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire of the Ambassador Theatre Group have come top, for the fifth year running, of The Stage 100 List – the industry paper’s annual power list. The theatre group, established over 20 years ago, owns 39 theatres in the UK.

Last year saw ATG undergo a period of change and growth: the company purchased New York theatre, Foxwoods, home to the soon-to-close production Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. This marks the first UK theatre group to own a Broadway venue. Later in the year ATG was bought out by a US private equity firm for £350m. Deputy editor of The Stage Alistair Smith described the deal as a ‘game-changer’ and ‘the biggest theatre transaction that has ever taken place in the UK market.’

The National Theatre team of Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, who came joint top with ATG’s Panter and Squire in the 2013 list, have come in second in this year’s fixtures. Andrew Lloyd Webber, having previously topped the list six times, is in third place. Cameron Mackintosh and Nick Allott come in at four and Sonia Friedman at five.

New entries in the top ten include Gregory Doran and Catherine Mallyon for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sam Mendes and Caro Newling for Neal Street Productions, and theatre director Jamie Lloyd.

For the full The Stage 100 List, visit www.thestage.co.uk.

National Theatre: The Light Princess – Performance review

Nick Hendrix as Digby and Rosalie Craig as Althea in the National Theatre's The Light Princess

Nick Hendrix as Digby and Rosalie Craig as Althea in the National Theatre’s The Light Princess

Star rating
*****
There are all sorts of reasons to bring students to see this production.
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

Comparisons are weak for a show which has a beauty all of its own, but to put the National Theatre’s new musical by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson into context, I am drawn to reference The Wizard of Oz (and, by extension, Wicked) and The Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh, combined in both magic and darkness through the eyes of the brothers Grimm.

In reality, the original core of the story was written by the Victorian Englishman George MacDonald: friend to Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland. It draws on a rich history of fairy tale – the traditional subject matter of prince and princess, warring kingdoms, indiscriminately evil baddies – but has that dark and human edge that was lost when the Grimms’ and Hans Christian Andersen tales were taken over by Disney. Its emotional heart has depth and truth which are as compelling for an adult audience (almost exclusively so on the press night I attended) as for the young people for whom the piece is ostensibly written.

Amos and Adamson tread the line carefully between the cliché and the seemingly new, and the musical writing helps a good deal in creating a sense that something unexpected is happening here – the orchestration is imaginative, and while there are only really a couple of melodies one takes away after the first hearing, it’s fulfilling musical whole.

Rae Smith’s designs for the production are nothing short of magical, and each new scene finds a different way to draw the audience’s eye around the stage. I suppose it could almost be accused of being distracting, but really I just felt that I ought to come back and see the show again in order to have a good look at the details I’d missed. There is, despite its beauty, no danger of the performances being upstaged by the set, because these too are wonderful: Rosalie Craig in the title role sings beautifully, and apparently effortlessly as well, despite being continually either harnessed to the flies or manhandled around the set by four acrobats whose strength, commitment and discretion gained the biggest cheer of all at the curtain call.

The choreography by Steven Hoggett is understated: this is not a dance show in the way that other musicals are, but as a fan of actors moving around the stage in a way that has been clearly designed (I know that others aren’t), I enjoyed it very much. This is an ensemble of individual actors with individual characters rather than the slightly homogenous sense that one can get from more traditional musical choruses. A central love scene in which the light princess never once touches the ground is also beautifully choreographed, and I found myself wanting it to go on for twice as long.

There are all sorts of reasons to bring students to see this production. While they will often concentrate only on the performances, this also has the potential to be inspirational for young people from the perspectives of direction, writing, composition, and design: set, lighting, and sound. On this latter subject, I must say that this was the third musical I’d seen in a week – one other being an extremely long-running and successful West End show – and the only one of the three in which I could hear without effort, or even downright irritation, every single syllable. A testament to the sound designer, Simon Baker, but also to the quality of the performers and a director (Marianne Elliott, whose recent successes for the National include War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) who understood, in the minority it would sadly seem, that a microphone on an actor doesn’t negate the need for articulation and clarity. The piece also touches on a number of issues that arise both within drama and in other subjects – equality, fairness, peace, gender and sexual discrimination, conservation and the environment … there is much for students to discuss having watched what began as an ordinary fairy tale.

The audience of which I was a part at its official world premiere gave The Light Princess a standing ovation, and one of which I think it was utterly deserving.

The Light Princess, a new musical, by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson, playing at the National Theatre until 9 January 2014. 

Curious Incident wins record-tying seven prizes at Oliver Awards 2013

The National Theatre's production The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time wins seven prizes at Olivier Awards (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

The National Theatre’s production The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time wins seven prizes at Olivier Awards (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

National Theatre production The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has dominated this year’s Olivier Awards, picking up seven out of the eight prizes it was nominated for – tying with the record amount of wins secured by Matilda The Musical at last year’s ceremony.

Curious Incident picked up awards for its acting, with accolades for Luke Treadaway as best actor and Nicola Walker as best supporting actress, as well as for its technical aspects, coming away with prizes for best sound design, best set design and best lighting design. It also scooped the top prizes of the night, winning best new play and best director for Marianne Elliott.

Other productions awarded at this year’s ceremony included The Audience, with Helen Mirren and Richard McCabe coming away with prizes for best actress and best supporting actor; Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd, picking up prizes for best musical revival and best actor and actress in a musical for leads Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton; and Top Hat, which received a hat-trick of accolades for best new musical, best costume design and best theatre choreographer.

For the full list of winners, visit www.olivierawards.com

National Theatre: Port – Performance review

Star rating
***
A fantastic lead character takes you on an interesting journey,
but the drive of the narrative means it lacks some heart

Kate O'Flynn (Racheal Keats) and Mike Noble (Billy Keats) (credit Kevin Cummins)

Kate O’Flynn (Racheal Keats) and Mike Noble (Billy Keats) (credit Kevin Cummins)

Port marks another National Theatre collaboration between playwright Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott. Based in Stockport, the play moves through two-year periods in lead character Racheal’s life – spanning from ages 11 to 24, with each of the eight scenes providing a snapshot of where her beginnings in Stockport have taken her.

The earlier scenes work best: Racheal and her brother Billy sitting in a hospital canteen doing their homework as they await news of their dying Grandad, reveals the damaged relationship between Racheal and her father, and the appearance of her father’s rather creepy friend, known as the local flasher, provides an insight to the realities of Racheal’s upbringing. It gives you just enough information to understand the context without slowing down the pace.

The biggest jump, in terms of story, comes between Racheal working in a supermarket as a teen, to a New Year’s Eve party where, now in her 20s, Racheal’s  fiercely jealous and violent husband is first unveiled to the audience.

While the gritty scene between husband and wife was engaging, it felt as if there was a hole in the context. There were many moments of quiet at the start of this scene, which were most likely intended to display the tension between the couple, but having not known anything about Kevin before this scene, the quiet almost felt like first-date awkwardness: not at all where the scene heads. The need to move the story on seems to mean skipping some important emotional landmarks in Racheal’s life.

What was most enjoyable about Port was Kate O’Flynn’s performance – she managed the difficult transition from an excitable 11-year-old nattering non-stop to her mother to a 24-year-old damaged divorcee, with unfathomable ease. At no point did I question the realness of her character. O’Flynn made Racheal likeable and human – you don’t empathise with Racheal out of pity, but out of the sheer boldness of her character. Mike Noble’s Billy also contains a similar warmth and complexity.

Port presents some interesting issues through real, unshiny, lifelike characters you might even recognise from your hometown. But for me, personally, a really good play is one which stays with me on the journey home: when I wonder about the characters and what might of happened to them … I can’t say I felt this way about Port. Perhaps a few more moments where the audience could get inside the heads of the characters a bit more, rather than tracing the narrative, would have brought some more heart to this journey.

Port runs at the National Theatre until 24 March 2013. To find out more information, or to buy tickets, visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/port

Rachel Creaser is the editorial assistant for Teaching Drama. 

Theatre figures feature in New Year honours

66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)Leading figures from the theatre industry have been recognised in 2013’s New Year honours.

Scottish actor Ewan McGregor is to receive an OBE for his services to drama, as will Adrian Lester, who will play Othello in Nicholas Hytner’s new production at the National later this year.

Other recipients include: RADA registrar Patricia Myers, for her services to higher education; Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington; theatre producer and chief executive of Nimax theatres, Nica Burns; and Talawa Theatre Company’s artistic director Patricia Cumper.