This year has been eventful for British theatre. In recent months, people have been coming forward with allegations of sexual assault against directors and actors. National theatres and arts organisations are being forced to take a long hard look at their procedures and look at how best they can ensure that people that engage with them are safe and protected. Alas we have a long way to go.
On a lighter note, this year some amazing plays have been staged.
Selina Thompson has broken all boundaries of the one woman show with her play SALT. Based on her experiences journeying through the Atlantic Ocean, SALT explores themes of ancestry, grief and colonialism. Tracing the Trans-Atlantic Slave Triangle Route, Thompson takes us with her on her journey from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica. This play has won multiple awards including, The Stage Edinburgh Award; The Total Theatre Award for Experimentation, Innovation and Playing with Form; The Filipa Brangaca Award for Best Female Solo Performance.
This play by Good Chance Theatre is based on the Calais Jungle has invited in members of the audience to participate in an emotional journey to try to understand the plight of some its inhabitants. The camp may now be gone, but the crisis continues. This play, with refugees and volunteers as actors shows us just that. ‘where worlds collide. In the worst places, you meet the best people.’
The Believers Are But Brothers
As we enter an age where the digital world is no longer a new thing, our plays are evolving. Javaad Alipoor takes old ideas, new technology and familiar wars to bring us this bold one-man show. The Believers Are But Brothers is a show about masculinity as much as it is about the Middle East, the EU and the American election.
The Barber Shop Chronicles written by Inua Ellams is not just a play about hair. The play, set in a barber’s poetically challenges the complexity of black masculinity through its exceptional dialogue. With no ‘raising of the curtain’, the comfort that one feels in a black barbershop is felt in the theatre. Ellams has crafted a play which delicately informs and questions its audience through brilliant comedy.
I don’t even know where to start with Hamilton. The Pulitzer Prize for drama, or the 11 Tony awards. This is the show that we will all be talking about in years to come. Lin-Manuel Miranda has perfectly researched the story of Alexander Hamilton who rose from being a penniless immigrant to becoming the right-hand of George Washington. The lyrics and the songs themselves take us through this game-changer of a musical.
Hot Brown Honey
Hot Brown Honey combines hip hop, cabaret, acrobatics and a sort of audience participation that makes us all want to jump up and shout ‘pick me’. With the mantra ‘Decolonise and Moisturise’, the piece does not give us a chance to think as it questions and educates us through comedic and highly skilled interludes. From Aerial Silks to poetry, this show has it all.
This year has not just been brilliant for its theatrical pieces, but also for the changes within the theatre industry itself.
People are standing up and challenging the ways in which theatres are casting their productions. A few theatres have been called out for racist ‘colour-blind’ casting. Notably, Music Theatre Wales were slammed by playwrights and actors for racist yellowface casting of The Golden Dragon. Theatre critics and playwrights alike took to social media to voice their concerns, it led to industry professionals questioning casting in theatres. The Hackney Empire eventually pulled out from the production as ‘the non-Asian casting in The Golden Dragon compromises the Empire’s commitment and position as a champion of diversity and accessibility across the theatre industry’ (a statement from Hackney Empire)
In February of this year, a report from the London School of Economics and University of Edinburgh found that, just 16% of all actors were from a working-class background. Compared with 33% of the UK being from working class backgrounds. Theatres began to realise that there was a class and privilege issue within the industry. But while the research and statistics were new, the idea that theatre is for the privileged is not a novel one.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a brilliant musical that examines this. A northern Cinderella story, a tale of discovery, this play with its refreshing diverse cast wowed audiences and gave them a sense that theatre with a working class edge, can and does work.
While the film industry has been battling with Harvey Weinstein, in the UK, we’ve been battling with Kevin Spacey. Once the artistic director of The Old Vic, Spacey was accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour. In what can only be described as brave and honest, the Old Vic responded by admitting that claims were not properly reported because of the ‘cult of personality’ around Spacey. The theatre apologised and we can only hope that this public dragging of sexual harassers and abusers will deter any future ones.
2018 has a hard year to follow. With most of the groundwork done, will we finally see theatres finally put on plays showcasing East Asian talent, working class people and of course disabled theatre makers?