I Value the arts

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Review: Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood - New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Will Kenning in Robin Hood and The Babes In The Wood
Guitars, saxophones and drum kits aren’t normally the first thing that spring to mind when you think of pantomime but, for Ipswich audiences, the New Wolsey’s Rock ‘n’ Roll panto has become something of a tradition over the last 10 years. Over that past decade the format has occasionally seemed to run out of steam, with the need to shoehorn a plethora of rock and roll classics into the script becoming somewhat formulaic. However, this year’s offering of Robin Hood and The Babes In The Wood is a welcome return to form for the format, integrating the music into the production rather than the afterthought it has sometimes seemed in the past. The jokes may be as corny as ever, the plot as convoluted as you would expect and the characters as absurd as they can be but its all delivered with wit and fun that excuses the sheer absurdity of it all.

Of course if you sit and try and analyse a panto plot you’re probably in the wrong show. It’s not Shakespeare but there again it doesn’t pretend to be. The evil Sherriff of Nottingham not only has plans to wed his ward, Maid Marian, he’s got his eyes on the wealth of his niece’s fortune. Robin Hood has other ideas, wanting to wed Marion when she comes of age and rid the country of the evil Sherriff. Add in an assortment of incompetent henchman and a deliciously over the top nanny and you have a recipe for comedic mayhem.

Peter Rowe’s script packs in the comedy thick and fast, and though a handful of the jokes, unlike Robin’s arrows, miss their mark, there’s enough that find their target to keep all ages laughing. Rob Salmon’s direction keeps up the frenetic pace and allows the comedy to shine through. Musical numbers ranging from Meatloaf through Cyndi Lauper to Sheryl Crow ensure there’s enough familiarity for all ages and often add a surreal commentary on the action.

The multi-instrumentalist company have great fun with the material but there are a couple of performances that stand out from the crowd. Shirley Darroch ditches her traditional New Wolsey fairy wings to give her Maid Marian a feisty independence, while Tim Jackson goes for the sympathy vote with put-upon servant Numbskull.

It is, however, the show-stealing performance from Will Kenning as the gloriously over the top Nanny Nellie Nightnurse that takes the acting honours. Although a grotesque creation, Kenning’s Nellie is conversely strangely believable, whether chasing every available man or berating children leaving their seats to visit the toilet this is a ‘woman’ you wouldn’t want to mess with.

There are some small issues that would benefit from attention. The structure does seem slightly like two self-contained acts that, although they share the same characters seem like independent stories. For a family-friendly show the production would also benefit from shaving perhaps 15 minutes from its running time but, as the run progresses, it’s likely to tighten up anyway.

Okay it’s nothing new or radical, and those who have seen previous Rock n Roll will recognise elements from past productions, but it’s a successful format so why change it? For those young children in the audience watching, it’s a thrilling and enticing introduction to theatre and a fun start to the festive season.

Photo: Will Kenning as Nellie Nightnurse, picture by Mike Kwasniak

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Review: Round The Twist - Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich

Eastern Angles' Round The Twist
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, carollers singing, snow falling and Charles Dickens. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without any of this traditional festive images but Dickens will never quite be the same again after Eastern Angles irreverent alternative to conventional panto fare.

Budding author Oliver Nicklefield has engaged a troupe of travelling actors to stage a play based loosely on his life. For any lawyers reading connected with the Dickens estate we should state that any resemblance to characters and plots of those familiar Dickensian tales is purely coincidental.

For non-lawyers, the pure joy of spotting those references to Dickens classics make this a literary feast, full of humour, wit and, of course, more than its fair share of cheesy jokes.

Nicklefield’s tale (penned in fact by Brendan Murray) follows the tale of Tiny Tom (named apparently after his less than sizeable assets) - a strapping lad with an inexplicably posh accent and superior teeth - on his journey to find his benefactor and the much-vaunted set of glowing testimonials. En route from the Old Curiosity Shop to Creek House and Australia to seek out the mythical Bah Humbugs that could make his fortune, he meets a wealth of oddly familiar characters, the cobweb festooned Miss Haversack, her uppity ward, Dorabella, the Jammy Dodger – all the time missing his one true love Little Mel, always one step behind the dastardly Obadiah Snoop.

Can Tiny Tom find his testimonials? Will Little Mel get her man? And will it all live up to the pair’s great expectations? In the end, Oliver Nicklefield has in fact got himself in a bit of a twist and it seems old mutual friends may not be all they seem. As Tom flits between London and Ipswich, this tale of two cities becomes every more complex.

In these hard times, it is impressive to see Eastern Angles coming up with such an inventive show. Nicklefield/Murray’s script is packed full of madcap humour that manages to send up the festive conventions without losing plot or character. Yes, the situation may have an irreverent quirkiness to it but it’s played with total conviction by a compact but on-form company.

There are delightful performances throughout; Sally Ann Burnett’s lusty Dorabella, Gabriella Douglas’s more coquettish Dorabella, Greg Wagland’s monstrous vision of Miss Haversack who turns out to be the perfect Christmas Carol in her bleak house and Zach Lee’s creepy Wolverhampton Obadiah threatens to be the ultimate Scrooge. Joel Sams holds the whole madcap caper together as both Nickefield and Tiny Tom, ultimately revealing his glowing testimonials to all and sundry.

Ivan Cutting’s snappy direction matches the fast and frenetic pace of the script, making full use of Ian Teague’s imaginative and impressive staging. Richard Taylor’s music gives echoes of G&S parody while also providing a touching duet for young Tom and Mel.

Eastern Angles can always be relied upon to provide a counterpoint to the saccharine-laden and formulaic traditional festive theatrical offerings and, in Round The Twist, Oliver Nicklefield’s Bleak Little Tale of Two Mutual Expectations. And Son, they not only claim the reward for potentially the longest title of the season but also set the bar extremely high for other festive shows that follow. Always anarchic, this year they meld this anarchic comedy with a strong tale that is surely one of their finest Christmas creations and will surely live long after this (lengthy) three-location run.

A perfect start to the festive season and a demonstration that you don’t need huge sets, C-list soap stars and ancient panto jokes to create theatrical Christmas magic. God bless us, every one!

Picture: Round The Twist Company, Photo by Mike Kwasniak

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Review: EX - Soho Theatre

EX at Soho Theatre
Love is a many splendid thing, love lifts us up where we belong or love hurts – take your pick. For while some dream of the perfect life with the tall, dark, handsome, successful man, others are drawn to the sleazy bad boy who treats them badly and yet they still come back from more.

In a bar Ruby waits for a last meeting with her ex boyfriend Jack, after a couple of years apart they are meeting for one last time. She’s about to head off for a better life with her new boyfriend, he has finally settled down with the girl of his dreams. Or has he?

Despite the hurt there’s still a spark there and neither can quite let go of the past. It seems an unlikely attraction. He’s the archetypical bad boy. His informs Ruby he doesn’t like her new look, preferring her ‘fat and gappy-toothed’. He’s got a string of women phoning him and a real fear of commitment. She seems to have finally found Mr Right. A chisel-jawed dentist that will whisk her away to a new life. Will Mr Right or Mr Wrong win over at the end of the day? As both Ruby’s new man and Jack’s latest girl turn up at the bar, things are destined to get complicated.

Rob Young’s script is billed as a play with songs, with music by Ross Lorraine, but it seems a relationship as unsteady as Ruby and Jack’s. It is one of those odd musicals that would probably work better without the songs. Lorraine’s score adds little to piece and apart from a quartet in the second act rarely provides any memorable musical attraction.

Alongside the uncertainty in the romantic stakes there also seems to be uncertainty of what the production is trying to be. Is it a pastiche of musical theatre convention or a genuine musical theatre comedy? Several numbers are played direct to the audience with a knowing tongue in cheek but others seem to be played with an earnest seriousness. A gloriously camp tap routine butts against a plaintive torch song and it all makes for a slightly unbalanced evening.

Rob Young’s script on its own does contain some sparkling dialogue, full of well-observed put downs and one liners and the characters of Jack and Ruby are too painfully real and recognisable. In comparison, Keith and Claire seem underdrawn and more of a work in progress.

There are some strong performances from the company, who try their best with the material. Siobhan Dillon sings beautifully and stirs the emotion as Claire, the woman who has been a revolving door with men and Simon Thomas charms as Keith, though some of his vocal performance is lost.

Amy Booth-Steel impresses as the love-torn Ruby – a convincing tormented portrayal of the conflict between stability and excitement. Gerald Carey provides the strongest performance of the night as Jack, though, the lothario who uses sleaze to compensate for his lack of endowment in the trouser department. It’s an even more impressive performance considering he only stepped into the role a week ago following the indisposition of original cast member Gabriel Vick.

Tricia Thorn’s direction is somewhat unbalanced. The first act played as a two hander, the second with all four characters provides some unevenness and odd touches such as having members of the audience on stage prior to show as bar customers before being shepherded back to their seats seem gimmicky. There are moments that stand out in the piece but overall it feels like a work in progress with songs shoehorned into a play with no discernable benefit. In a way it may be a stronger production as a two-hander, leaving Keith and Claire out of the equation and raising the question of their reality or point scoring by the warring ex’s.

The marriage of play and music is one that would benefit from being referred to relationship counselling.

Caveat: This is a review of the second preview performance and therefore details may change as the run develops.

Review: Incoming - Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh

Andrew Motion's Incoming
While in the course of reviewing one often ends up seeing plays seen before, it is less common to see a new piece of work twice in 6 months. All dramatic works, even established plays, go through a period of development during their lives but for new writing this development work is often carried out behind closed doors.

Not so Andrew Motion’s debut stage play Incoming. Premiered at the HighTide festival in May, presented again at the Latitude Festival in July, it now gets its third airing as part of Co-Producers The Poetry Trust’s Aldeburgh Poetry Festival.

Motion’s play looking at the impact of those trying to cope with the death of a loved one in Afghanistan showed considerable promise at its premiere. The tale of a grief-stricken widow slowly trying to make sense of her loss and to rebuild a life for both herself and her son genuinely moving. Through conversations she has with her dead husband, those conversations that often remain unsaid finally get resolved.

In a simple staging of packing cases and dust sheets in a small, hot studio in Halesworth, the sheer emotion was palpable – a draining experience.

Sadly, despite some work on both structure and script, on a second viewing, this time in a rehearsed reading format, it seems the production has moved backwards instead of forwards.

Stripped of a full dramatic presentation, Motion’s script is more exposed to examination. Where before the strong performances carried the audience with them, here we get more time to concentrate on the construction and it is more problematic. Motion’s script still manages to paint vivid pictures in the audience’s mind but without the supporting performances, the characterisation comes across as weak. For a couple desperately in love and torn apart in the most brutal of circumstances, there is little actual depth to that relationship – it is as if two artists are describing scenarios and backdrops rather than any deep insight into their motives, hopes and fears.

The deceased Danny in particular seems underwritten and his intellectual speech patterns at odds with a battle hardened soldier. His widow, Steph, is more drawn with more detail but somehow seems less emotionally devastated in this reading.

Motion has moved an encounter between father and son (Jack) to the middle of the piece rather than the previous somewhat false coda but, while it does seem more integrated, this move does destroy any ambiguity of the realness or imaginary state of Steph’s conversation with her husband. The piece is strong enough as a two-hander that the role of Jack could easily be cut without any great dramatic loss.

Penny Layden is still impressive as the distraught widow, despite the restraints of the reading format. Timon Greaves does as much as he can with the limited role of Jack but Christian Bradley’s Danny seems woefully staid with many lines lost even relatively close to the stage.

This is by no means a bad play and, as the premiere production showed, there is real potential here. Sometime first thoughts are best and the resulting changes have done little to drive the creative process forward.

Review originally written for The Public Reviews

Friday, 11 November 2011

Review: Calendar Girls - Regent Theatre, Ipswich

Calendar Girls
‘And did those feet in ancient time. Walk upon England’s mountains green’. Well on the green hills of Yorkshire it’s not feet that concern a group of courageous women but more revealing parts of the anatomy.

Baring (nearly) all for a calendar isn’t the normal perceived behavior for a WI group but when one members husband dies from leukemia it provides a catalyst for a fundraising campaign that would grab, not only Yorkshire but the world’s attention. The resulting calendar and follow up merchandise raising over £3million (and rising) for Leukemia and lymphoma research.

Tim Firth’s stage adaptation of his screenplay has in itself become a key fundraising raising tool in the Calendar Girls brand, with a proportion of each ticket sale boosting the funds.

On the big screen Calendar Girls turned the story into a tale of celebrity driving friends apart but on stage it is the personalities of the WI ladies comes to the fore.

As is repeated in village halls up and down the country a diverse group of women are brought together, often with surprising results. There’s dynamo Chris, who only joined the WI to please her mother in law, but, who has little time for the traditions of the organisation. Cora the church organist and vicars daughter balances her sense of duty with the challenges of being a single mother. Ruth the desperately shy lady who wants so much to belong to avoid her falling apart home life and Celia the glamorous outsider who smuggles vodka in her country club golf bag.

As they say ‘all human life is here’ but when Annie’s husband John loses his battle with leukemia the group become closer than ever.

Jack Ryder’s direction, based on Hamish McColl’s original direction, makes great use of Tim Firth’s light and shade. There are moments here of all out laughter suddenly quelled into silence by the realities of illness but despite the loss and grief this is a surprisingly life-affirming and uplifting evening.

Often touring theatre productions don’t quite match the original casting, but for Calendar Girls the producers have continually refreshed the cast with strong casting and here is no exception.

Leading the company is an on-form Lynda Bellingham, her feisty Chris a non stop whirlwind who leads the women into casting aside their bras in the name of charity, however, underneath the bravado she is using the charity as an escape from the grim reality of her own business failing.

Contrasting the bravado of Chris Jan Harvey’s Annie is more reserved, consumed by a quiet dignified grief. It is a strong central pairing and there is real chemistry between the two women.

Much like the original Calendar Girls themselves though this is a group effort, with a true ensemble feeling and impressive performances throughout. A musical Jennifer Ellison as Cora, a beautiful comic turn from Debbie Chazen as Ruth and well observed character work from June Watson and Rula Lenska as Jessie and Celia all bring the WI ladies to life.

The men here certainly play second fiddle but there is a nice nervous performance from Bruno Langley as amateur photographer Lawrence, having to manage both Belgian Buns and a group of vodka fuelled nude models. His return in the second act as advertising executive Liam though is less successful, not markedly different enough from Lawrence. Joe McGann gives a dignified portrayal of John, a man resigned to his fate but one that will face that darkness with courage.

There are moments of delightful stage craft here, the sheer exuberance of the calendar shoot drawing the whole audience into a world of conspiracy and support, but it never detracts from what is at its heart a deeply emotional and inspiring story. The second half does seem slightly anti-climatic after the bravado of the first act but one gets the feeling that these ladies may need ‘considerably bigger buns’ for some time yet.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Preview: New Wolsey springs towards 1millionth ticket

As they bring their tenth birthday season to a close, and rehearsals begin for their annual ‘rock n roll’ panto, Robin Hood, Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre has just announced details of their new Spring Season.

After the tenth birthday season, the spring season marks another major milestone for the 400-seat venue. At some point during the season, the theatre will sell its one millionth ticket since the theatre re-opened; a remarkable success story in challenging times for regional theatre.

As has become usual for the New Wolsey, the season contains an eclectic mix of drama, new writing, physical theatre and comedy.

The venue has steadily established a name for nurturing new musicals and the first main production of the season is a return of Reasons To Be Cheerful, a co-production with Graeae Theatre that ran to packed houses in Ipswich during 2010. The show, centred around the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, plays in Ipswich ahead of a national tour.

The venue itself will be staging a brand new production of Alan Ayckborn’s classic comedy Bedroom Farce while New Wolsey associate company Gecko will be bringing its latest work, Missing, to the Ipswich venue ahead of a national tour.

Alongside the in-house programme, there is a strong programme of visiting productions on offer. Out of Joint and Chichester Festival Theatre’s hit production of Carol Churchill’s Top Girls arrives in Ipswich direct from the West End, while perennial favourites Hull Truck bring their new production of DNA to Ipswich.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens to actors once the work dries up, Nottingham Playhouse may have the answer as they turn the New Wolsey Theatre into a rest home for retired actors in their musical play Forever Young.

For those looking for the more surreal, madcap comedy theatre company Spymonkey bring their anarchic take on Greek tragedy with their unique Oedipussy.

There is another twist on a well-known tale with Talawa Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse’s version of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot with an all-black cast.

A line-up of short runs, children’s shows and comedy completes a busy season for the New Wolsey but it’s a season that excites Sarah Holmes, the venue’s Chief Executive.

“We are thrilled to bring back the Graeae and New Wolsey co-production Reasons to be Cheerful at the start of its national tour. This is going to be a great way to kick off the season.”

Asking a venue’s Chief Executive to pick highlights from the programme is like asking a parent to pick a favourite child but there are a couple of shows that Holmes can’t help enthusing over.
“I’m very pleased that Spymonkey is back with their new show. I think it’s an extremely balanced season with something for everyone. I’m also particularly looking forward to Top Girls and also to Tiddler by Scamp, our family Easter show.”
Like any venue the New Wolsey is looking at ways to encourage new audiences to get into the theatre habit and, for Holmes, the programming offers something for all age groups,

"My hope for the new season would be to see more family groups coming to see us. So much of what we present is perfect family entertainment and, in my experience, theatre is a great way to spend time with young people."

The New Wolsey Theatre’s spring season goes on general sale on November 11 and full details can be found at http://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Review: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Queens Theatre, Hornchurch

The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Two sides to every story, two sides of a coin and for Dr Jekyll two personalities residing in one body. The man of research and science and the inner beast driven by lust, fury and passion.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella is surprising brief, a mere collection of short stories, but it has provided the inspiration for numerous stage and screen adaptations over the years. From gothic monochrome silent movies, to all singing and dancing musical adaptations, this story of a man divided has resonated throughout the years.

Chris Bond’s latest adaptation of the classic frames the piece as a Victorian music hall melodrama, complete a chairman warning the audience of the horrors they are about to witness.

It is an evocative setting; a guilt proscenium arch sits centre stage while musicians sit stage right in the midst of a good old fashioned traditional East End sing-along. Songs and sketches provide an authentic music hall experience with knowing parodies of Burlington Bertie, Edgar Allan Poe and G&S on the bill alongside comedy and even a ventriloquist.

All frame and comment on the central story of Jekyll himself and his attempts to control his alter ego Edward Hyde.

As you would expect from the Hornchurch resident company music plays a central role here; providing not only commentary on the unfolding drama, but also some light comedy relief.

Fitting the duality of the subject matter the production, while effectively staged, never fully seems sure of what it is trying to be. As a gothic horror it seems somewhat underplayed and strangely devoid of real shock; as a comedy it perhaps takes itself a little too seriously.

Some of this confusion is down to Matt Devitt’s direction which chooses to play much of Jekyll and Hyde’s conflicts at the back of the stage, distancing any real audience connection. While the exuberance of the music hall provides plenty of laughs it also looses some of the darkness essential to show the inner conflict tearing the man apart.

There are however some delightful performances from the company of actor musicians. Simon Jessop’s Chairman holds the evening’s proceedings together with a nicely sardonic air, instilling a sense of foreboding into the audience and yet providing enough gallows humour to keep the evening light. There is a nicely dark and brooding performance from Tom Jude as Dr Henry Jekyll, portraying the duality of the role well, despite the restrictions of the production.

Carol Sloman’s Burlington Bertie-esque toff gives a nice link to current distrust of bankers, while her musical direction adds period charm mixed with plenty of in jokes around music hall repertoire. From doctor’s study to Victorian tavern, Norman Coates adaptable set transforms into a multitude of locations.

Which brings us full circle to the indecisiveness of the piece. As a music hall variety it works well, providing plenty of laughs and musical interludes along the way. As a comedy thriller it works less successfully – the comedy is there certainly, but at the expense of any real chill. Despite the Chairman’s warnings of dark dastardly deeds that may be unsuitable for the feint hearted, it proves to be an oddly anaemic evening.

Review originally written for The Public Reviews

Friday, 4 November 2011

Review: The Go Between - Royal & Derngate, Northampton

The Go Between musical
Every so often the rumour circulates that the British Musical is dead, however, it’s rare that one comes across a new musical so well-crafted that it leaves one struggling for enough suitable superlatives.

If Richard Taylor and David Wood’s adaptation of The Go Between are any marker, fears for the future of British musical theatre appear to be ill-founded.

Based on LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, life in 1900s rural Norfolk seems idyllic; well it does if you are the landed gentry of Brandham Hall. In a stifling summer heat, there’s not a care in the world for the Maudsley family, apart from deciding what social event to attend. Or so it would seem on the surface; however there is more than the summer sun raising the temperature as illicit passions bubble away beneath the surface and the traditional class divides begin to break down.

Fifty years later and, for Leo Colston, the ghosts of half a century ago still haunt him as he replays two life changing weeks he spent as a child at the hall.

The intricate web of social conventions and class boundaries are hard enough for an adult to comprehend at times but, for a 12 year old boy, it’s a mind blowing life of glamour, privilege and ultimately deceit.

Forced to confront his demons from all those years ago, the adult Leo follows his younger self through the Norfolk countryside as he becomes an unwilling conspirator in a love triangle.

These two brief weeks have left an indelible mark on Colston and the ghosts from the past still shape his life. A tale of yearning, passion and betrayal, this is an at times almost too painful tale to watch but, much like a moth drawn to the flame, it is mesmerizingly gripping. Strands of story intertwine fusing dialogue with music to provide a beautiful, evocative narrative.

Roger Haines spot on direction draws out the detail in the drama with closely observed mannerisms and customs of the period adding to the brutal escalation of doomed love. It is a sense of detail mirrored in Michael Pavelka’s impressive design of decaying country house contrasted by pristine period costume, the dark and shattered house a stark contrast to the light and glamorous past.

Taylor’s lush expansive score delivers a rich, almost orchestral sound from a solitary grand piano (played with virtuosity by Musical Director Jonathan Gill), combining complex overlapping choral melodies with achingly beautiful and soaring solos. Melodies intertwine and refrain to create a piece of constantly subtle shifting motifs. There’s a real sense here of a world on the brink of change, not only from the gathering storm to bring relief from the oppressive heat but also a much darker cloud with the onset of the Boar War and the vanishing of a bygone age.

There’s a real sense of yearning in the score, from Marian’s desire for her true love to Leo’s yearning to belong and break into this more privileged lifestyle. By the time the score builds to its climax there’s an almost palpable emotional release from the audience and many a damp eye.

This is an ensemble that doesn’t put a step wrong or miss a beat of the complex score. It’s all drilled to military precision but without loosing the strong characters that have been developed.

There are especially fine performances from Sophie Bould as Marian, Gemma Page as Mrs Maudsley and James Staddon as the elder Colston. It is also impressive to see the company have risen to the challenge of rehearsing a new set of boys for each stop on the tour with William Miles, Richard Linnell, Guy Amos and Adam Bradbury sharing the two young roles and showing impressive stage craft way beyond their tender years.

The Go Between has toured to Leeds, Derby and now Northampton but given its strength must surely go onto a much longer life. If there is a better new British musical this year I’d be very surprised. Let nothing get between you and this remarkable show.

Feature: Awards for All (if you’re in London)

What is regional theatre? In some quarters it is seen as somewhat of a derogatory term with the focus on London based theatre seen as much more important. Others see the wealth of work taking place outside of the M25 as a vital breeding ground for theatrical creation.

Yet despite the huge amount of work taking place in venues up and down the country on any given night it is still London and especially the West End that garners the most attention. This is especially true when it comes to the award season. The Oliver awards are often described as ‘the Oscars’ of the theatre industry but only recognise achievements in London (and major commercial central London theatre at that). Could you imagine the reaction if the real Oscars only allowed awards to those films made in Hollywood?

Other awards have of course sprung up over the years to try and recognise the wider theatre scene; The Offies for fringe theatre in London, numerous awards for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the former Manchester Evening News awards (now rescued after threat of closure with support among others from Sir Cameron Mackintosh).

Outside of these major metropolitan centres where is the singing the praises of the regions? Even in the publicly selected awards for What’s On Stage only three out of their 26 categories are open to non London shows.

There is hope on the horizon though. This week saw the inaugural presentation of the re-launched and renamed Theatre UK Awards. Formerly the Theatrical Management Association (TMA) Awards, the awards are publicised as celebrating ‘creative excellence and the outstanding work seen on stages throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’.

In reality however, do the awards really reflect regional theatres?
Big wins for the Donmar Warehouse, The RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe while all deserving of recognition are hardly representative the wider regional theatres scene.

There is also the question of the awards ceremony itself.

  • Does holding the awards ceremony in the centre of London send out the right message of support to regional theatre?
  • Does the choice of judges from the national press – while certainly knowledgeable and as well travelled as their diaries and editors budgets allow – reflect the voice of regional critical opinion?
  • Should the major companies be included in the eligibility criteria? Can the Donmar Warehouse and The RSC really be classed as regional theatre? 
  • Is it possible to compare the work produced by a large organisation with a multi million pound subsidy to the work produced by a small regional touring company on a shoe string budget?

The sheer scale of regional theatre makes the organisation of any awards a logistical nightmare but that sheer scale is also the very reason we need to be celebrating and trumpeting the value of regional theatre. Regional isn’t a dirty word and it’s time to start showcasing the sheer vitality of work taking place across the whole country and not just a small, though well populated and influential, corner.

Article originally written for Arts Professional Magazine