My first season as Artistic Director is reaching its climax with The Madness of George III. I’m currently in rehearsals and having an inspiring and fun time working with a wonderful group of actors on this beautiful play. Each day we realise even more what a stunning piece of writing it is; expertly crafted and the characters and situations are so well observed – classic Alan Bennett. It’s an epic production – large cast, big set – and will look spectacular on our stage.
Everyone at the theatre has been delighted with the audience response to our 2018 programme. The reaction to the work has been generous and supportive and I was excited to recently reveal our plans for the first half of next year, which includes 4 varied main stage shows; a revival, an adaptation of a family novel, a modern classic and a regional premiere. The intention is to build upon some of the ideas we introduced with this year, whilst continuing to explore new approaches. I hope to always keep the work fresh and innovative, balancing offering a great night out at the theatre, whilst challenging the artists we collaborate with to be bolder and more inventive, attracting the highest quality theatre-makers.
I’m particularly delighted that Wonderland is returning. Since we produced it in February, audience members frequently approach me to say how entertained and moved they were by the play. Set in Welbeck colliery, and following the lives of a group of miners as they go through the strike of 1984-5, the play really seemed to touch a chord about the region’s identity and the people who live here. Beth Steel, who wrote the play, is the daughter of a miner and the authenticity of the men’s camaraderie and the reality of life underground attracted an audience from all around the East Midlands, not least a large contingent from the former coalfields of north Nottinghamshire. As a local lad, I was very proud of the standing ovation the production received each night. It’s also particularly exciting to see a local writer’s work receive a further life both in the theatre she visited as a child, and when the show subsequently transfers to Newcastle. The stunning set design by Morgan Large was also recently nominated for a national Best Design award.
Following the success of Holes, which was our first main stage family production for several years, we’ve obtained the rights to produce another modern classic novel, Skellig, which will be widely known by young people, families and schools. It’s the entrancing story of twelve year old, Michael, who has just moved into a ramshackle house when his baby sister is born prematurely. Whilst his parents focus their attention on his sister, Michael explores the forbidden crumbling garage. Amongst all the junk and the spider webs, he discovers a strange creature called Skellig. I think the reason the book has captured the imaginations of adults and young people for the last twenty years is that it carefully balances an enchanting fantasy world with the brutal reality of life. The magical elements are a real challenge to bring to stage and the production will be visually stunning.
The Memory of Water has become a modern classic since it won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2000. Written by Shelagh Stephenson, it is set in the North East and tell the story of three estranged sisters who return to their childhood home on the eve of their mothers’ funeral. As they bicker, make each other laugh, and reveal the realities of their adult lives, they also discover that their memories of childhood don’t quite tally, which leads to a series of gripping and life-changing revelations. I’ve wanted to produce this play for a very long time as it always proves so popular with audiences, who recognise the story of sibling rivalries, the on-going influence of parents and middle-aged lives that didn’t turn out the way they were meant to. It’s wickedly funny with some great plot twists.
The season ends on a high with the regional premiere of a staggeringly powerful and exhilarating American play, One Night in Miami… Based on true events, the play takes place in 1963 on the evening that Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight boxing title, where he celebrated in a Miami motel room with his friends, who just happened to be the soul singer Sam Cooke, the American footballer Jim Brown and the civil rights activist Malcolm X. This is a fictionalised account of what happened in that room that night. It’s about four friends, each on the cusp of something life changing and set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. The play is life affirming, thought provoking and funny. I’m particularly delighted that the amazing singer and actor, Matt Henry, who won the Olivier award for Best Actor in a Musical for his wonderful performance in Kinky Boots and was a finalist on the BBC’s The Voice, is playing Sam Cooke. One of the UK’s hottest talents, Matthew Xia, who directed the wonderful Shebeen earlier this year at the Playhouse is returning to direct.
I’ve also just announced three new associate artists, James Graham (writer), Amanda Whittington (writer) and Matthew Xia (director). These artists are on attachment to the theatre and bring with them a wealth of skills, experiences and knowledge. Part of their role is contributing to the artistic discussions about the work we choose to programme and range artists we engage with, ensuring that these key decisions aren’t made solely by one individual, but are instead informed by people from a diverse range of backgrounds, ages and disciplines. To open up access to this important new group, we are also advertising for a passionate and dedicated fourth associate artist to join the cohort and contribute to the artistic policy of Nottingham Playhouse.