The Stage 100 2018: Theatre’s most influential (top 5)
The Stage 100 is the definitive list of theatre’s most influential people and partnerships. Each year, a crack team of leading industry figures is polled before senior editorial figures at The Stage consider business success, vision and ability to affect change for the better. Rankings are based on ongoing success, weighted towards achievements in the past 12 months. In terms of diversity, the list aims to reflect the way the theatre and performing arts industry is, not what it aims to be, nor what The Stage would like it to be.
1 Vicky Featherstone
Artistic director, Royal Court Theatre, London
It has been a giant leap for Featherstone to the top of The Stage 100. Her programming at the Royal Court certainly stepped up a notch in 2017 – Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, arguably the play of the year, started life there before moving into the West End. It was joined by a string of excellent productions, including Anatomy of a Suicide by Alice Birch, Katherine Soper’s Wish List and Killology by Gary Owen. Meanwhile, the director’s own production of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour brought a welcome dose of Scots spirit to St Martin’s Lane.
However, it was not primarily through programming that Featherstone made her mark in 2017. She was the first and strongest voice to speak out against historic and ongoing abuses of power in the theatre industry – especially sexual harassment – following the allegations in the US against Harvey Weinstein.
Her call that “[If] Hollywood can speak out, British theatre must too. I have a responsibility as do many of you to end the abuses of power in our industry” started a painful but necessary process of self-examination for the sector that may not have happened without her intervention.
She has tackled the issue head on, with bold public pronouncements and a desire to make genuine and lasting change, showing brave leadership in the process. The quickly organised No Grey Area event at the Royal Court gave a voice to many who had felt voiceless until then. Over the course of the event, 150 stories of sexual harassment and abuse from within the theatre industry and beyond were read out on stage. They ranged from tales of subtle, belittling behaviour to 11 counts of rape.
Speaking to the Guardian after the event, Featherstone was also quick to point out that her own organisation was not blameless: “The Royal Court has always been a place where brave and courageous stories have been told, but it has also had a real history of complex abuses of power. There are a lot of skeletons in the cupboard at the Royal Court. Max [Stafford-Clark] is just one to come out, but there are others. There are in other places as well – it is no worse at the Court.”
That is not to say that her response to the situation has always been flawless. Her initial decision to cancel the run of Rita, Sue and Bob Too at the Royal Court, following allegations of sexual harassment against its original director Stafford-Clark, felt like a mis-step.
However, Featherstone’s willingness to rethink that decision publicly showed brave leadership and a determination to listen and consider others’ views. It also underlined what a difficult situation this is for the whole industry and how there are very rarely easy answers to the issues that are thrown up.
With a few exceptions (step forward Erica Whyman at the Royal Shakespeare Company), she has often felt like a lone voice, sticking her head above the parapet. It would be a good thing for both Featherstone and the wider industry if this weren’t the case in 2018, as the debate around the issue is likely to progress and develop.
However, Featherstone’s timely and emphatic intervention set a great example of enlightened leadership and ensured that some very serious challenges for British theatre could not be swept under the carpet.
Last year: 39th
Productions include: Anatomy of a Suicide, Minefield, No Grey Area, Road, Victory Condition, Nuclear War, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Bodies, Killology, The Ferryman, Wish List, The Children (New York)
Coming up in 2018: My Mum’s a Twat, Hangmen (New York), Gundog by Simon Longman, Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly, Black Men Walking
2 Cameron Mackintosh and Nicholas Allott
Cameron Mackintosh Ltd / Delfont Mackintosh Ltd
In another year, Mackintosh might have topped the list. The impresario’s impresario – who has produced the three longest-running musicals of all time: Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Cats – celebrated his 50th year as a producer with a typically extensive portfolio of shows.
Miss Saigon opened on Broadway and embarked on an 18-month UK tour; Les Miserables continued in the West End and launched a two-year US tour; with Underbelly, he co-produced Five Guys Named Moe in a pop-up theatre in London; and further afield, he has opened shows in Germany, Switzerland, Dubai, New York, Japan and South Korea.
Last, but by no means least, he was a UK producer on Hamilton, undoubtedly the biggest show to open in the West End in 2017. The demand for tickets for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical has been extraordinary and, in a bid to prevent online ticket touts from hoovering up seats and selling them on at vastly inflated prices, Mackintosh has worked with Ticketmaster to trial a paperless ticket system that he hopes will eliminate the secondary market. Early signs look extremely promising and, if successful, this could have major implications for the way other hit West End shows manage their ticketing.
Hamilton is an absolute delight, boasting a talented and impressively diverse cast, many of whom are nearly fresh out of drama school. They more than do justice to Miranda’s score and are matched by Hamilton’s London home, the beautifully refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre, which Mackintosh acquired in 2014, vowing to transform it into “one of London’s most desirable musical houses”.
While the redevelopment has not been without its problems – delays forced the cancellation of the first two weeks of Hamilton previews – the end result looks gorgeous. Next up, he will turn his attentions to the Ambassadors, which he acquired at the same time as the Victoria Palace. He intends to turn this small playhouse into a home for transfers of “seasons of exciting productions from theatres in the subsidised sector seeking a non-proscenium environment that mirrors their own stages”. The venue will be renamed after composer Stephen Sondheim.
In addition to the Victoria Palace and Ambassadors, Mackintosh operates seven other West End theatres, which are some of the best-kept in Theatreland. In December, he also acquired the final piece of shareholding in Music Theatre International, the largest representative of secondary rights for many of the world’s leading musicals.
Mackintosh, supported by right-hand man Allott, is a giant of global theatre and has topped this list on five previous occasions. He continues to be one of the most influential figures in the West End and beyond.
Last year: 3rd
Productions include: Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, Five Guys Named Moe
Coming up in 2018: Miss Saigon tour, Ambassadors Theatre redevelopment
3 Sonia Friedman
The West End’s most prolific producer – our number one last year thanks to the enormous success of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – has slipped down the list a little, but it was still a mighty impressive year for Friedman with 15 shows in her 2017 roster.
In The Ferryman, she helped create the most successful new play of the year, with the production about to move on to its third cast. Dreamgirls continues to do good business and looks set to join The Book of Mormon as another long runner in Friedman’s portfolio.
The jewel in Friedman’s crown, though, remains Harry Potter, which swept the board at the Olivier Awards having opened in 2016. This year, it takes its magic to New York and Australia. Outside London, Funny Girl and Sunny Afternoon both toured, while Friedman has also dipped her toes into TV production – King Lear with Anthony Hopkins follows her production of Wolf Hall for the BBC.
Last year: 1st
Productions include: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Dreamgirls, Ink, The Ferryman, The Glass Menagerie, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Coming up in 2018: The Birthday Party, Harry Potter (Broadway and Australia), Mean Girls (Broadway), The Ferryman (Broadway)
4 Andrew Lloyd Webber
Really Useful Group / Really Useful Theatres
In February, Lloyd Webber became the first composer since Rodgers and Hammerstein (in 1953) to have four shows simultaneously on Broadway: The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, School of Rock and Sunset Boulevard.
Back in London, he opened the Other Palace in Victoria, vowing to turn it into a development house for new musical theatre under artistic director Paul Taylor-Mills. Ongoing Lloyd Webber shows The Phantom of the Opera and School of Rock were joined by the return of Evita, The Woman in White and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Meanwhile, through his charitable foundation, Lloyd Webber has exhibited influence of another kind – 75 new grants worth a total of £2.7 million have been awarded to projects that break down barriers to engagement in the arts, specifically targeting those from hard-to-reach and minority backgrounds.
Plans are also afoot for a £35 million refurbishment of Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Last year: 2nd
Productions include: The Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, School of Rock, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar
Coming up in 2018: Lloyd Webber turns 70, autobiography published, Theatre Royal Drury Lane’s £35 million refurbishment
5 Rufus Norris and Lisa Burger
It’s been a topsy-turvy year for the National. On the one hand, the theatre had a tricky run of shows on its largest stage, the Olivier, with Salome, Common and Saint George and the Dragon all failing to ignite the imaginations of critics and audiences. But this shows the NT was taking risks and it was also responsible for three of the biggest – and best received – shows of 2017, with Follies, Angels in America and Network all generating huge excitement.
The Dorfman – the National’s smallest auditorium – enjoyed a vintage year, with Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes, David Eldridge’s Beginning and Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles among the highlights. Meanwhile, its pilot scheme for smart glasses to help deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing audience members enjoy all the National’s shows could be a real game-changer and is indicative of how Norris and Burger are bringing access and representation to the fore.
Last year: 5th
Productions include: Network, Angels in America, Twelfth Night, Follies, Beginning
Coming up in 2018: Macbeth, John by Annie Baker, Amadeus returns, The Lehman Trilogy, Antony and Cleopatra, David Hare’s I’m Not Running, Exit the King