The Stage 100 2019: Top 5
The Stage 100, in association with Spektrix, is intended to reflect who are the 100 most influential people working in the theatre and performing arts industry. It is considered from the point of view of The Stage, as a trade publication, and so focuses both on theatre as a business and an art form. Inclusion within the list and ranking is weighted towards achievements in the past 12 months, but also takes into account continuous achievement. We also aim to have a list that – as much as is possible and plausible – reflects the astonishing breadth of the theatre industry. However, we do not weight the list to attempt to make it gender-balanced or ethnically diverse: we believe the list should aim to reflect how the theatre and performing arts industry is, not what it aims to be, or we would like it to be.
1. Steve Tompkins
Architect, Haworth Tompkins
Steve Tompkins is not a name that will resonate with most audiences, nor one you will see up in lights on a theatre marquee; but there are very few whose theatregoing experiences have not been enriched by his creative genius… and he probably designed the marquee.
A modern-day Frank Matcham, Tompkins and his team at Haworth Tompkins (where he heads the performing arts side of the practice with Roger Watts, who recently became a director) has had a hand in re-imagining many of the UK’s most prestigious theatres, transforming the audience experience and the British theatre landscape.
London’s Royal Court, Young Vic, Bush, National Theatre, the Bridge: Tompkins’ list of past projects includes some of our greatest, most innovative and welcoming spaces. He won the prestigious Stirling Prize in 2014 for his work on the Liverpool Everyman – the first theatre building he created from scratch.
Tompkins has also won The Stage Awards theatre building of the year category twice: for the Bridge Theatre in 2018 and for his work on the National Theatre in 2016. At this year’s awards, he will have a chance to make it a hat-trick, with a pair of major projects nominated. The past 12 months have seen the culmination of two of Tompkins’ most treasured long-term projects. Both brilliantly encapsulate what it is that makes him such a special theatre architect.
Tompkins had been working with Battersea Arts Centre for nearly a decade to reinvent the interior of the town hall and transform it into a 21st-century civic arts centre. Then, in 2015, disaster struck when the building’s Grand Hall was engulfed in flames; but Tompkins and his team were able to assimilate the after-effects of the fire into their plans, with the theatre rising like a phoenix from the ashes in 2018, scorch marks still beautifully visible on its walls.
Meanwhile, in Bristol, Tompkins and his team were engaged in another decade-long project: to transform the city’s Old Vic, one of Britain’s most historic and important theatres.
Again, the redesign has been as much about changing the ethos of the company as the physical transformation of the building, with a key part of the brief to open up previously hidden parts of the historic theatre to public view and use.
While he may have taken on Matcham’s mantle as the highest-profile, most respected and prolific theatre architect of his era, in many ways he is a mirror image of the Victorian master. Whereas Matcham’s chocolate box theatre designs were all about reinforcing social strata, with distinct levels, areas and entrances for different types of customers, Tompkins’ defining principle is a desire to democratise and open up theatre spaces.
Tompkins is loved by theatremakers and celebrated as someone who ‘gets theatre’. He is not a showy architect, his buildings are not temples to design, nor are they particularly glossy or flashy. With a background in social housing, Tompkins is interested in how physical changes to a building can alter the way that people experience a communal space.
As BAC artistic director David Jubb said of Tompkins’ work at the venue: “We owe a debt of gratitude to an architectural practice who don’t just do design, they also do cultural change.”
It will be fascinating then to see what Tompkins makes of his next project, for which he shifts his attention – for the first time – to the commercial West End. He is working with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the revamp of arguably London’s most iconic theatre: Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
The building closes this year with a planned reopening in 2020. Tompkins has been given the task of returning its great historic spaces to their former configuration and making the public foyers and the 1920s auditorium more flexible, welcoming and effective for contemporary audiences – as well as accessible during the day.
His legacy is already one that will be felt and experienced by millions of theatregoers for years to come and his work on Drury Lane looks set to cement his position as the most important theatre architect in at least a generation. Last Year: 23
2. Sonia Friedman
Sonia Friedman Productions
At the Palace Theatre, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continues to be busier than Diagon Alley on Black Friday. In 2018, it also began its Voldermort-like march to global domination, with a first replica production opening in New York and more to follow in San Francisco, Hamburg and Melbourne (so far).
In New York, Friedman has had a particularly busy year on Broadway, with productions of Travesties, Farinelli and the King, The Ferryman and Mean Girls joining the aforementioned wizard. Ink, the James Graham play about Larry Lamb and Rupert Murdoch that Friedman has already transferred from the Almeida to the West End, is soon to join them.
The Inheritance is a seven-hour, two-part new play by Matthew Lopez that transposes EM Forster’s novel Howards End to 21st-century New York a generation after the 1980s Aids crisis. Friedman transferred the hit Young Vic production and its huge cast to the West End, where it proved to be the new play of the year, winning an Evening Standard Award in the process.
Even bolder was The Jungle, which told stories from the eponymous Calais refugee camp. For the transfer, the West End’s Playhouse Theatre was turned into an Afghan cafe. Friedman has been a key supporter of Good Chance Theatre since it launched as a pop-up venue in the camp outside Calais in 2015. No one – not even Friedman – could have thought at the time that three years later it would inspire a West End show.
Other West End shows, nearly all of them bona fide critical hits, included Consent, The Birthday Party and The Ferryman, which joined long-runners such as The Book of Mormon and Dreamgirls. Plans for this year include the fascinating prospect of a stage version of All About Eve, directed by Ivo van Hove and starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James.
For most of 2018, Friedman had five productions running at any one time in the West End, and across the whole year she produced 23 shows across all territories. She also continued to branch out into TV production, following up the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall by executive-producing King Lear with Anthony Hopkins. Her West End production of Funny Girl starring Sheridan Smith was also screened globally in cinemas and made it to TV. This would be an extraordinary output for any other producer but for Friedman it has become business as usual.
Playwright Tom Stoppard refers to Friedman as this generation’s “go-to producer” and when she appeared in 2018’s Time 100 list with an entry penned by James Corden, he explained: “She understands the logistics, the nuts and bolts, of putting on a show. And she knows what audiences want to see, even before they do.”
It’s hard to argue with any of that: Friedman is a true producer, creating a portfolio of work dwarfing that of her competitors in terms of scale, variety and quality. The West End and Broadway would be shadows of themselves without the work she is creating.
Friedman was ranked number one in The Stage 100 two years ago and – when it comes to producing quality theatre in the commercial sphere – she is still top dog.
Last year: 3rd
Productions include: The Jungle, The Inheritance, The Birthday Party, Summer and Smoke, Dreamgirls, The Book of Mormon, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Coming up in 2019: All About Eve, Ink (New York), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Melbourne, San Franciso and Hamburg), The Book of Mormon (Manchester, Amsterdam and tour)
3. Andrew Lloyd Webber
Really Useful Group/LW Theatres
Celebrating his 70th birthday in 2018, Lloyd Webber shows no sign of slowing down. As well as publishing his autobiography, the composer worked on new material for a movie adaptation of Cats and a musical adaptation of Cinderella. The US TV special Jesus Christ Superstar Live won the composer an Emmy, meaning he joined an elite club of artists to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony.
While songs will be his greatest legacy, he has also turned his attention to bricks and mortar. This year he begins the ambitious £45 million overhaul of Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the jewel in LW Theatres’ crown.
Offstage, he has become an outspoken advocate for the arts in education. He has put his money where his mouth is by supporting a range of excellent initiatives through his foundation, which has given out around £20 million to schemes ranging from scholarships for drama schools to support for emerging playwrights at London’s Royal Court.
Last year: 4
Productions include: School of Rock, Unmasked, The Phantom of the Opera (West End, New York, US tour)
Coming up in 2019: Jesus Christ Superstar (Barbican and US tour); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (West End); Evita (Regent’s Park); Cats (film)
4. Cameron Mackintosh
Cameron Mackintosh Ltd/Delfont Mackintosh Ltd
A difficult year for the world’s most successful theatre producer. The cost of his refurbishment of the Victoria Palace overran by £25 million and plans to buy and transform the Ambassadors fell through after its owner, Stephen Waley-Cohen, received a higher offer.
In more positive news, Hamilton, the West End’s star opening of 2017, continued to perform extremely well throughout 2018; although demand is perhaps not quite as high as anticipated.
On the road, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables have been two of the biggest openings of the year and, buoyed by the success of the recently released film sequel, Mary Poppins should do good business when it returns to the Prince Edward in 2019.
Mackintosh continues to invest lavishly in his nine West End theatres. Next up are the Queen’s (current home to Les Mis), Wyndham’s, Noel Coward and Gielgud. Mackintosh estimates he has already spent £200 million on his theatre estate. Future generations of theatremakers and audiences owe him a debt.
Last year: 2
Productions include: Les Miserables (West End, UK tour, US tour, Mexico); Hamilton (West End); Miss Saigon (UK and US tour); The Phantom of the Opera (West End, New York, US tour)
Coming up in 2019: Mary Poppins (West End)
5. Rufus Norris and Lisa Burger
Norris’ National Theatre has begun to fully emerge. The Public Acts staging of Pericles was a joyous celebration that united professionals with community performers. It was the start of something special and embodied a shift in ethos at the National. This was reinforced by access initiatives including ProFile and smart-caption glasses. Ably supported by executive director Burger, the NT has increased its focus on UK touring alongside a couple of big ticket transfers to the US.
Back at its South Bank HQ, there was much to enjoy. The Dorfman, in particular, offered a cornucopia of delights ranging from Natasha Gordon’s Nine Night to Annie Baker’s John. Meanwhile, Translations and Antony and Cleopatra were both bona fide hits in the Olivier, with The Lehman Trilogy impressing in the Lyttelton.
Just don’t mention the Scottish Play…
Last year: 5
Productions include: Antony and Cleopatra, Hadestown, Nine Night, John, Translations, Pericles
Coming up in 2019: Top Girls, Small Island, Tartuffe, Three Sisters, Cate Blanchett in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, The Antipodes