This year’s Tony race has brought with it the annual crop of Brits, raising the question once again whether perhaps the English have a hotline to the kudo that Americans do not.
“People tell you that,” muses Laurence Boswell, the 44-year-old English director who has been nominated for his maiden Broadway task, overseeing “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.” The Peter Nichols play’s third Broadway outing has received four noms in all, including actor and actress for stars Eddie Izzard and Victoria Hamilton, both also making Broadway debuts.
On Broadway, Boswell has noticed, the British are “treated with the expectation that they will be good. There’s a great sense that we have great actors, and maybe we have. We do have an amazing theatrical community.”
Just how amazing is clear from the actress lineup alone. With U.K.-born American thesp Jayne Atkinson (“Enchanted April”) flying a lone flag for U.S. talent, the competish also includes three Brits and an Irishwoman: Hamilton, Clare Higgins (“Vincent in Brixton”), Vanessa Redgrave (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”) and Fiona Shaw (“Medea”).
“It’s like a roll call of Brits,” Hamilton laughs. The distaff lead of “Joe Egg,” who hadn’t been to New York since she was 15, has been amazed at the Anglocentrism of her category at the Tonys. “I don’t know whether it’s just a fluke, but you feel very nurtured here” as an English performer abroad, says Hamilton. “People seem genuinely pleased to have us; it’s as if we’re sort of valued.”
As, indeed, were English thesps last year, when Alan Bates (“Fortune’s Fool”) and Lindsay Duncan (“Private Lives”) nabbed the leading player awards.
English director Jonathan Kent guided Diana Rigg and Ralph Fiennes to leading player Tonys in 1994 and ’95 for “Medea” and “Hamlet,” respectively. This year, Kent is responsible for the musical revival “Man of La Mancha,” which has such quintessentially American talents as Brian Stokes Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio up for top awards.
“Doesn’t it go in cycles?” Kent asks of the British presence on Broadway. “There must be people who think, ‘God, we’re sick of the Brits.’ It varies very much from season to season.”
Still, the lineup of Brits who have won acting Tonys gets ever longer, while Kent is among the few leading English helmers of his generation who has yet to receive a directing Tony nom. (David Leveaux, a nominee this year for “Nine,” has received four over the years.)
“Medea” director Deborah Warner says the “rash” of British directors on Broadway is understandable, given, she says, “that there a few figures energetically promoting British directors on Broadway, and that’s all it takes” — even if, she notes wryly, “you’d have thought they had got over us by now.”
Far from it: Warner celebrated her 44th birthday May 12 by receiving a best director nod for the long-shuttered Euripides revival that marked her Broadway staging debut.
“Amour” book writer Jeremy Sams appreciates his nom. “We (British) do have a hotline” to Broadway, he says, particularly regarding directors. (Sams directed last year’s Tony-nommed “Noises Off.”) “People will import a Brit almost without a track record. Being British is almost enough; it’s very handy.”
That is, if people notice. Five-time directing nominee Jack O’Brien — an American who is up again this year for “Hairspray” — pays scant heed to issues of nationality when taking his Tony Awards seat. “Ten days after the thing is over, I never know who won, let alone who was nominated,” he says. “The only thing that’s important is, will you get hired again. That’s really the only thing you have to worry about; the rest will take care of itself.”