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The Stage Awards 2019 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, innovation.

Award sponsored by Managed Networks

Almeida Theatre

London’s reigning theatre of the year enjoyed another impressive 12 months under Rupert Goold [1]’s leadership.

This year kicked off in style with a production of The Twilight Zone, now destined for the West End [2]in 2019. It will follow a series of hit Almeida productions that have made the short trip from Islington to Theatreland in recent years, the most recent being Summer and Smoke, a superb Tennessee Williams revival that was directed by new Almeida associate Rebecca Frecknall.

Read our interview with Rebecca Frecknall [3]

Other highlights at the theatre’s north London base included Ella Hickson’s provocative The Writer [4] – nominated for best play at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards [5] – and Dance Nation [6] by Clare Barron.

Meanwhile, associate director Robert Icke [7] followed up his productions of Mary Stuart [8] and Hamlet [9] (the former transferring to the West End [10] and the latter broadcast by the BBC in 2018) with a radical reinterpretation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck.

Offstage, the Almeida continued its excellent work developing young audiences, supplemented with the creation of a Youth Advisory Board, made up of 18 to 25 year olds, aimed at diversifying the industry’s future leaders. Next year, Ink [11]– a West End hit in 2018 – will transfer to Broadway.

The Wild Duck review at Almeida Theatre, London – ‘dazzling precision’ [12]

Bush Theatre

Madani Younis’ final year as artistic director of the Bush Theatre proved a suitable swansong. Under his tenure, the west London venue has been reinvented [13] both physically and in terms of its ethos, with programming that aims to reflect the diverse make-up of its Shepherd’s Bush audiences.

Read our interview with Madani Younis [14]

The year included Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking [15], part of Younis’ “passing the baton” initiative, which commits to producing one play a year by a British writer of colour from the 20th century.

Other highlights included two shows that became hits in Edinburgh: The Believers Are But Brothers [16] by Javaad Alipoor [17], and the return of Monica Dolan’s award-winning play The B*easts [18]. However, it was Misty by Arinze Kene that gave the Bush its standout hit of the year, subsequently moving to Trafalgar Studios in the West End. It explored the complexity and pressure of being a black artist.

Other critical successes at the Bush included Vinay Patel’s epic An Adventure [19], and Ben Wetherill’s Jellyfish [20], which featured two neurodiverse cast members.

As Younis prepares to hand over the running of the theatre to Lynette Linton [21], he passes on energised audiences and a theatre boasting diverse programming that reflects 21st-century London.

Misty review at the Bush Theatre, London – ‘intelligent and interrogative’ [22]

Young Vic Theatre

It was a year of two halves – both impressive – at the Young Vic [23]. The beginning of 2018 was commissioned by outgoing artistic director David Lan, and ended with Kwame Kwei-Armah [24]’s first programming choices [25].

David Lan’s final interview as Young Vic boss [26]

Lan handed over a theatre in fine artistic health, following a run of some of the year’s most critically acclaimed productions. The Inheritance [27] garnered rave reviews at the south London venue before transferring to the West End, where it joined The Jungle [28], which also originated at the Young Vic. Jeanine Tesori [29] and Lisa Kron’s tender musical Fun Home [30] also received its UK premiere on the Cut, although it has yet to follow up with a commercial transfer.

Kwei-Armah kicked off his tenure with a vibrant staging of Twelfth Night [31], a musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy, featuring community cast members, underlining the new leader’s mission to ensure the venue is open to everyone. It’s still early days for Kwei-Armah’s tenure, but it got off to a promising start.

Kwei-Armah said that “access for all” was already in the theatre’s DNA, but he aimed to “augment that”. As if to prove that point, he announced that tickets for the first preview of every production in the main house will be priced at just £5.

The Inheritance review at Young Vic, London – ‘ambitious, moving and compelling’ [27]

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