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A gay theatrical power list

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Last Saturday was Gay Pride Day in London, an annual reminder of the battles fought over the years and won (and which last week saw the US edge ever closer to recognising marital equality on a federal level, even as our own equal marriage bill progresses through Parliament here). The weekend after next my husband and I will be marking the first anniversary of our own wedding in New York last July.

It is always good to be reminded, too, in the midst of this who some of our heroes are, and last Saturday The Guardian published the annual World Pride Power List of the 100 Most Influential LGBT People, produced in association with Square Peg Media. Though my own eyebrows arched at weird angles I’d never before seen them do to find Gok Wan in the Top Ten list at number nine – knocking the likes of Peter Tatchell and Graham Norton out of the Top Ten list to occupy positions 11 and 16 respectively – we have to remember that these lists are always inevitably subjective and can’t possibly be comprehensive.

Theatre people weren’t especially well represented on the list overall, though it was good to see Stephen Fry – simply credited as ‘Polymath’ – at number two, ahead of his Broadway transfer in The Globe’s Twelfth Night this October, while Glee’s Jane Lynch (at number three) is even now on Broadway making her debut there as Miss Hannigan in Annie (to July 14 only, so I may get to see her as an anniversary treat!)

And there were two more theatrical candidates in the top ten – Elton John (at number six), currently still represented in the West End by his scores for The Lion King and Billy Elliot, and Ian McKellen (at number ten), due to team up with Patrick Stewart again this autumn to reprise Waiting for Godot on Broadway that they did in the West End together, in rep with a new production of Pinter’s No Man’s Land.

Otherwise on the slightly hotpotch list, there’s also Neil Patrick Harris (at number 36, who hosted Broadway’s Tony Awards for four of the last five years), our own Craig Revel Horwood (at number 48, currently in rehearsal for a production of Dempsey and Rowe’s The Witches of Eastwick that he’s directing at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre later this month), Russell Tovey (at 49, once one of the original line-up of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys at the National with fellow gay cast member Samuel Barnett, plus Dominic Cooper, James Corden and Jamie Parker, amongst others), Pineapple’s Louie Spence (at 70, and also these days a panto star), producer and theatre owner Cameron Mackintosh (at 77), actress and occasional director Fiona Shaw (at 84), and playwright Jonathan Harvey (at 93).

Though The Stage, of course, publishes the annual Stage 100 list of Britain’s most influential theatre makers across the board, we do not subdivide it for sexuality. So today I’m going to compile my theatrical gay royalty list. I’m going to keep it to just ten, so I apologise in advance for any I have excluded, but please make your own suggestions below!

  1. While Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire have held the top position of The Stage 100 list for four years now, they shared billing this year with the National’s two Nicks Hytner and Starr. But unlike Panter and Squire, they are not married to each other; this is a purely professional partnership, as artistic and executive director of the National respectively. And both, of course, have recently announced their intention to step down from those posts – Starr next year, and Hytner the year after – after which it is widely rumoured that they are expected to set up shop together independently in the West End.
  2. Cameron Mackintosh may have featured quite low on the Guardian’s rankings at 77, but he’s unequivocally one of the richest and most powerful figures in the West End, as producer and in particular theatre owner of venues that he has personally overseen to become amongst the most desirable addresses in town. Next year he will revive two of his greatest-ever successes, Les Miserables (still an ongoing hit in the West End where it is the longest running musical of all time) and Miss Saigon, for new Broadway and West End productions respectively.
  3. Michael Grandage left the Donmar Warehouse behind him in 2011 after reinventing that Covent Garden theatre into an international producing powerhouse that also set up its stall with a West End residency, and has now simply transplanted the brand he created there to become the major West End producing company that bears his name. His life partner Christopher Oram is also one of his (not so) secret weapons, designing most of his shows in a way that makes them amongst the best looking in town.
  4. Dominic Cooke featured in the Top 10 of this year’s Stage 100 list before stepping down as artistic director of the Royal Court after a seven-year tenure. But I suspect he won’t be absent from our stages for long; he is simply too brilliant a director in his own right for that. His life partner is Alexi Kaye Campbell, an actor-turned-playwright who is currently represented by the world premiere of Bracken Moor at the Tricycle Theatre.
  5. David Lan has put the Young Vic on a new artistic high – this week, Chiwetel Ejiofor returns to the London stage to begin previews there in A Season in the Congo directed by Joe Wright.
  6. Kerry Michael runs another essential London theatre, the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, where his programming of new work has included championing the prolific gay writer Rikki Beadle-Blair, whose Gutted was a recent hit there.
  7. Daniel Evans, actor and director, has quickly fired up Sheffield’s Crucible and its adjoining Lyceum which he took over the running of in 2010 into leading providers of touring and West End shows, like the current West End bound play version of The Full Monty that he has directed. He has also taken to the Crucible’s stage himself as Bobby in Sondheim’s Company, and last year directed a wonderful revival of My Fair Lady.
  8. Laurie Sansom has recently left Northampton’s Royal and Derngate to take over the National Theatre of Scotland from Vicki Featherstone (who in turn has taken over the Royal Court in London). Sansom reinvigorated Northampton; I’m looking forward to seeing what he achieves in Scotland.
  9. While The Guardian included thespian Ian McKellen (but I’m going to pass over here, if for no other reason than the awful Vicious), how could it ignore Simon Russell Beale, who has become one of the National Theatre’s most treasured and iconic players? Beale will be back at the National next year for King Lear (directed by Sam Mendes), but this year he’s been in the West End twice already – first with the Grandage Company starring in Privates on Parade, and currently in The Hothouse at Trafalgar Studios through August 3.
  10. Director Phyllida Lloyd has made her millions as director of both the stage and screen versions of Mamma Mia! to become the richest of all gay female directors, but she’s returned to her theatrical roots with the far more modest all-female Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse last year (going to New York later this year, with a cast that includes Harriet Walter, Frances Barber, Cush Jumbo and Jenny Jules) and directing Cush Jumbo’s new solo play Josephine and I at the Bush this month (about which I interviewed Jumbo for The Stage).

And a name to watch:

  • While the Guardian highlighted Jonathan Harvey, whose landmark gay play Beautiful Thing received its 20th anniversary London production earlier this year, I want to single out one writer to watch: Tom Wells. His play The Kitchen Sink, seen at the Bush Theatre in 2011, was according to Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph “one of the best new plays I have seen anywhere this year,” and his latest, Jumpers for Goalposts, will have a run there in November after Paines Plough begin a tour of it next month.

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