The Stage Awards shortlist: London Theatre of the Year
The top theatre in the capital over the past 12 months. Any venue based in Greater London is eligible. Judged on criteria including (but not limited to) artistic quality, business success and innovation
Award sponsored by Managed Networks
The Almeida Theatre, under the artistic directorship of Rupert Goold, has had a phenomenal year. Opening in February, Robert Icke’s production of Hamlet remains one of the standout Shakespearean productions of 2017. Starring Andrew Scott at his emotive best, it transferred to the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre and will be broadcast by the BBC in 2018. This was followed by Goold’s production of James Graham’s new play Ink about the birth of the Sun newspaper, starring Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch. It also transferred to the West End.
Its summer production of Christopher Shinn’s Against was followed by Mike Bartlett’s well-received Chekhovian new play Albion and its season concludes with Anne Washburn’s stage production of cult TV show The Twilight Zone.
A third West End transfer – for Icke’s 2016 production of Mary Stuart – was also announced. It opens at the Duke of York’s Theatre in January. One of the Almeida’s older hit shows was also broadcast on TV: the BBC version of Mike Bartlett’s play King Charles III, starring the late Tim Pigott-Smith.
As ever, there was much going on beyond its main-house productions. The Almeida Theatre Young Company took From the Ground Up to the Edinburgh Fringe with considerable success; Figures of Speech, a digital anthology exploring famous political speeches, entered its second wave; and Against All Odds, presented in conjunction with Arsenal in the Community and written by Charlotte Josephine, ran over the summer. There was even a chance to see Chris Brett Bailey’s fan-favourite This Is How You Die there in September
The Barbican, London’s sprawling multi-arts venue, has a commitment to international work that consistently makes it one of the most exciting spaces in London. This year it hosted a trio of works by director Ivo van Hove, including the return of the majestic six-hour Roman Tragedies, the production that sealed his reputation as a theatrical innovator in the UK. This was accompanied by the less successful Obsession, starring Jude Law, and the intriguing After the Rehearsal/Persona.
Theatre programmer Toni Racklin also gave London audiences a chance to see Yukio Ninagawa’s Macbeth, the groundbreaking production that made the late director’s reputation. Dance remains central to the Barbican programme, with Boy Blue Entertainment’s Blak Whyte Gray a highlight early in the year.
The Royal Shakespeare Company brought its quartet of Roman plays to the main space later in the autumn, including Blanche McIntyre’s potent Titus Andronicus.
The smaller Pit space continues to provide a home for innovative performance and live art, including Rachel Mars and Nat Tarrab’s dynamic show Roller. The venue’s willingness to let work spill out of its spaces is also part of its appeal. In November, Jess Thom – also know as Touretteshero – took over the Pit and its foyer for a participatory, inclusive weekend event called Brewing in the Basement. Meanwhile, in December, Transpose, an event curated by and featuring CN Lester, explored the trans experience.
Yet again in 2017, the Barbican proved a real melting pot of some of the world’s most exciting artists.
The National Theatre has been responsible for some of the most hotly anticipated and critically lauded theatrical events of the year: Marianne Elliott’s production of Angels in America, Dominic Cooke’s production of Sondheim’s Follies and, most recently, the world premiere of Network, directed by Ivo van Hove and starring Bryan Cranston.
While productions programmed in the Olivier, aside from Twelfth Night starring Tamsin Grieg as Malvolia, have been patchy in 2017 – with Yael Farber’s Salome, DC Moore’s Common and Saint George and the Dragon on the receiving end of scathing reviews – the Dorfman programme has been consistently exciting. Productions there included Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes, David Eldridge’s Beginning and Inua Ellams’ glorious Barber Shop Chronicles.
It’s testament to the success of its programme that it has played to 91% capacity houses over the past year.
Under the artistic directorship of Rufus Norris, the National doubled the number of Entry Pass tickets for young people aged 15-26 to 25,000, and has continued to ensure its work is accessible and affordable – 30% of all seats are available at £20 or less.
It is not only the NT’s work on stage that is pioneering: the National continues to explore new ways of making its work accessible and is in the process of piloting smart glasses that offer live captioning to audience members.