As Andrew Lloyd Webber continues to face down criticism for How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, fellow producer Sonia Friedman has come out in combative defence of the last theatre-related reality TV venture, the Channel 4 programme The Play’s the Thing in which she premiered a play by a first-time playwright, directly into the West End. In an interview in this week’s Stage, she railed against the industry newspaper for not being more supportive of the project. “I just want to ask my critics, what is your problem? It wasn’t as if we were wasting the taxpayers’ money – everybody who invested in this project knew that they wouldn’t get their money back. It was an investment not just in a play but in the ongoing discussion about the West End” – a discussion that, she said, detractors “wilfully” ignored. The experience reinforced for Friedman the fact that “playwrights need to be nurtured before they can be put in the West End”. But, rather than put her off taking a risk on new work in the future, it has done the opposite. Though she didn’t reveal details of projects, she declared: “I now feel more open to new work than I did before. I’m more excited by the idea of doing it. I’m commissioning more new work than I’ve ever done now and I will continue to try and find new plays.” Prior to her success as a commercial producer, her career was in the subsidised sector, where she co-founded the new writing company Out of Joint with Max Stafford-Clark. The winning play of The Play’s the Thing - On the Third Day by 51-year-old teacher Kate Betts – closed prematurely after six weeks at the New Ambassadors Theatre this summer (See News, 17 Jul 2006). While the piece was largely panned, many critics acknowledged that Betts exhibited what one called a “wayward talent”. One of the West End’s most prolific play producers, Friedman’s other shows this year have included hits like the revival of Michael Frayn’s Donkeys' Years and the premiere of Tom Stoppard’s Rock 'n' Roll.
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