Nominees include the Palladium, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch.
The top theatre in the capital over the past 12 months. Any venue based in Greater London is eligible. This is judged on criteria including (but not limited to) artistic quality, business success, innovation.
Sponsored by LMA
Frank Matcham’s great variety venue has enjoyed something of a renaissance this year. Despite being one of the capital’s best-loved and most recognisable theatres, it has not always felt as sure of its identity as it does today. Five years ago, the Palladium’s owner – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LW Theatres – announced its intention to return the theatre’s focus to variety. In 2018 a wider LW rebrand saw Mike Hamer join as venue manager. In this past year, it has felt as if the company’s ambition has started to bear fruit.
Qdos’ pantomime is now a mainstay of the festive period and it bookended a year that also featured Michael Harrison’s summer blockbuster revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which will return in 2020. These big-ticket productions were complemented with shorter bookings by artists such as Tim Minchin, Eddie Izzard, Noel Gallagher and Hozier, who performed as part of the Palladium’s first ever standing season, in which seating was removed from the stalls.
Next year it will host the 15 UK dates of Madonna’s Madame X tour. Its programme is a blend of the theatre’s rich entertainment heritage, with a modern theatre, comedy and music line-up that has excelled at the box office. Operationally, this year LW has overseen a revamp of the theatre’s front-of-house, box office and bar spaces, which have all contributed to help the Palladium re-establish itself as London’s prime variety theatre.
It has been a transformational year for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. It has undertaken a £1 million facelift to refresh its front and back-of-house spaces, as well as created new accessible rehearsal and research and development facilities – carrying out the entire project without closure. But the work that has made the most impact has not been on the fabric of the building itself, but the hive of activity within.
Under the artistic directorship of Douglas Rintoul, the organisation’s on-stage programme and off-stage community and outreach work have a symbiotic relationship. In 2019, the theatre produced 14 shows, with an estimated 37% of audience members attending for the first time – in a borough that has the fourth lowest arts engagement in London.
Its landmark project, Essex on Stage, championed positive notions of Essex. Beginning with an acclaimed production of David Eldridge’s In Basildon, it included talent development and new artistic work.
Elsewhere, the theatre partnered with the National Theatre on the second iteration of the NT’s large-scale Public Acts programme – with an impressive participatory production of As You Like It – while co-producing partners have also included the New Wolsey in Ipswich, Theatr Clwyd, Hull Truck and Oldham Coliseum. At a time when theatres’ need to be open and accessible to all parts of their communities is at the top of the collective agenda, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch is making this its raison d’être and proving that quality theatre and outreach can go hand in hand.
Nadia Fall’s second year as artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East has seen her hit her stride. Her first 12 months in the job were characterised by an overhaul of TRSE’s operation and staff, however her artistic mission for the east London theatre is now clearly displayed in a bold, ambitious programme, which has contributes to a sense of a theatre on the up.
Ned Bennett’s re-imagining of Equus burst on to the stage earlier this year and later transferred to the West End, while in a real coup Lenny Henry headed up the cast of August Wilson’s King Hedley II. The theatre displayed some clever programming by providing a London home for the Royal and Derngate’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho.
Community is baked into the identity of Stratford East, and its outreach work has taken on a renewed vigour, with the creation of a head of learning and participation, and initiatives such as Neighbours’ Night, where residents can access discounted tickets or attend a special night for solo attendees. Under Fall’s leadership, the theatre is both firmly rooted in its local area and outward looking, attracting audiences and artists alike.
It may have struggled in recent years, and was dogged for some time by stories of financial hardship and an Arts Council funding bail out, but Stratford East has begun to find its feet again, and London’s theatre scene is all the richer for it.