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One of the undisputed highlights in the theatre calendar, the WhatsOnStage Awards have for many years celebrated the best from stages across the United Kingdom. One of the firm favourites during awards season, the accolades look at both London’s West End and regional theatres across the country to honour not only those in the limelight, but also the often unsung heroes behind the scenes. Winners on the night include for achievement in acting, choreography, costume, set design, lighting and more, as well as the coveted Best New and Best Revival awards.
In 2020, Ticketmaster are honoured to be sponsoring the Best New Play award which celebrates the quality of productions from companies big and small. Not just focussed on the glitz and glamour of the West End, the nominees this year originally found acclaim in some of the country’s most celebrated regional theatres, including Sheffield’s Crucible and a joint production between The Curve in Leicester, Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham and Leeds’ Playhouse.
With a number having already secured a West End transfer, and with the WhatsOnStage Awards looming, meet the five productions vying for the Best New Play gong, sponsored by Ticketmaster.
By: Robert Icke
Beginning life at North London’s Almeida Theatre for a two month run, The Doctor will now transfer to the West End’s Duke Of York’s Theatre from April 2020. Adapted and directed by Robert Icke, whose credits include reimagined productions of George Orwell’s 1984 and Anthon Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, the play adapts Arthur Schnitzler’s Professor Bernhardi. Shifting the narrative slightly, The Doctor depicts the fallout of a refusal by a Jewish doctor to allow a Catholic priest to visit a young girl dying from a botched self-abortion. The play modernises the 1912 original, intertwining the role of modern media in the divisive situation. In a five star Guardian review, critic Michael Billington commends the production’s ability to weave race, gender and class into a story traditionally about religion.
The West End transfer, set to open in April 2020, will see Juliet Stevenson reprise her acclaimed role of the title’s doctor, Ruth Wolff, which has also secured her a Best Actress in a Play nomination at the WhatsOnStage Awards. Icke, the youngest person to date to win a Best Director gong at the Olivier Awards, also competes in the Best Direction category.
By: Florian Zeller
(Kiln Theatre / Duke Of York’s Theatre)
Originally presented at London’s Kiln Theatre, and making the leap to the Duke Of York’s Theatre in August 2019, The Son depicts a family dealing with a turbulent divorce and the subsequent depression of young Nicholas, portrayed by WhatsOnStage Best Actor in a Play nominee Laurie Kynaston. Celebrated playwright Florian Zeller, whose work includes the accompanying The Mother and The Father, pens the harrowing tale of love, hate and loss. Declared by The Observer as the “theatre’s answer to a page-turner”, and by Sunday Express as “one of the finest plays of the past decade”, The Son brims with powerfully raw emotion that ultimately challenges both appropriate and required behaviour in a truly impossible situation.
By: Hanif Kureishi
(A Curve Leicester, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham and Leeds Playhouse co-production)
A joint production between some of the UK’s most influential regional theatres, My Beautiful Laundrette adapts the iconic 1985 British drama-comedy of the same name. Directed by Curve Artistic Director Nikolai Foster, the play is written by the Academy Award nominated Hanif Kureishi, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The story follows Omar, a young British Pakistani, as he reinvigorates his father’s laundrette and finds love with old schoolfriend and reforming fascist Johnny. Starring Omar Malik and Jonny Fines in the central roles, My Beautiful Laundrette also welcomes Gordon Warnecke, who portrayed Omar in the 1985 film, as his dad. Building on the original themes of homosexuality and England in the throws of Thatcherism, the play takes a stronger look at race and gender identity than its big screen counterpart, securing three nominations at the WhatsOnStage Awards.
By: Lolita Chakrabarti
Set to transfer from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre to London’s West End at the end of June 2020, Life Of Pi presents Yann Martel’s international bestseller as a visual masterpiece. Having already received the big screen treatment thanks to director Ang Lee, the story follows Piscine as he finds himself stranded on a small lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger. The animals are brought to life through Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes’ puppetry, with Sri Lankan born Hiran Abeysekera reprising his acclaimed lead role for the West End. Described by The Guardian as an unmissable and extraordinary journey, Life Of Pi will see London’s Wyndham’s Theatre transformed, extending the stage over the stalls to make the theatre a single, immersive environment.
As well as Best New Play, Life Of Pi also secures a nomination for Best Regional Production at March’s WhatsOnStage Awards.
By: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ 2014 play made its UK premiere at Donmar Warehouse in 2019, bringing the tale of the Lafayette’s family disfunction and historic racism across the pond. The tale follows three siblings as they gather at their late father’s Arkansas plantation, only to discover a photo album that potentially outs the otherwise liberal lawyer as a racist obsessed with the death of the black people. Unfolding as a dense thriller spliced with comedic breaks, the Ola Ince directed production journeys precariously between dark humour and poignant realism, with a hint of the supernatural. Taking inspiration from Tennessee Williams’ familial dramas, Appropriate wrestles with race, identity, family, and wealth in an air of violence and mistrust.
As well as Best New Play, Appropriate secures a nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Play, thanks to Isabella Pappas.
The winners of all WhatsOnStage Awards will be revealed on Sunday 1 March 2020. For more from the world of theatre, head to our Theatre Guide.