A Year in the West End

After winning the Radio Times Olivier Award Competition, Jane Martin has enjoyed the best seats in the house for the last year. But what were her West End highlights?

I’ve never been much of a collector, but I know I’ll always treasure the stack of almost 100 theatre programmes I’ve brought home during my year as a member of the 2014 Olivier Awards theatre panel.

For someone who loves seeing plays and musicals, it doesn’t get much better than being given the best seats in the house for all the new shows in town. And a programme. Oh, and you can take a friend too…
 
It’s been especially intriguing to see how artistic directors plan their programming, many with spectacular success. The Almeida’s season has seen play after play transfer from Islington to bigger West End theatres after sell-out runs. Richard Eyre’s production of Ghosts lost none of its intimacy and raw power after its move to the Trafalgar Studios. Chimerica’s huge themes of politics and state security were played alongside heartrending stories of intimacy and lost love. And my personal award for ‘Vision of the Year’ goes to Matt Smith, rising impassively through a stage trapdoor, bathed in ultraviolet light and wearing only ‘tighty-whitey’ pants in the dazzling opening scene of American Psycho.

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The National Theatre produced world-class shows, just as you’d expect. Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear were an extraordinary double-act in the gripping Othello, while Rosalie Craig emerged as an out-and-out star playing the title role in new musical The Light Princess. She sang while airborne throughout the show, flying, floating and tumbling in space with the help of four discreet acrobats and some featherweight wires.
 
Michael Grandage’s popular season at the Noel Coward theatre has also been a sellout success, with stars like Jude Law, Judi Dench, David Walliams and Daniel Radcliffe encouraging new audiences in to enjoy some first-class productions.
 
Of course, a show isn’t solely about the performers. The ingenuity and imagination of the designers, musicians, lighting and sound engineers, choreographers and all the other creatives has also been a real treat to analyse and enjoy. In one superb scene change in the NT’s Strange Interlude, designed by Soutra Gilmour, a huge yacht sailed onto the stage and anchored more or less in the front stalls, evoking a spontaneous burst of applause – the first time I’ve seen scenery appreciated so enthusiastically.
 
Of course, the point of all this theatre-going is to be in a position to offer an informed opinion on which productions should be considered for an Oliver Award. Believe me, the process is incredibly thorough, with a gradual filtering of nominees and several layers of voting.
 
I don’t know who’s going to win, and nor do the other panellists or voters.
 
But I do know that I’ve been in an incredibly privileged position this year. And in true Awards style, I’ll finish with some thank you’s – to the Radio Times for making it possible. To Julian and Catherine at the Society of London Theatre for impeccable organisation. To my fellow panellists. And of course to everyone involved in all the shows that make London such a brilliant cultural capital.