Feature: Theatre UK Award predictions

While many theatre awards focus on London, the Theatre Management Association’s Theatre Awards UK, being held later this week, look further afield and covers the entire country. Perhaps the awards don’t quite hit the headlines in the way the Olivier Awards do but it’s an important area to celebrate and one we need to support.

There’s still some way to go to flag up the strength of regional theatre and these awards do include some ‘big hitters’ such as the RSC and Chichester Festival Theatre but they do go to prove that you don’t need to have opened in the ‘glittering’ West End to receive recognition (although one of the nominated shows, Sweeney Todd, did perhaps garner more attention for its London run than its regional premiere).

The logistics of nationwide awards are enough to make the eyes water – how do you manage judging given the sheer volume of work on offer – but it conversely perhaps marks a weakness in the current awards set up. Night in, night out, companies across the work are producing high quality work that deserves recognition. Does the fact that a member of the judging panel doesn’t make it to their show diminish their efforts?
Does the London focus of the national print critics (with a couple of notable exceptions) also paint a skewed picture of the importance of out of London theatre?

Does the fact that the awards dinner itself is held in London send the wrong message? In 2013 should the TMA really embrace its ‘Most Welcoming Theatre’ category and coax attendees to venture outside the M25 and attend the previous year’s winning venue? Does the TMA also need to think its criteria? Is it a level playing field if the might of the RSC can compete with a small regional venue?

As someone who will talk to anyone about the gap between London and national theatre coverage, such a celebration of nationwide theatre is a welcome step, though the awards barely cover the breadth of productions on offer on any given night across the country.

Judging for any awards is always hard to predict, and as mentioned above, given the geographical spread its difficult to have seen all nominations but on the list are several nominations that I’m delighted to support (and probably in the process give them the kiss of death!)

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A PLAY – Tim Pigott-Smith for KING LEAR at West Yorkshire Playhouse
In a year of Lear, it could have been easy to overdose on the ageing monarch, but West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production was not only visually arresting, it contained a central performance from Pigott-Smith of immense intensity and gravitas.

On the night I saw King Lear in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s main house, their studio was showing a new musical, The Go-Between. Adapted from LP Hartley’s classic novel and composed by Lear’s composer Richard Taylor, I finally caught the show later in the tour in Northampton and was blown away by the sheer power of the piece. If there’s been a finer new British musical in recent years I would be very surprised. An intimate and complex interweaving of music and story to create a beautiful and moving evening.

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL – Daniel Evans, Company at Crucible, Sheffield
On a cold, stormy night in Sheffield, it takes a strong company to win over an unsettled audience after a lengthy technical delay. As soon as Daniel Evans and the rest of the Company ensemble stepped on stage though any issues vanished as Evans set the stage alight in Sondheim’s look at love and loneliness.

ACHIEVEMENT IN MARKETING – The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
When a venue closes for a redevelopment, sadly something is often lost in the new building. For Canterbury though the brand new Marlowe Theatre is a total delight. Though well designed and thought out, it take more than a building to make a theatre and the Marlowe’s press and marketing department are always a joy to work with.

MOST WELCOMING THEATRE – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
OK, possibly some local bias but as perhaps the venue I spend more time at than any other it’s time to sing the praises of this 400 seat powerhouse. Where other venues may play it safe, the NWT team are never afraid to take risks but always with the aim of encouraging and developing new audiences into their theatre. Oh and it serves some of the best jacket potatoes you could ever want!

PROMOTION OF DIVERSITY -Graeae Theatre Company
Anyone who watched the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games can have no doubt as to Graeae’s Artistic Director Jenny Sealey’s passion for raising awareness of diversity. Graeae are never afraid to challenge, provoke and even shock but it’s always done in a highly accessible, and more importantly, engaging manner.

OK, this one is voted for by the public so is perhaps wider open than most categories. Many people think Children’s theatre is a ‘dumbed down’ theatre. The opposite is true – to make a show that appeals to all ages is notoriously hard and younger theatre goers can be the harshest critics. The Children’s Touring Partnership tour of Swallows And Amazons worked its magic on all ages, enthralling and engaging all who saw.

The actual winners will be announced on Sunday 28th October in London. Let’s hope that all nominees receive acclaim for their achievements and that the 2013 awards will cover even more of the UK’s vibrant, and truly national theatre scene.

Photo: The Go Between Company

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