2010 West End
2010 saw two big birthdays in the theatre world, with each of them being celebrated fantastically throughout the year. The first of these was celebrated on an international scale as Stephen Sondheim turned 80, rekindling interest in his productions on both main stages and West End venues. The annual BBC Proms series honoured the American composer with a specially crafted Sondheim Prom at the Royal Albert Hall which featured an evening of some of the composer’s most well known songs by respected performers of the stage and screen. Judy Dench was once again wheeled out to give her breathy rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’, with other highlights including Simon Russell Beale and Co. performing the hilarious ‘Everybody Ought to Have a Maid’ from ‘A Funny Thing Happened…’, one of the composers first shows. The Donmar Warehouse, who have always been a strong supporter of Sondheim material presented a new production of Passion, the 1994 one act chamber musical starring everyone’s favourite multi-ethnic performer Elena ‘Piaf/Evita’ Rodger. Jamie Lloyd’s production was beautiful and haunting, and also dangerous, as one of the cast became hospitalised due to an incident with a prop gun firing a real bullet. The ever amazing Open Air Theatre directed their homage towards the composer by staging an exciting revival of Into the Woods at their Regent’s Park venue, starring Jenna Russell and Hannah Waddingham and the Baker’s Wife and Witch respectively. The venue suited the show perfectly, and it went on to win a string of awards including the Olivier for Best Revival.
The other big birthday of the year was the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables which was celebrated in a grandiose manner at the O2 arena. Producer Cameron Mackintosh attempted to outdo the previous 10th anniversary concert, upgrading to the larger (sole-less) venue with a huge cast and orchestra consisting of various performers from the 25 year period. Sadly Ruthie Henshall and Michael Ball were snubbed in favour of a younger model, as celebrity casting confirmed the event would be a commercial success. One of the Jonas Brothers appeared as Marius alongside comedian Matt Lucas as Thenardier.
Over in the West End Sonia Friedman worked hard to make the transfer of Broadway musical Legally Blonde a success, introducing American style day seats and lottery seats, setting a marketing trend across London. The show opened with Sheridan Smith as Elle Woods to huge critical and commercial praise at the Savoy Theatre. The show quickly became a vehicle for out of work celebrities in a number of takeovers including Denise Van Outen, Lee Mead, Richard Fleesman and Natalie Casey, but continued to pack in the crowds well into 2011.
The National Theatre continued to raise the bar, presenting new productions of Hamlet starring Rory Kinnear, alongside a hilarious production of the Victorian melodrama London Assurance starring Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Show. They finished the year with a hilarious production of Seasons Greetings starring comedian Catherine Tate, bringing new audiences to the work of Alan Ayckbourn. The South Bank venue continued to offer discounted tickets through its sponsorship with Travelex, although the recession meant tickets would now cost £12 rather than £10. The NTLive initiative meant that thousands of people all over the country (and later the world) could experience the magnificence of a National Theatre production from the comfort of their local cinema, as productions began to be broadcast via live satellite link. This new move put the theatre at the centre of innovation and only suffered minor technical problems along the way.
Trevor Nunn returned to the West End as he presented an adaptation of the bestselling A-Level English World War I novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks at the Comedy Theatre. Adapted by Rachel Wagstaff the cast included Ben Barnes and Genevieve O’Reilly. The success was short lived however due to the productions length and heavier nature, closing early in the New Year. Howard Davies’ award winning production of Miller’s All My Sons was reworked at the Apollo Theatre starring Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet as Joe and Kate Keller, in a stunning production mirroring that of the original at the National earlier in the decade.
The Donmar Warehouse presented a new production of King Lear starring Derek Jacobi as the tragic hero and Gina McKee, Justine Mitchell and Pippa Bennett-Warner as his daughters. Directed by Michael Grandage with designs by Christopher Oram, Shakespeare’s tragedy had never looked so fresh. The production was a critical success, and transferred to BAM in New York after a brief tour of the UK. Jacobi’s Lear was compelling and furious, showing the character’s descent into madness in a new and engaging way.
Hair the musical transferred to the West End in April, bringing with it the entire Tony Award Winning cast. The production at the Gielgud Theatre was vibrant and joyous, with the cast generating enough energy to light up Shaftesbury Avenue. Cameron Mackintosh co-produced the transfer, marketing the show at new theatre goers as well as lovers of the original musical. Despite excellent reviews the show closed in September after only 5 months. Howard Goodall’s musical adaptation of the film Love Story made a successful transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre opening at the intimate Duchess Theatre. Michael Ball produced the production which ran for a limited 10 week engagement starring Michael Xavier and Emma Williams.
The most successful new play of the year came from the Royal Court, before transferring to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre. Clybourne Park was written by Bruce Norris in response to the play A Raisin in the Sun and deals with issues of race in America between 1959 and 2009. Dominic Cooke directed the production which starred Sophie Thompson and Martin Freeman. The play went on to win the Olivier Award for Best New Play along with the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.