Nottingham Playhouse is once again set to fly the flag for British theatre overseas, with its hit production ON THE WATERFRONT confirmed for the Hong Kong Arts Festival next spring. The news crowns a highly successful spring/summer season for the region’s leading theatre. The international dates for ON THE WATERFRONT follow this year’s acclaimed West End run. There has been awards success too, with the black comedy showcase PIECES helping the Playhouse win the 2009 Eclipse Award, and recognition for its excellence in customer service. Also contributing to a buoyant spring are rising theatre attendances, a successful anniversary gala and new operators at the bar and restaurant CAST – one of the best places in Nottingham to lap up the summer sun.
ON THE WATERFRONT to play at Hong Kong Arts Festival
Following its highly praised West End run, Steven Berkoff’s UK premiere staging of ON THE WATERFRONT_will now be seen next March on one of the world’s most famous waterfronts: in Hong Kong. The production will be one of the highlights of the Hong Kong Arts Festival 2010, alongside major opera, ballet and concerts conducted by Valery Gergiev.
One of Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company’s major successes of 2008, ON THE WATERFRONT went on to be presented at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer. This spring the show transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket and proved one of the hits of the West End season. In London the production attracted huge press attention and a string of four and five star reviews, with critics strongly tipping the production for award nominations. Most of the original Nottingham cast continued into the West End incarnation, including lead actor Simon Merrells in the role originated by Marlon Brando, and director Steven Berkoff himself stepped into the role of crooked union boss Johnny Friendly. ON THE WATERFRONT has drawn international interest, leading to the Hong Kong engagement. Further overseas touring for the production is under negotiation.
Playhouse Eclipses Other Venues with Award Success
This year’s TMA Management Awards ceremony once again brought award recognition for Nottingham Playhouse. PIECES: Unity Through Comedy, produced by the BRIT (Black Regional Initiative in Theatre) at Nottingham Playhouse, helped the theatre win the 2009 Eclipse Award, presented in association with Arts Council England. The Eclipse Award is given to the UK Theatre which has done most to promote cultural diversity.
PIECES was the brainchild of Bea Udeh, longstanding BRIT producer at the Playhouse as well as a BBC Radio Nottingham presenter. The project saw Bea bring together a group of the most exciting emerging comedy writers and performers in the region to develop new characters and assemble a brand new sketch show under the guidance of two professional directors. Their work had its first airing at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February, where it collected an award nomination as Best Participatory Project. A subsequent evening at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange helped the laughter mount before the show arrived fully formed on the Playhouse stage at its well-received performance in April.
Nottingham Playhouse is already a holder of the Eclipse Award, winning in 2006. This year’s award season also brought acclaim at a local level: the outstanding customer service of its Box Office and Front of House teams – which already won it the TMA’s Most Welcoming Theatre award in 2007 – once again attracted a nomination for the Customer Service award in the Nottinghamshire STARS Awards, which recognise excellence in the region’s Hospitality and Tourism industries.
Glittering 60th Anniversary Celebrations
The spring also saw Nottingham Playhouse marking the sixtieth anniversary of its first season back in 1948-49. The climax of its diamond jubilee celebrations was a red-carpet Gala on Thursday 12 February, sponsored by the University of Nottingham. Centering around a performance of Stephen Lowe’s new comedy GLAMOUR, the gala was attended by a host of celebrities with Nottingham connections, among them the actors Timothy West, Prunella Scales and Sharon D Clarke, former Artistic Director Sir Richard Eyre, Olympic gold medal canoeist Tim Brabant, award-winning chef Sat Bains and Sir Harry Djanogly. Birthday messages and donations were also received from past Playhouse luminaries Dame Judi Dench, Edward Woodward, Zoë Wanamaker, Ian McKellen, Alan Rickman, Steven Berkoff and many others. Champagne, live music and casino games enhanced the party atmosphere, and a charity auction presided over by TV auctioneer James Lewis helped make the evening an equal success as a fundraiser. The final tally comes to almost £15,000, which is dedicated to the Particip8 appeal, helping the Playhouse reach out ever further into the many communities of the city and county.
Rising attendances and more
Despite the prevailing economic climate, Nottingham Playhouse is one of several arts venues around the country to report an increase in attendances. In the case of the Playhouse, attendance this spring is up almost 20% over the same period last year. The theatre has especially welcomed the fact that this figure includes many young attenders and first-time bookers, which it hopes will help it achieve sustained success as it looks to the future.
A wide-ranging programme has helped to attract audiences, encompassing newly commissioned comedies by Nottingham-based playwrights Stephen Lowe and Andy Barrett, a revival of the Arthur Miller classic The Price and the summery Caribbean musical Once on This Island, which continues until Saturday 11 July. The full-scale youth theatre production of The Visit also attracted record audiences. Many attenders have beaten the economic blues by taking up the Drama Saver offer, entitling them to see three shows from as little as £24. The Arts Council’s free ticket scheme for under-26s, A Night Less Ordinary, has also played a part in boosting audiences, and others have been attracted by the fresh new magazine-style theatre brochure created by Nottingham design agency Dandy.
CAST, the Playhouse’s award-winning restaurant, bar and deli franchise, was taken over by Aquaclear Leisure and has gone from strength to strength. North East-based Aquaclear, who already run the successful Saltwater restaurant in Nottingham’s Cornerhouse complex, have introduced new menus in both bar and restaurant, including pre-theatre meals from just £10, and will be holding weekend barbecues on the theatre forecourt throughout the summer. There, diners can also enjoy the original and best Sky Mirror by Turner Award-winning artist Anish Kapoor, who exhibited a scaled-down version at this summer’s Brighton Festival where he was Guest Artistic Director. Meanwhile, the Playhouse itself – a Grade II* listed building from 1963 – has also won new accolades, featuring on the front of a new architectural guide to Nottingham as well as being picked by the 20th Century Society as its online Building of the Month for March, nominated by London-based architectural historian Alistair Fair.