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Sonia Friedman: ‘Commercial theatre is anti-art, anti-creativity and anti-audience’

Sonia Friedman. Photo: Jason Alden
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Sonia Friedman has hit out at commercial theatre, claiming it is “anti-art, anti-creativity and anti-audience”.

She said she prefers to consider herself an independent producer rather than a commercial one, claiming to have had an “allergy” to the word commercial since working in the subsidised sector. Friedman previously worked for the National Theatre and was co-founder of theatre company Out of Joint.

Speaking to the Financial Times, she said: “Nothing I do sets out to be commercial. I’ve had an allergy towards that word since I worked in the subsidised sector. I hated commercial theatre.”

She added: “I think it’s anti-art, anti-theatre, anti-creativity, anti-audience, and so I like to think of myself as an independent producer as opposed to a commercial producer.”

In the interview, Friedman also discussed how difficult it would be for women with children to do her job.

“I think it would be very hard for women to have the sort of career I’ve had and bring up a family because of the hours and time it takes to do it,” she said.

However, she said she was optimistic the industry was becoming better for women working in it.

“In terms of female directors, female-led plays, female writers – this is the shift. It’s certainly, in our lifetime, the biggest shift and the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen, happening right now. I think we are now seizing the moment and I can’t see it going backwards,” she said.

Friedman also commented on the differences between the West End and Broadway.

She said Broadway was primarily about the “one review” – in the New York Times.

“For plays, if you don’t get a good New York Times review, and you don’t have a massive, massive star in it, you’re dead. You’re dead within days,” she said.

On the subject of star casting, Friedman said she always casts based on whether a performer can do the job.

“I think some producers sometimes get criticised for casting stars when actually they’re terrific theatre actors who happen to be famous for doing Sherlock,” she said, adding: “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that if a star is in a play, that is going to make my life easier. But I just want to be clear that we understand what the word star means. A star is a great actor that an audience may have heard of.”

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