The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

MamasDoin'Fine Profile PhotoMamasDoin'Fine Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today#1
Posted: 12/2/09 at 9:35am
Why this is a great age of theatre

It is in the nature of many 'golden age's' not to announce themselves while they are happening: I doubt Calderon de la Barca sat writing Life Is a Dream, remarking to himself how nice it was to be part of the 17th-century Spanish dramatic flowering that we've long recognised as such. But is it possible we are inhabiting a privileged time for the theatre/ playhouses both large and small are claiming recession-busting record attendances and a range of offerings as healthily diverse as has been seen in years?
Sure, reality TV brings in punters who might not otherwise go to a show but the story hardly begins and ends with the likes of Diana Vickers, Jodie Prenger and Lee Mead. There are 10 other magic ingredients in place, all individual indicators of the good health of the London stage which taken together make the case for a new golden age.

It's not enough at the moment to be any old show; there has to be quality that elevates the evening into something special. London has been notably good for that of late, whether we're talking two contrasting Hamlets in David Tennant and Jude Law or a sequence of plays such as the Tricycle's The Great Game, which put Afghanistan on the local theatrical map.
Celebrity casting can pay off big time, too. Blood Brothers has been given the best 21st birthday present imaginable courtesy of Mel C's West End debut, hopes are high for Keira Knightley's West End turn in The Misanthrope, and April will see the arrival on Shaftesbury Avenue of the current Broadway ensemble of Hair. If the promise of all that first-act nudity isn't an event, what is?
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

I mean, come on: it isn't just the spirit of liberation implicit in Hair that reminds one that the theatre is a decidedly sexy space. Play titles such as Cock tease audiences into attending what in fact is an acute (I almost said penetrating) analysis of desire. It helps to have a generation of young actors Ben Whishaw, Cock's co-star, comes to mind who make of sexuality something tantalisingly indeterminate. Sometimes, however, what you want is sizzle: cue Kim Cattrall, due in the West End next March in Private Lives. Surely Sex and the City's Samantha should know a thing or two about bumping into exlovers on a balcony.

The Court is part of a supercharged subsidised theatre pack (think the National and Donmar) that remains the envy of the English-speaking theatre: small wonder that three Court entries That Face, Enron and The Pride are opening in New York in the first few months of 2010.
The playhouse under Dominic Cooke's stewardship has rarely seemed in ruder health, as shown by the imminent transfer of two plays (Enron and Jerusalem) to the West End for the first such double-pronged attack since 1968. Both those plays were seen on the Court main stage, leaving the likes of Alia Bano's funny and tender Muslim comedy, Shades, and Polly Stenham's drama of familial abandonment, Tusk Tusk, to the tiny Theatre Upstairs.
Cock confirms the studio venue as one of the most exciting spaces in town and most exclusive, given how difficult it is to secure a ticket.
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

London has become the home of the revival given a fresh twist as can be seen most eccentrically at the Young Vic's current Annie Get Your Gun, with Annie Oakley got up as Mickey Mouse.
Such productions are where most of the musical excitement lies these days, not least at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which has made a house specialty of re-evaluating the musical that you already thought you knew. Next up for the Southwark venue is Sweet Charity, starring Tamzin Outhwaite, opening next week, while the venue's A Little Night Music, now starring Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones, is in previews on Broadway. The Donmar's looming Passion should also mark Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday in style.
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

So the days of the true theatre greats are gone? Think again, with particular reference to Rylance, whose instant standing ovation at last week's Evening Standard awards testifies to the particular esteem in which he is held by his peers. No one seems so quietly able to reinvent himself with each role as an actor (and erstwhile actor-manager).
I first saw him in 1983 playing an elfin Ariel opposite Derek Jacobi's RSC Prospero and he has since gone on to be the best Olivia in my experience in a Globe Theatre Twelfth Night. He made history in the revival of the Sixties comedy Boeing-Boeing for playing the same role of the provincial friend on two continents with two totally distinct accents: as a Welshman in the West End and an open-eyed, sweet but slightly dim Wisconsin fella on Broadway, where he won a Tony.
How fitting that in Jez Butterworth's mighty Jerusalem, transferring next month to the Apollo, he plays a renegade, Johnny Byron, who believes in giants.
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

The list of producers for a Broadway show is so long these days that it seems as if anyone who contributed $5 gets an above-the-title credit.
Not so, happily, in London where impresarios still leave their imprimatur, boldly proceeding where lesser folk would stumble.
On the one hand, producers gallantly pick up the best subsidised-sector hits here come Enron and Jerusalem again and move them commercially on, though many is the venture bravely originated as well from scratch.
All credit to Sonia Friedman and Kim Poster for pushing forward with Prick Up Your Ears, which deserved far better than its short-lived fate, while Nica Burns, Tali Pelman and Matthew Byam Shaw are others who fly an ever-fraying flag for plays in a West End largely awash in musicals.
Double-acts look to be the West End order of the day in months to come: Lesley Sharp and Iain Glen in Ghosts; the Cattrall/Matthew Macfadyen Private Lives; and Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet in All My Sons.

It sometimes seems as if every other production is directed by either Michael Grandage or Rupert Goold, who between them helm more plays a year than many American directors would manage in a decade.
London is every bit as fertile a proving ground for directors as it is for actors and writers, and it helps to have sympathetic artistic directors such as the Old Vic's Kevin Spacey and the Globe's Dominic Dromgoole to give a leg up to, say, Sean Holmes and Jonathan Munby. Look out for Holmes's Lyric Hammersmith Three Sisters, opening late January. Jamie Lloyd, Indhu Rubasingham and David Grindley are other names worth reckoning with in 2010.
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

It's not just because the West End revival of Oliver! features cavalcades of kids that one feels hopeful about the next generation. There have scarcely been two more rending performances all year than that of young unknowns Bel Powley and Toby Regbo at the Royal Court in Tusk Tusk, while the generation of Simon Russell Beale, Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan is poised to inherit the mantle left by the likes of Maggie Smith, Albert Finney et al.
Happily, many revered stage veterans continue to ply their trade: Ian McKellen is due back at the Haymarket in January in the return of Waiting for Godot, while Judi Dench's Titania opens in Kingston the following month.
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

Wary of the word? The contemporary theatre is right there with you. Companies such as Shunt, Kneehigh, Punchdrunk, and Cardboard Citizens all look well beyond the page to the primacy of space, whether in dimly lit arches or disused buildings that are then reclaimed; Filter has offered pizza and beer to go with its Shakespeare, while Katie Mitchell has for some while now made technology part of her theatrical armoire.
Look for more site-driven projects thinking literally outside the box. These practitioners let imagination plain and simple be their guide.
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

At the same time, good writing will clearly never go out of style, as evidenced by the ongoing popularity of both Alan Bennett and Samuel Beckett, two writers who share a tragicomic vision.
London theatre has also developed the ability to respond directly to events, resulting most recently in two plays about the financial world fallout, The Power of Yes and Enron, and the continued trend toward verbatim drama on topics such as 7/7.
The fact that two Twelfth Nights can play the West End within a single year Richard Wilson's Malvolio is up next attests to the ongoing popularity of Shakespeare, while Sam Mendes's Bridge Project next summer brings As You Like It and The Tempest to the Old Vic. On this evidence, London seems well attuned, thanks to Alan Bennett, to the habit of art. And some habits, thank heavens, never die.
The 10 Points Of Great Theatre Today

Matt Wolf is London theatre critic of The International Herald Tribune.

Updated On: 12/2/09 at 09:35 AM