Success breeds succes in the theatre as in other walks of life. There is currently, for example, no theatre with a better commercial record in the country than Chichester Festival Theatre: this week it brought its third transfer of the year from last season to town with its inspired, inspiring pairing of a new David Hare commission South Downs as a companion piece to Rattigan’s The Browning Version, following the transfer of two musicals, Singin’ in the Rain and Sweeney Todd, which could be described as the yin and yang of musical theatre — but never the yawn.
Only one of those — Singin’ in the Rain — is directed by Chichester’s artistic director Jonathan Church, but all of them are a testament to his remarkable programming skills, which not only seems to give Chichester audiences exactly what they want, but also, by the sheer excellence of its execution, also seems to give the West End what it wants, too.
He has done so by drawing on a remarkable collection of directors and creative personnel to complement his own contributions, with Jonathan Kent tapped for Sweeney Todd and younger directors Angus Jackson and Jeremy Herrin for Browning Version and South Downs respectively.
Herrin, for his part, is fast moving up the directorial inside track: as well as being deputy artistic director at the Royal Court, where he is surely the obvious choice for successor to Dominic Cooke after Cooke steps down next year, has also directed the last two shows at the Pinter, where South Downs is now playing. Though Death and the Maiden looked a little exposed there, its fundamental contrivance as a play undermined by poor casting, he did an amazing job of Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends to make it resonate with a kind of Chekhovian bleakness; and of course right now he is represented at Chichester by a beautiful Uncle Vanya.
This weekend Jonathan Kent, meanwhile, segues from Sweeney Todd, the most operatic of modern musicals, to Wagner for a new production of The Flying Dutchman, opening at the London Coliseum on Saturday. ENO, of course, is another company that’s riding high: it deservedly won this year’s Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, for “the breadth and diversity of its artistic programme.”
And just as Jonathan Church takes the credit at Chichester, so it is John Berry, ENO’s artistic director who can rightfully claim it here. The interesting thing about Berry’s role at ENO is that he doesn’t direct himself; but he draws directors there from all sorts of places who can. Yesterday details of the 2012/13 season were released, and its interesting, too, that he’s not derailed by apparent failures. Never mind that Rupert Goold’s directorial debut for the company with Turandot was hardly acclaimed; he’s coming back with a new production of Wozzeck.
Goold, of course, is one of our flashiest and individual theatremakers, popping up everywhere from the eclectic work of his own company Headlong to commercial enterprises like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that he is co-directing in a tent in Kensington Gardens next month. There’s a worrying suspicion that he sometimes spreads himself too thin — he’s just bowed out, of a RSC/Wooster Group co-production of Troilus and Cressida that he was going to co-direct with Wooster’s Elizabeth LeCompte this summer, citing “unforeseen changes in the timing of Rupert’s planned film being made in the USA”, so he’s making a movie, too, before he returns to the National for a Headlong co-production of The Effect, a new play by Lucy Prebble whose last play Enron Goold also directed in a production that travelled from Chichester to the Royal Court, the West End and (more ill-fatedly) Broadway. Also on his Headlong schedule is a new musical based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho, best known for the 2000 film, that will have a score by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik.
So Goold is undoubtedly prolific, and some of what he touches invariably turns to gold. He’s gone far and fast since running Northampton’s Royal and Derngate from 2000 to 2005. Some tipped him for the top job at the RSC where he is an associate, though in the end Gregory Doran was appointed to replace Michael Boyd; now he is surely a leading contender to replace Nick Hytner at the National.
There’ll be a lot of jockeying for that job when the time comes; but what’s great is just how many viable candidates are out there now. The aforementioned Jonathan Church would definitely be a safe pair of hands, given his skills as impresario. Michael Grandage has just started out on his full-time freelance career since stepping down from the Donmar, and has recently set up his own commercial company, but could well be in the frame to return to running a theatre (if he wanted it, though may well be too busy by then).
Josie Rourke has, of course, replaced him at the Donmar, and the National could well do with a future female artistic director, so she is surely another possibility for the top job, as is Marianne Elliott, one of the National’s best directors and co-director of its greatest commercial success in War Horse.
Then there’s Tom Morris, her co-director on that, currently artistic director at Bristol Old Vic and recently at ENO with Klinghoffer. His Bristol production of Swallows and Amazons is currently on a UK tour; and we also shouldn’t rule out the prolific Emma Rice, who Morris co-directed A Matter of Life and Death at the National and who, in addition to her work as artistic director of Kneehigh, is also currently everywhere: next month her Kneehigh/Sadler’s Wells/Stratford East co-production of a new British Bollywood musical Wah! Wah! Girls! at the Peacock opens at the Peacock, while in September she teams up with West Yorkshire Playhouse to premiere a stage version she has herself adapted of Galton and Simpson’s Steptoe and Son.
These are just some of the major players that are currently galvanising our theatre in thrilling, unexpected ways and are making this a golden age for British theatre, against all the funding odds.