The Stage Awards 2016
Since 2011, The Stage Awards have reflected the industry’s best performing theatres and theatremakers. The open nomination process allows anyone to elect their favourite buildings, schools, companies and individuals, while a new industry focus group helped steer this year’s shortlist. The final cut was selected by a panel of senior editorial figures at The Stage and aims to celebrate the finest theatre achievements of the past year.
This year’s shortlist was announced on December 24, 2015 with final winners unveiled at The Stage Awards, held at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on January 29, 2016.
The Stage Awards 2016 winners
Regional Theatre of the Year sponsored by Theatre 2016
Winner: Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
This was the year that artistic director Sarah Frankcom really hit her stride at the Royal Exchange. The Manchester theatre in the round’s output during 2015 delivered its best year in quite some time. Over the last 12 months, the Royal Exchange created 13 productions, as well as transforming its 2014 production of Hamlet, starring Maxine Peake, into a film, which was broadcast to more than 300 cinemas across the UK. Peake returned to the theatre for Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker, a co-commission with Manchester International Festival that brought together professional performers as well as a community choir of 50 local singers. The Royal Exchange also staged Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods and Anna Jordan’s Bruntwood Prize-winning Yen, which not only sold out but also secured a transfer to the Royal Court in London, where the play is being co-produced with the Royal Exchange in 2016. It is yet another example of smart programming by Frankcom, who took over as sole artistic director following the departure of Greg Hersov in early 2014. With a strong team of artistic associates behind her, including Peake, Matthew Xia, Benji Reid and Chris Thorpe, Frankcom has transformed the theatre into one that nurtures its artists as well as its audiences and is creating work that deserves to be recognised.
Chichester Festival Theatre
Royal and Derngate, Northampton
London Theatre of the Year sponsored by Haagen-Dazs
Winner: Almeida Theatre
The Almeida Theatre has enjoyed an extraordinary 12 months. In a bumper year for Greek tragedies across the UK, the Islington venue led the field, with all three productions in its Greeks season – Bakkhai, Oresteia and Medea – receiving both critical and box office success, including a West End transfer for Oresteia. The Almeida Greeks has defined much of the London theatre dialogue in 2015 and it is a mark of the company’s resurgent status that a show such as Robert Icke’s reworked Oresteia – a challenging Greek tragedy by any standard – enjoyed overwhelming success even when playing in the commercial West End. The Almeida’s work around its core programme has also been a highlight, knitting together the productions and engaging with the works in new ways. The durational readings of The Iliad and The Odyssey featured more than 120 actors across two full days, took place in various locations – including aboard the London Eye – and played to packed audiences as well as all the while being streamed online. Simon Stephens’ Carmen Disruption and Mike Barlett’s Game are yet further examples of the Almeida’s willingness to experiment with form and design, while Richard Eyre’s most recent production, Little Eyolf, proves the theatre’s continued dedication to working with the classics. Since his appointment in 2013, artistic director Rupert Goold has cemented the Almeida as one of London’s most exciting theatres, with numerous transfers and awards under its belt. This marks the Almeida’s second nomination in a row in this category. In 2015, Goold and associate director Icke created high-quality works and, in Oresteia, realised what was arguably the play of the year.
Fringe Theatre of the Year sponsored by Encore Insure
Winner: The Other Room, Cardiff
Director Kate Wasserberg – previously associate director at Clwyd Theatr Cymru and before then at the Finborough in London – set up the Other Room, Cardiff’s first pub theatre, in February 2015. It has quickly established itself as a theatre willing to take risks, and with Sarah Kane’s Blasted as its inaugural production it was clear from the off that this is a theatre that intends to punch well above its weight. It may be small – a full house is 44 – but the Other Room has big aspirations, with year-round programming and a focus on Welsh and Wales-based artists. Other productions include new writing, such as Alun Saunders’ A Good Clean Heart, which was performed in both English and Welsh. One of the biggest challenges for theatres of its size, even in London, is pulling in reviewers, and yet the Other Room has attracted national publications and a slew of positive reviews. The judges described the Other Room’s first year as a “meteoric arrival” on to the theatre scene, and noted the undeniable risk Wasserberg and executive director Bizzy Day have taken by opening a small, unfunded fringe theatre outside London. The fact that they have taken such a risk on, and are doing something almost unique in Wales, makes the Other Room one of the most exciting new theatres in the UK.
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Orange Tree Theatre, London
Producer of the Year sponsored by John Good
Winner: Sonia Friedman
It has been another stellar 12 months for our current Producer of the Year Sonia Friedman, who in 2015 produced or co-produced no fewer than nine shows in the UK, including the world premiere of musical Bend It Like Beckham, Farinelli and the King, A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Broadbent, and the West end production of Oresteia, following its initial run at the Almeida. Friedman has also been behind of two of the most sought-after tickets this year: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at the Barbican, which sold out a year before the show opened so much was the hype, and the new stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Despite not opening until June 2016, the latter has already extended into 2017 due to overwhelming demand and advance sales are astonishing. Other hits include Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon, which picked up four Olivier awards this year, and King Charles III. The latter scooped the best new play award at the Oliviers and subsequently embarked on a UK tour and Broadway transfer. The judges praised the remarkable range of work Friedman has brought to the stage, as well as the affordable ticket schemes put in place for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which goes some way to opening up West End shows to wider audiences.
Edinburgh International Festival
School of the Year sponsored by Digital Theatre Plus
Winner: Arts Educational Schools London
One of the standout moments for new talent in 2015 was the Olivier award nomination for Juma Sharkah, whose professional debut in Liberian Girl at the Royal Court saw her up against the likes of Tanya Moodie in the outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre category. It was a remarkable achievement for Sharkah but also a marker of the quality of Chiswick-based ArtsEd that Sharkah was still training on the school’s acting course when she earned such acclaim. Another highlight for ArtsEd this year was its collaboration with Trevor Nunn on a new production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It was the first time the former Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre boss had directed the Shakespeare play, and his decision to collaborate with ArtsEd on the production was a sign of the standing of the school. It already has the foremost reputation in training new musical theatre talent, and ArtsEd graduates are making an ever-stronger and more noticeable mark in productions across London and the rest of the country.
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry (TiE)
University of Warwick, School of Theatre and Performance Studies
Theatre Building of the Year sponsored by ABTT and Richard Pilbrow
Winner: NT Future, London
In 2015, the juggernaut regeneration of the National Theatre culminated in the completion of the Cottesloe’s refurbishment. The venue reopened as the Dorfman, the new Clore Learning Centre and production workshop were created, and the organisation’s public spaces, bars and cafes were transformed. All this has reinvigorated the NT’s place on the South Bank as well as the way it is used by artists, staff and audiences. Architects Haworth Tompkins – also behind the Stirling Prize-winning Liverpool Everyman – opened up the NT’s workings, creating new public walkways that allow visitors and audiences to see the production workshops up close. Alongside studios and offices, these are at the heart of the impressive Max Rayne centre, which is by all accounts the cornerstone of the development. The sheer scale of the project, which has led to the complete reorientation of the NT, constitutes a major shift in the way the theatre views its operations and is viewed by others. It is the most significant refurbishment of the theatre since its creation in 1964, updating ideas of what a national institution can and should offer, and has helped make the concrete edifice more welcoming to visitors.
King’s Cross Theatre, London
Wilton’s Music Hall, London
sponsored by Ambassador Theatre Group
Winner: War Horse China
The skills exchange between our National Theatre and the National Theatre of China on a landmark Chinese production of War Horse has been an undertaking unlike anything else on the planet. The production opened in September at China’s National Theatre in Beijing after a mammoth two-year preparation period, which included adapting the script for local audiences and training Chinese puppeteers to operate the show’s life-sized horse puppets. In addition, the project included training individuals to run, manage and operate a western-style theatre production. In training and working in China but with western methods, the project has started to open up an area of the world that could previously seem impenetrable for Western theatremakers, as well as giving an insight to Chinese theatremakers into Western working practices. As part of a year celebrating British-Chinese cultural relations, the project has proved a flagship success, and has therefore been funded once more by the government to take the production and tour it across China. The project has cross-pollinated the skills of British and Chinese artists in a way not seen before and has made considerable headway into opening up the Chinese theatre market for other UK and Western companies.
Good Chance Theatre, Calais
Greenwich and Docklands International Festival
After more than 35 years at the Felixstowe Spa Pavilion Theatre, Roger Miller was heartbroken when it closed in January 2013. He refused to leave the 900-seat Art Deco building on the seafront and stayed on as a part-time building manager to oversee its moth-balling. He kept the building alive, often using his own money, tools and time. Gary Wright, who resolved to rescue the theatre and nominated Miller, said: “We cannot impress enough just how much Roger has done for The Spa over many years, and also how, when the building was in grave danger and looked lost it was Roger’s belief and dedication which gave us the confidence to try to save it.”
When Gary Wright, who nominated Roger, became aware of its plight, he went to see the building resolved to rescue it. As he says, without Roger’s unequivocal support and encouragement they would not have gone ahead.
In Wright’s own words:
“We acquired the building in May 2015, and with Roger wearing several hats, including a hard one at times, we set about an ambitious DIY refurbishment which needed to be complete within 6 months. Carrying out much of the work ourselves, with Roger leading the way, we managed to achieve the re-opening on time and on budget. During this period Roger worked at least double the hours that he billed us for, sometimes seven days a week.
“We cannot impress on the judging panel enough just how much Roger has done for The Spa over many years, and also how, when the building was in grave danger and looked lost it was Roger’s belief and dedication which gave us the confidence to try to save it. Roger shies away from recognition and refused to be mentioned or take a bow on stage on our sell-out opening night on 15th November 2015. He genuinely is an unsung hero who seeks no recognition for himself and simply delights in the survival of The Spa and its ability to entertain a new generation of theatregoers.
“It would be a very moving occasion for us all if we could persuade The Stage to recognise this most dedicated and modest of men who has almost singlehandedly saved a theatre.”
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Robertson Taylor W&P Longreach is extremely proud to be sponsoring The Stage Awards for a third year and would like to wish the nominees in each category of the awards the very best of luck.
The Stage Awards 2016 – Sponsors
The Stage is grateful to all of our supporters