Highlights from the 2016 Evening Standard Theatre Awards
The celebrity circus at the annual Evening Standard Theatre Awards—the longest established in the U.K theatre diary, which marked its 62nd year this year—has become commonplace. In 2013, three of the prominent theatre critics that used to be on the judging panel resigned together after Helen Mirren took the award for Best Actress, whom they said barely figured in their discussions, which had, instead,, centered around the less famous Linda Bassett and Lesley Manville.
As Charles Spencer, one of the judges who subsequently resigned, wrote afterwards, “The award went to the starrier Helen Mirren for her performance as The Queen in The Audience who in my memory figured but briefly in our discussions. I have no way of knowing whether she received support from other judges, as the voting was secret. But my jaw dropped when Mirren received the prize, fine though her performance was.”
Last year, there was a similar debacle over the fact that Denise Gough—the widely tipped front-runner nominated for People, Places and Things and went on to win both the Olivier and Critics’ Choice Theatre Awards for Best Actress—lost to Nicole Kidman for Photograph 51.
At least this year’s winner turned out to be both a star and a deserving winner, namely Billie Piper, for the Young Vic’s modern update of Yerma. But elsewhere there were more conspicuous oddities: Glenn Close winning for Best Musical Performance for reprising her original Broadway role as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (over the more lauded Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl and Broadway-bound Andy Karl in Groundhog Day), and especially John Malkovich for Best Director for a short run of a play called Good Canary that he directed at a theatre outside the London metropolitan area in Surrey (over fellow nominees John Tiffany for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Dominic Cooke for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).
In fact, even Malkovich’s inclusion on the final shortlist of three is suspect when viewed alongside the list of those in the published long-list that had the paper had previously released, and included fine work from such people as Marianne Elliott, Yaël Farber, Sam Gold, Rupert Goold, Robert Icke, Sean Mathias, Katie Mitchell, Simon Stone, and Matthew Warchus,
Still, Malkovich and Close, reunited in the winners’ corner 18 years after their appearance in the film Dangerous Liaisons, made a good photo op.
Open Air Theatre announces its 2017 season.
Jesus Christ Superstar, revived at the Open Air Theatre in 2016 and winner of this year’s Evening Standard Award for Best Musical, has announced that it will return to the al fresco playhouse, set in Regent’s Park, from August 11. Also newly announced for the 2017 season, there will be a new production of Bernstein, Comden, and Green’s 1944 musical On the Town, directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, an Olivier winner for his choreography this year for In the Heights. It will begin performances May 19, kicking off a summer season that will also include two adaptations of Dickens stories: A Tale of Two Cities, adapted by Matthew Dunster and directed by Timothy Sheader, and Oliver Twist, adapted by Anya Reiss, for audiences aged six and over, running together in July.
Donmar Warehouse introduces its Power Season.
The Donmar Warehouse, currently represented on Broadway by its revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, has announced a slate of three new productions presented under the umbrella title The Power Season. Steve Waters’ Limehouse examines the 1981 split in the U.K.’s Labour Party, imagining what happened when the ‘Gang of Four’ met to break from Labour and form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The show plays from March 2. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, beginning performances April 21, will be presented in a new translation by Bruce Norris (Pulitzer, Olivier, and Tony winner for Clybourne Park), with a cast led by Lenny Henry in the title role. Finally, a new musical called The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company will begin performances June 24, telling the story behind the collapse of a children’s charity.
Josie Rourke, the theatre’s artistic director, has commented, “Here is a new musical and two plays that concern themselves with truth and accountability; democracy and demagoguery; passion, despair and the rebirth of hope. Throughout this season, characters fight for, rise to and exercise their power. In creating the Power Season, we’re trusting that theatre will deploy its power to speak with swift and urgent clarity into the present.”
Production and casting news
Stephen Karam, currently represented on Broadway by The Humans and his adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, will see his 2007 play Speech & Debate receive its U.K. Premiere at Trafalgar Studios 2 from February 22, directed by Tom Attenborough. Working, the short-lived 1978 Broadway musical based on Studs Terkel’s book of the same name, is to receive its U.K professional premiere at Southwark Playhouse from June 2. This staging includes new songs by Gordon Greenberg, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band is to have a brief West End run at the Vaudeville Theatre from February 7-18. The production recently enjoyed a sell-out five-week run at North London’s Park Theatre. It stars Olivier Award winner Mark Gatiss as Harold alongside his husband Ian Hallard as Michael, marking the first time in West End history that a same-sex married couple will appear onstage together.
Reviews: School of Rock
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock—the first of the composer’s musicals to open on Broadway ahead of the West End since Jesus Christ Superstar 45 years ago—has transferred to the New London, the original London home of Cats (where that show ran for 21 then record-breaking years).
London critics were generally unanimous in their verdicts that this was the best Lloyd Webber musical for some years. In a five-star review for the Daily Telegraph, an admiring Dominic Cavendish declares, “A stonking hit on Broadway, at a stroke rescuing the ailing artistic reputation and re-booting the commercial fortunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, School of Rock has now landed with an almighty kerrang of confidence in the West End.... I caught it in New York this summer, and adored it. The big question, though, was whether the same magic could happen here. The answer is a resounding yes.” His review concludes by labeling the show, “The most enjoyable few hours money can buy.”
In The Guardian, Michael Billington is taken by surprise: “I can’t quite believe it. I never thought I’d see the day when a Conservative peer of the realm, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the lordly Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey, urged a group of young people into an act of bolshie defiance. But that happens in this adaptation of the 2003 Richard Linklater movie, when the cast are rapturously urged to ‘Stick It to the Man.’ And although the show occasionally feels as if a pair of avuncular old rockers are letting down the remains of their hair, it has an overwhelming good nature and allows its preteen performers to display their genuine talent.” He, too, concludes by declaring, “This is Lloyd Webber’s most exuberant show in years and, at a time of general gloom, is dedicated to the great cause of cheering us all up.”
For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com and follow me on Twitter @shentonstage for rolling news updates as they happen.