The top theatre outside of the capital over the past 12 months. Theatres in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are also eligible. Judged on criteria including (but not limited to) artistic quality, business success and innovation.
Award sponsored by Berkley Executive
One of the unsung heroes of the UK theatre ecology, in its quiet way Derby Theatre is a truly pioneering organisation. Under artistic director and chief executive Sarah Brigham, it operates as a ‘learning theatre’ and is home to the University of Derby’s theatre courses – students get to learn their craft within the building.
The theatre boasts an excellent artist development scheme and closely supports three associate companies – Maison Foo, Not Too Tame and Milk Presents – to develop and produce excellent, innovative work. In 2019 – as part of the In Good Company development programme for theatremakers and companies in the Midlands – Derby Theatre was selected to pilot a £3 million scheme that aims to develop local talent and become a ‘performing arts producing hub’, working with other local arts organisations and community groups to support the performing arts in the region.
On top of this, the theatre produces popular shows with broad appeal. Its 2019 highlights included a major touring version of Malorie Blackman’s seminal novel Noughts and Crosses, adapted for the stage by Sabrina Mahfouz; a hilarious revival of Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, directed by Brigham; and a bold new stage version of The Jungle Book that fully integrated British Sign Language and captioning into every performance, catering to Derby’s large D/deaf community.
Revitalised under the artistic directorship of David Greig, Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre enjoyed a busy and creatively vibrant 2019. One of Scotland’s most prominent producing theatres, it started the year with a major stage version of Bill Forsyth’s much-loved 1983 film Local Hero, adapted by Greig with new songs and music by Mark Knopfler, that captured the charm of the original. A co-production with London’s Old Vic, Local Hero will transfer there in 2020.
The Lyceum also staged (in conjunction with the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne and the Lyric Hammersmith) Matthew Lutton’s production of Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi classic Solaris, creating that rarest of things, a sci-fi adaptation that worked well on stage. Other artistic highlights of 2019 included Zinnie Harris’ The Duchess [of Malfi].
Away from its Edinburgh base, the theatre has also emerged as a key player in productions that have graced stages around the UK. It was one of the co-producers of Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of), a playful take on Jane Austen’s most popular novel that is touring the UK, and its co-production of the stage adaptation of Joe Simpson’s mountaineering memoir Touching the Void, adapted by Greig and directed by Tom Morris, transferred to the West End in November.
Really hitting its stride under the artistic directorship of Robert Hastie, Sheffield Theatres boasted an extremely impressive 2019. Standing at the Sky’s Edge, a musical set on Sheffield’s Park Hill estate, with music by Richard Hawley and a book by newly announced associate director Chris Bush, won the UK Theatre award for best musical as well as scooping The Stage Debut Award for actor Adam Hugill.
This exciting new musical was followed by an equally exciting new play: Lolita Chakrabarti’s stage adaptation of Life of Pi. Max Webster’s ambitious stage version of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel, realised through a mixture of stunning puppetry – by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell – and video design, netted Sheffield a slew of five-star reviews, four more UK Theatre award and a West End transfer later in 2020.
Other highlights included a revival of Githa Sowerby’s masterwork Rutherford and Son and a new British Sign Language version of Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should, made in conjunction with Fingersmiths.
In the West End, Sheffield Theatres’ production of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie entered its second year. The theatre also launched the Bank, a creative hub to support local artists, and Sheffield Theatres’ stage management team won at this year’s SMA National Stage Management Awards.