A few weeks ago we held our season launch where we revealed the whole of the main stage season for 2018. We’d been planning it for a year and it was exciting to finally share the news with our audience having kept various secrets under wraps for so long. I’m delighted that the reaction from the audience to the programme has been so enthusiastic, we’ve had so much positive feedback and it’s a genuine thrill to check the sales reports each day and see the tickets flying out the door.
The launch was watched in the auditorium by an enthusiastic audience and also by many online via the live-stream – thankfully it went smoothly. We were joined onstage by some of the playwrights, directors and key actors whose work will be featured next year. Mark Gatiss, who is going to be playing George III in Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III, travelled over from Manchester for the evening where he’s currently filming the Christmas special of The League of Gentlemen, and it was great to hear him talk about what attracted him to the iconic role.
Now that the 2018 season is launched, I am spending the next couple of months preparing for the first show that I’m directing, Wonderland, which opens in February. The play premiered in 2014 in London to great acclaim and I’m so chuffed that its regional premiere will be in Nottingham as it’s by a local writer, Beth Steel. Beth’s dad was a miner at Welbeck Colliery until it closed and the play is set during the 1980s strike. Although this period of history has been explored on stage and screen before, Wonderland looks at it in a fresh and provocative way. It’s a hugely ambitious play to begin the season with – very funny, very moving – with songs, movement and a massive set design.
One of my personal highlights of the season announcement was a new play called Shebeen. It’s by a local writer Mufaro Makubika, whose play How to Breathe got great reviews in the Neville Studio a couple of years ago. Shebeen is Mufaro’s first time writing for a main stage, and that’s one of our responsibilities – helping writers, particularly local writers, make that step from a smaller intimate studio space to a big auditorium. This show is particularly special because Mufaro is closely associated with the Playhouse: as well as being an amazing writer he’s also done a variety of jobs around the building; on the bar, at stage door and backstage. Shebeen has already been shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Best New Play of the Year award, and that’s before it’s even been produced!
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been running general auditions for actors who currently live in Nottinghamshire or originate from the region. I wanted to meet as many local actors as I could for consideration when we’re casting the shows for next season and going forward. We were overwhelmed to receive over 450 applications. I knew the region had produced a lot of talent, but to meet all those performers over four jam-packed days was really heartening. I’ve no doubt we’ll work with some of the people we met during these open calls in the future.
Speaking of new talent, we recently had the Playground Festival for new work by emerging local artists. It was a pleasure to see work of such a high standard – really innovative and thought-provoking. It attracted great audiences too; the bar was buzzing each night with conversation about the productions they’d just seen. One of the moments that stood out from that week was receiving an email from a customer saying that they wouldn’t normally book to see new work in the studio; they tended to stick to more traditional productions on the main stage. However on this occasion they had taken a chance and were writing to say how much they’d enjoyed it and how it had really challenged their perceptions, and they would definitely be booking for similar work in the future. That’s a real delight. As an Artistic Director the ultimate aim is introducing audiences to something different whilst also giving them a good night out.
The 2018 production that both customers and staff most want to talk to me about is Sweet Charity. Nottingham Playhouse hasn’t produced its own musical for quite a long time and this seems to have captured everyone’s imagination. I love a good musical and this Broadway classic has amazing songs and choreography. Our technical department are particularly excited as producing a musical is a real challenge; the set and lighting designs are more complicated, it’s a big cast with multiple costume changes and you have a live band to deal with. Everything’s bigger with a musical, including the budget (!), so we’re going to need our audience’s support to pull off such an ambitious production. It’s daunting, but so exciting.
Before next year’s season however we have the small matter of this year’s pantomime, Cinderella. It’s a personal favourite of mine as I fondly remember coming to Nottingham Playhouse to see it as a child. Sadly, the opening night of pantomime also coincides with Giles Croft’s last day as Artistic Director, so it’s going to be a really bitter-sweet time for everybody in the organisation.