The thing I love about the nominations for the WhatsOnStage Awards is their all-embracing nature. Just look at the best director category where Jay Scheib, director of the overwhelming musical Bat Out of Hell, rubs shoulders with Robert Icke, who brought us the most emotional and clever of Hamlets, and Sam Mendes, doyen of the Bond franchise, making his masterful return to the stage with The Ferryman. Oh, and Dominic Cooke‘s rethinking of Stephen Sondheim‘s Follies, and Marianne Elliott whose Angels in America once again revealed the play’s magnificence.
Purists might complain this is comparing apples with pears. But that’s the point of it. If you love theatre, the nominations give a joyful snapshot of what people are actually watching and enjoying on stage today.
I feel I would be absolutely happy to see any one the Best New Plays nominees win
The dominance of musicals, and particularly the swaggering Bat Out of Hell and the taptastic 42nd Street, does underline the truth of the UK Theatre report released earlier this week which shows that musicals have been gaining dominance in seat sales over the three years up to 2016, accounting for 39p of every £1 taken in 2016 at the box office. Which is – as 42nd Street reminds us – almost inevitable. In times of trouble and doubt, those in search of a good night out are likely to plump for the pleasures of song and dance.
What's interesting in these lists is the range of musical offering that has won people's hearts
But what’s interesting in these lists is the range of musical offering that has won people’s hearts, including the cerebral and sad revival of Follies at the National Theatre and the sensational Everybody’s Talking About Jamie which has just arrived in the West End after triumphantly reviving hopes for the home-grown British musical in Sheffield.
What’s also notable, is just how strong a year this has been for new plays, and challenging new plays at that. When I look at the list of nominations – from Branden Jacob-Jenkins' Gloria, to Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, to James Graham’s two dazzling contributions, Inkand Labour of Love, and JT Rogers’ Oslo– I feel I would be absolutely happy to see any one of them win. They are all, in different ways, exceptional pieces of writing, and all fulfill the definition of the perfect night at the theatre by providing both intellectual stimulation and pure enjoyment.
It’s the same in the acting categories. What performances we have seen this year! I suppose I always feel that, but how lucky we are that actors such as Andrew Scott, Andrew Garfield, Martin Freeman, Bryan Cranston, and David Tennant and actresses such as Tamsin Greig, Eve Best, Olivia Colman, Imelda Staunton and Natalie Dormer having found fame on TV and film still want to tread the boards each night for our edification and delight.
In fact, that’s the feeling I get overall when I look at these nominations, provided by the theatre going public. They give off a sense of involvement and pleasure. Because they are chosen in this way, they reflect a whole-hearted engagement with British theatre that marks a very festive and warming start to December.