thu 22/02/2024

h 100 Awards: Theatre and Performance - excellence and inclusion across the map | reviews, news & interviews

h 100 Awards: Theatre and Performance - excellence and inclusion across the map

h 100 Awards: Theatre and Performance - excellence and inclusion across the map

If the theatre is buoyant and alive, we have these artists to thank

On the rise: Arinzé Kene in his self-penned 'Misty', transferring soon to the West End© Bill Knight for theartsdesk

Amidst ever-uncertain times, one thing is for sure: this country's ability to regenerate and renew itself theatrically remains alive and well.

From an ever-bustling array of activity in the capital to all manner of bracing enterprise up and down the land, the British theatre continues to attract the best, and this year's shortlist for The Hospital Club's h 100 Awards amounts to a snapshot of excellence at this point in time. That the finalists range from an actor-turned-playwright (Arinzé Kene, author of Misty, main picture) to an entrepreneurial powerhouse based in the northwest (Alex Clifton, artistic director of Storyhouse) speaks to a spread of engagement as diverse as the artists and practitioners themselves, all of whom deserve a bow. 

Some of these men and women are used to taking bows: Kene, for one, who in the last year shifted from the Old Vic's Girl from the North Country to his passion project, Misty, helping propel both to commercial West End transfers along the way. Lia Williams (below centre, photo by Manuel Harlan) barely paused for breath between her formidable double act playing both queens (albeit not at the same time) in Rob Icke's daring Mary Stuart to all but exploding the walls of the Donmar with a Jean Brodie who was charismatic, to be sure, and decidedly chilling, too. No stranger to the London stage (she has shone early on in work ranging from Mamet to David Hare), Williams is going from strength to strength. Lia Williams as Jean BrodieOne doesn't need to be centre-stage, however, to make a difference. Alex Clifton graduated from Oxford only to return home to his native Chester to take the reins at Storyhouse, the theatre and arts centre that has become an inextricable part of the community in which it sits. At the time of the judges' meeting, Joanna Read merited plaudits as Principal and Chief Executive of west London's internationally renowned drama academy, LAMDA, only to have been named this week as the new Chief Executive and Theatre Director at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford; Read takes up that position full-time from January. 

Some make-overs are accompanied by a lot of noise, others build incrementally. The latter strategy defines the subtle volte-face accomplished at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, by its adventuresome artistic director, Paul Miller, at a venue that in previous years would never have housed the likes of the trophy-bearing An Octoroon, say, or Dutch writer Lot Vekemans' wrenching two-hander, Poison. Eleanor Lloyd may be an independent theatre producer and theatre manager but deserves plaudits for seeing the value of transforming a one-time debating chamber at London's County Hall into the inimitable setting for Witness for the Prosecution, the Agatha Christie production-with-a-difference now in its second year. 

Jade Anouka as Mark Antony in 'Julius Caesar' There's satisfaction to be had from watching various talents prosper and grow. The brilliant designer Chloe Lamford works away from the mainstream and across Europe, reimagining spaces, and plays, we thought we knew but is equally at home on one or another stage at the National, where her visual landscape for Annie Baker's John is inseparable from the impact of the play. Ola Ince has been building her directorial career at one Off West End venue after another only to be named associate director on the sellout Tina Turner musical. From those famed heights, she turns her attentions in the autumn to the Royal Court's grime-inflected Poet in Da Corner followed soon thereafter by The Convert, the latest from performer-playwright Danai Gurira at the Young Vic. 

And given that the actor Jade Anouka was an indispensable part of the director Phyllida Lloyd's all-female Shakespeare triptych at the Donmar, later filmed (Anouka pictured above, as Mark Antony), it seems only right to point to the amazing breadth of women represented this year. That list extends a warm embrace to Anouka, as she prepares to play the title role in Jeanie O'Hare's history-themed Queen Margaret (about Margaret of Anjou) at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and on to Michèle Taylor, who is Director for Change at Ramps on the Moon, which does so much to bring the Deaf and disabled community into the community and across the spectrum. Inclusivity and diversity, it would gratifyingly appear, are here to stay, alongside a replenishable gift for theatre in its ceaseless and varied forms and guises. Here's to all the Hospital Club nominees.


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