Despite what the weather thinks, we are now in the height of summer - which can only mean that the new theatrical season is almost upon us. Unlike Broadway which has an official theatre 'season', using the Tony Awards in early June as a marker, the 'season' in London is a lot more casual. New shows usually choose to open during periods of change, where the ticket-buying public are more likely to be looking for 'new' things to do. The summer months of July and August have fewer openings than the early autumn, mainly as venues have already opened their summer hits, and tourists and visitors to London take over the West End, visiting classic shows and productions.
Late August and early September often brings some of the most exciting new theatre of the year, and this autumn all eyes are firmly set on the Old Vic as the changing of the guard brings with it Matthew Warchus' eagerly anticipated new season. Following on from the work achieved by Kevin Spacey over the past ten years, Warchus' rein builds on the successes and continues to push the Old Vic as one of London's premiere producing houses for new work and classic material.
No one can have any doubt about Warchus' credentials. As a director he has worked for Bristol Old Vic, the Donmar Warehouse, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, Opera North, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the Welsh National Opera, the English National Opera and has had countless productions in the West End and on Broadway. His most successful production of recent years was the RSC's musical version of 'Matilda' which continues to run at the Cambridge Theatre and the Schubert Theatre on Broadway, as well as a brand new Australian production.
Granted, looking after a venue is certainly a different task, and a job that many people wouldn't envy. The first thing noticeable about the upcoming season is the schedule. Unlike previous years where productions have enjoyed three-month runs, Warchus has instead opted for shorter runs, meaning the turnover of material is significantly greater. Whilst it may cause logistical headaches for the tech team, the beauty of shorter runs means more variety for audiences, and less pressure on the success of one particular show – which ultimately means the venue can afford to be riskier in terms of programming.
In such uncertain times new plays and musicals repeatedly suffer in both the commercial and non-profit sector, and even revivals and shows that on paper look like a hit can often get lost in the shuffle. By creating a more dynamic season, audience retention will hopefully build over time, and the number of return visits a year will no doubt increase as more productions are on offer to see. The Old Vic is blessed with a loyal audience following, with the variety of its material pulling in from wider fields of customers. Shorter runs are also more attractive to celebrity actors, and I'm sure we can expect the continuation of star-studded productions at the venue.
The first production in the season is a new play by Tamsin Oglesby, directed by Warchus himself. 'Future Conditional' takes a look at the British school system through the eyes of parents, teachers and students. Alia, a prodigiously clever young Pakistani refugee has a radical solution for Britain’s schools that could restore our place in the world education league. But is the system ready to take lessons from a schoolgirl..?
Comedian Rob Brydon stars in the production, alongside a large ensemble cast, in what is sure to be an exciting opening show in an eclectic inaugural season.
This is followed by a classic text from American playwright Eugene O'Neill, in a new production directed by Richard Jones. The Hairy Ape tells the story of Yank, a labourer who revels in his status as the strongest stoker on a transatlantic ocean liner. One day he is called a ‘filthy beast’ by the precocious daughter of a steel merchant, he experiences an awakening of consciousness that leads him on a journey through the wealthy neighbourhoods and disenfranchised underbelly of New York society.
The drama is an iconic piece of American literature, and has been performed multiple times on Broadway and in the West End. Bertie Carvel, the Olivier award-winning and Tony-nominated star of 'Matilda the Musical' will play the title role, alongside a yet-to-be-announced cast.
The Christmas production once again couldn't be more different, as David Greig's new stage adaptation of Dr. Seuss's classic tale 'The Lorax' blends theatrical invention, songs and zany humour. A family favourite, the production is aimed at the entire family, and will provide an inspiring look at this popular tale that is sure to delight audiences old and new.
As you can see, the first three productions couldn't be more diverse, and will no doubt provide an excellent start to Matthew Warchus' time at the venue. Looking further afield, productions such as 'Jekyll and Hyde' and the world première of new musical 'Groundhog Day' will continue to drive excitement – proving that the Old Vic is certainly the place to be for the near future and beyond.