“London theatre is the fulcrum of British theatre.” So spoke Jonathan Kent at the Critics’ Circle Awards earlier this week.
The director of the only show not yet staged in London to win at the national event, Gypsy, admitted prior to collecting its Best Musical award that he was particularly looking forward to bringing the production, which stars Imelda Staunton and Lara Pulver as original pushy parent Momma Rose and shy daughter Louise, to the West End.
“I hope it will transfer brilliantly,” he told Official London Theatre. “Chichester is a wonderful place, but it has a thrust stage. Gypsy is specifically written for a proscenium arch, so it will be interesting for it to return to its natural home. I think the musical, which hasn’t been seen in London since its first production 40 years ago, has a resonance with audiences now because it deals in the lure and pursuit of success, of the American dream and the damage that causes. It’s something that speaks to people now.”
Chichester’s production of Gypsy was one of a number of shows preparing to transfer to the West End that collected Critics’ Circle Awards. The Royal Court’s online thriller The Nether, which opens at the Duke of York’s next month, shared the award for Best Design, while the Young Vic’s A View From The Bridge, opening at the Wyndham’s in February, won for Best Director (Ivo Van Hove) and Best Actor (Mark Strong).
Screen star Strong, who broke a theatrical hiatus of more than a decade to return to the stage in Arthur Miller’s classic, explained the draw of the production: “I was reading a lot of film scripts and in among those was this play. In terms of characterisation and the multi-layered nature of my character it was head and shoulders above everything else I was reading. It reminded me that actually you can flesh things out on stage that you can’t on film, and it made me want to go back.”
Sir Antony Sher, collecting the award for Best Shakespearean Performance, was similarly effusive about great theatrical roles, explaining his trepidation at taking on the role of Falstaff in the Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Henry IV Parts I & II: “When you play great parts you have to have a certain conviction in yourself that you can do it, because you can’t mess around with those; they’re too important, too big. The way I convinced myself was that it was a great challenge for a character actor, that I was going to have to transform myself physically and vocally and my whole energy would have to become Falstaff. It was a fabulous challenge and a fantastic journey.”
Among the other 2015 Critics’ Circle Theatre Award winners were Helen McCrory, who won Best Actress for her performance in Medea, and Patsy Ferran, named Most Promising Newcomer for her roles in Blithe Spirit and Treasure Island.
While winning awards will generally put anyone in a good mood, Strong, in particular, was full of the joys of the stage after such a successful return, hinting that he may not leave it anywhere near 12 years before taking to the stage again:
“I hope to do more theatre,” he confided. “It depends on the play and the parts, but there are so many good plays and parts out there. There’s nothing quite like going into a room, turning the light off and watching a bunch of people pretending to be other people. You’re genuinely transported. It’s incredible.”