×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Directors revived U.K. stage in 2011

Theater veterans and newcomers re-invented old shows

Looking back, 2011 was the year of the helmer, as far as U.K. theater is concerned. In venues large and small, directors didn’t so much revive shows as reinvent them. For proof, look no further than the year’s most talked-about smash “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

The now Broadway-bound comedy was the year’s best new play and, at the same time, was a re-working. Playwright (and former standup) Richard Bean took “Servant of Two Masters,” an eighteenth century comedy by Carlo Goldini, and relocated it to the faintly down-at-heels seaside town of Brighton in the Beatles-era 1960s.

This was, however, not merely an update. Bean’s laugh-a-minute script had inventive characterization and a galloping lunacy all its own. And it was given rampant energy and ruthless precision by National Theater helmer Nicholas Hytner, who added songs by Grant Olding.

This column’s Helmer of the Year prize, however, goes to Rob Ashford for his riveting Donmar Warehouse revival of O’Neill’s “Anna Christie.” It was sold-out before it opened thanks to the presence in the cast of Jude Law, who rewarded fans with a career-best performance.

Popular on Variety

Ashford’s production took the problematic play — it wears its thematic concerns less than lightly — and gave it intensity and immensity. The former is easy in the up-close-and-personal, 250-seat Donmar; the latter was greatly aided by a breathtakingly bold design by Paul Wills, which presented an unwritten storm at sea in front of the awestruck audience.

The production couldn’t immediately capitalize on its success due to the cast’s commitments elsewhere. However, Ashford told Variety that, if scheduling can be worked out, there is interest in the show getting a Gotham transfer. Ashford himself is fairly tied up in 2012 choreographing Michael Grandage’s Rialto revival of “Evita,” developing the stage tuner version of “Finding Neverland” — destined for an unnamed U.K. regional theater in Fall 2012 — and helming a Broadway play that’s yet to be announced.

Other helmers, too, made their mark revisiting classics. James Macdonald didn’t just shepherd a flawless cast through Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” at the Almeida, he created a rapt stillness that allowed audiences to see that this, not the more volatile “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is Albee’s masterpiece.

More unexpectedly, “Accolade” a forgotten 1950 play about private behavior and political life, was given a revelatory revival by new kid on the block Blanche McIntyre at the Finborough Theater, a tiny but terrific venue that consistently punches above its weight.

McIntyre was the discovery of the year. Still in her 20s, she combines dynamic visual strength with acute sensitivity to actors and textual detail and flow. There’s talk of a 2012 West End transfer for “Accolade” — the National Theater wanted it too — but she’ll have to fit that around other commitments, including a double-bill of new plays at the Bush Theater and, intriguingly, a revival of “The Seven Year Itch” at regional theater Salisbury Playhouse.

Helmer Jonathan Munby also scored highly not only with a fierce production of the Jacobean tragedy “Tis Pity She’s a Whore” at West Yorkshire Playhouse, but with a high-octane revival of Sondheim’s “Company” at Sheffield’s Crucible theater, which may have a future life in London, with talk of a fall transfer.

“Company” and Jonathan Kent’s revival of “Sweeney Todd” pretty much stole the 2011 tuner honors. In a far-from-vintage year for big new commercial musicals, even Cameron Mackintosh couldn’t turn “Betty Blue Eyes” into a hit. Despite rave notices, it shuttered after struggling through six months. With a title change and some reworking, it deserves a future. Its helmer, Richard Eyre, however, rounded out his year with a beautifully judged production of Nicholas Wright’s new bioplay “The Last of the Duchess” about Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.

Eyre’s 2012, meanwhile, contains the year’s most intriguing prospect. He will helm a dance version of “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” the movie by the late Anthony Minghella. Dramatic ballerina Viviana Durante will star in a production designed by Tim Hatley and lit by Neil Austin (“Red.”) Opening out of town in the fall, it will then play London’s premier dance house, Sadler’s Wells.

More Legit

  • & Juliet review

    West End Review: '& Juliet'

    From “Wicked” to “Waitress,” female empowerment has been a boon for musical theater. But where those shows veered between sincerely earnest and earnestly sincere, “& Juliet” gleefully goes for broke putting gender on the agenda as it yokes pop milestones from the likes of Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Celine Dion to a girl-power revamp [...]

  • Ephraim Sykes participates in the 73rd

    Michael Jackson Musical Finds Its King of Pop

    Tony Award nominee Ephraim Sykes will moonwalk on Broadway, playing Michael Jackson in “MJ The Musical.” The show, which its the Great White Way after a rocky gestation. It begins previews on July 6, 2020, at the Neil Simon Theatre with an official opening set for Aug. 13. Sykes is currently appearing in another pop [...]

  • A Christmas Carol review

    Broadway Review: 'A Christmas Carol'

    Those expecting a traditional take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday perennial may be in for a shock at the new Broadway version of “A Christmas Carol.” Or at least they might be terribly perplexed by this dour production, whose additions only subtract from the potency of the transformative tale. While there have been many adaptations [...]

  • Timothee Chalamet poses for photographers at

    Timothée Chalamet to Make London Stage Debut With Eileen Atkins in '4000 Miles'

    Timothee Chalemet is set to take to the London stage for the first time, appearing next spring in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “4000 Miles.” Matthew Warchus will direct the production at The Old Vic, which will also star Eileen Atkins (“The Crown,” “Gosford Park”). The play opens April 2020. It turns on the story [...]

  • Jonathan Groff

    Listen: Jonathan Groff Knows He's a Spitter

    If you’ve seen “Little Shop of Horrors” — the starry revival headlined by Jonathan Groff in a small Off Broadway theater — you probably noticed that Groff spits a lot when he speaks onstage. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s been a spitter as long as he can remember, but “Little Shop” [...]

  • Key Largo

    L.A. Theater Review: Andy Garcia in 'Key Largo'

    Would “Casablanca” make a good play? Guess what: It was first produced on stage as “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.” How about “Key Largo,” the black-and-white Bogie-and-Bacall vehicle in which a handful of misfits find themselves trapped in a South Florida hotel while a hurricane rages outside? In fact, the 1948 John Huston film was adapted [...]

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    How 'Beetlejuice: The Musical' Became a Broadway Turnaround Story

    Christopher Kuczewski is what you’d call a Netherling. It’s a reference to the netherworld inhabitants who populate “Beetlejuice: The Musical,” the off-beat adaptation of the 1988 hit film that’s becoming an unlikely Broadway turnaround story. And that designation, which has been given to superfans of the show, goes a long way towards explaining how a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content