One of the most awkward moments at the Olivier Awards last week came during Kevin Spacey‘s acceptance of his Special Award – when he forgot the name of his successor. The temporary amnesia appears even more remarkable today as details are revealed of that successor’s first – hugely exciting – post-Spacey season. No one will be forgetting the name Matthew Warchus again anytime soon.
It can be no accident that Warchus, a soft-spoken man who has always shied away from the public limelight, waited to announce his season until after the past two Sunday shindigs – the Oliviers last weekend and this past weekend’s black-tie Spacey send-off gala at the Old Vic, for which corporate backers and other affluent pundits paid up to £2,000 a ticket. The Spacey celebration was hosted by Hugh Bonneville with performances by Annie Lennox and Sting and even a video message from Bill Clinton (who – on a personal note – sat in front of me when he attended the 2006 Old Vic revival of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten starring Spacey – one of Clinton’s bodyguards fell asleep, another yawned and fidgeted throughout).
The means of Spacey’s departure and Warchus’ arrival seems to encapsulate the very essence of the change we’re about to see at the Old Vic – as the spotlight shifts from its artistic director’s personality (and fame) to its artistic director’s output.
I mean no disrespect to Spacey when I say this. London remains indebted to him (and Sally Greene) for rescuing the Old Vic from an ignominious fate 11 years ago (a lap-dancing club was a serious threat). His Hollywood glamour has certainly rubbed off, attracting international attention and investment. And, artistically, there have also been several bright spots.
But I know I’m not the only theatregoer who will wholeheartedly welcome Matthew Warchus’ programme today. I’ve collated the main national press headlines with links below – including two great pieces in the Telegraph, a “Big Interview” with Warchus by Anita Singh, and a “Big Question” opinion piece by chief critic Dominic Cavendish – as well as top quotes and the full programme.
Without wanting to repeat all of that, here are aspects of Warchus’ programme that seem particularly significant and exciting to me:
Talent versus celebrity – With a season that includes Ralph Fiennes, Timothy Spall and Rob Brydon already announced, Warchus’ inaugural season is hardly short on ‘names’. However, there’s no hint of ‘celebrity’ casting or star vehicle projects here; these are serious acting chops. Nice to see both Fiennes (who’ll come straight from Man and Superman at the National) and Brydon (also signed up for Kenneth Branagh‘s West End season) committing so much to the stage at this point in their careers – and what a coup to lure Timothy Spall back after his Mr Turner screen success.
More, more, more – More productions in shorter runs planned and announced a year in advance. So much easier on the diary and so much to look forward to. Also a really diverse mixture of new work, classic plays, a major musical – plus dance, comedy and even vaudeville.
On directing duty – Warchus himself is directing four major productions in the season – the premieres of Future Conditional and Groundhog Day and revivals of Ibsen’s The Master Builder and Pinter’s The Caretaker. Warchus is one of our very best directors so London is in for a treat with a constant supply of his own productions. He’s also giving platforms for other exciting directors including Richard Jones and Max Webster.
Promise of gender equity – Okay, there’s only one female playwright in the season, but it is a living playwright, Tamsin Oglesby, and her play Future Conditional does open the season. Warchus has also been very open about wanting to do better. In an interview with Official London Theatre, he reveals that he made offers to four female directors but none of them could commit to work in this first season. He promises, with more planning for seasons two and three, he’ll strike a better balance.
The Matilda dream team is back – Groundhog Day has been on the cards for awhile and, once Warchus’ tenure was announced, it seemed a no-brainer that it would premiere at the Old Vic. It’s good to have it confirmed, though. Warchus, comedian turned composer-lyricist Tim Minchin, designer Rob Howell and choreographer Peter Darling hit dizzying heights with Matilda. I can’t wait to see what they do with Danny Rubin‘s charming on-repeat story.
The Drunk dream team is back – Since seeing choreographer Drew McOnie and composer Grant Olding‘s first collaboration, Drunk, last year at the Bridewell, I’ve pestered them repeatedly about when they were reuniting. Their “new dance thriller” of Jekyll & Hyde, specially commissioned by the Old Vic, sounds, well, thrilling. Even more exciting, there should be still more to come as McOnie is now an Old Vic associate artist.
Stronger by association – Several other intriguing associate artists have also been announced. Each will “have significant involved in the life of the Old Vic” in developing projects and “creative collaboration. In addition to McOnie and the Groundhog guys, they include: Simon Baker (sound design), David Grindrod (casting), Manuel Harlan (photography), Dennis Kelly (writer), Paul Kieve (magic), Christopher Nightingale (composer), Kate Prince (choreography) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting).
Variety is the spice of life – Another tip of the heritage hat, a series of Sunday night “Variety Nights” sounds a hoot. Magicians and other “whims and oddities” are promised. I’m a sucker for card tricks.
Transfers guaranteed – Warchus has signed a partnership with Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin granting them first-look exclusives on transferring Old Vic productions to the West End and Broadway. That should help keep the coffers at the unsubsidised Old Vic healthy. Meanwhile, the Royal Bank of Canada has signed on as the theatre’s new Principal Partner sponsor.
A new approach to affordable tickets – Another sponsor, PwC, continues to be involved in making tickets more affordable. PwC previously subsidised the Old Vic’s Under 25’s Club. Under the new PwC £10 Previews, more than half of the seats during each show’s first five preview performances will be available for just £10. This is a very welcome development. You don’t have to be young to struggle to buy theatre tickets, after all. By concentrating these during previews, these audiences can also help start word of mouth on shows.
The best is yet to come? Further ahead, there’s A LOT more to come from Warchus, including:
the first revival of Yasmina Reza‘s Art (one of Warchus’ early hits)
the 50th anniversary production of Tom Stoppard‘s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
a new musical based on 2014 Brit flick Pride, which was written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Warchus
an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander
new plays by Richard Bean, Liberian Girl‘s Diana Nneka Atuona and Mock the Week comedian Mark Watson
a new Dennis Kelly adaptation of Sophocles’ Theban trilogy: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone
a premiere stage version of Penelope Fitzgerald‘s 1982 novel At Freddie’s, adapted by One Day‘s David Nicholls
a new musical based on DC Thomas cartoon Dennis the Menace, with a book by poet Caroline Bird
Further season details are available at www.oldvictheatre.com.
Quote Unquote: Matthew Warchus
In a press statement
“After 25 years of freelance directing, I unexpectedly find myself running my favourite theatre in the world. Or, if you like, my two favourite theatres since the Old Vic can now transition with relative ease between London’s best in-the-round space and the traditional, magnificent end-on auditorium. During my tenure I look forward to playing seasons in both of these great configurations.
“My first season demonstrates our aim to present more productions per year, of wide-ranging work, in a ‘something for everyone’ approach which reflects my own eclectic tastes and love of this unique and uplifting art form. In its dazzling history, The Old Vic has been home not only to great acting but also to dance, musical extravaganzas, vaudeville and spectacle. This diverse heritage is a big part of my inspiration going forward.
“When Lilian Baylis ran the Old Vic she kept a sign over her desk which read ‘Dare, always dare!’. Taking my cue from her, my goal is to programme invigorating seasons which are, by turns, surprising, smart, adventurous, and fun. Come and join in.”
In the Independent
“You can’t overestimate what Kevin did. This was a theatre that was about not to exist 12 years ago. He and [chief executive] Sally Greene saved the theatre.”
“I’m allergic to hype…I’ll hide behind the work, which is my preferred place. I’ll be slightly invisible and hopefully the work will be what keeps the spotlight on this theatre.”
In the Telegraph
“Lately, [the Old Vic] has felt like a posh theatre. But part of its heritage has been quite iconoclastic, rule-breaking and sometimes cutting edge. Even when Laurence Olivier was here with Tyrone Guthrie [in the 1930s] he was doing quite radical, adventurous work.
“So part of the brand refresh is to try to conceive of an artistic powerhouse that is unintimidating and unpretentious – not so populist that it doesn’t do anything great, and certainly not catering to the lowest common denominator.”
On the BBC: why a musical of Groundhog Day?
“It’s a film which says a lot about life: how little time there is to become the best version of yourself. It is big and meaningful.”
The season in full
Matthew Warchus has announced a full and eclectic year’s programme at the Old Vic, including variety on Sunday evenings. Full dates for the later productions have not yet been confirmed.
1. FUTURE CONDITIONAL
By Tamsin Oglesby
Directed by Matthew Warchus, Starring Rob Brydon
Previews from 1 September 2015, press night 10 September
A bracingly topical and boisterously funny new play starring Rob Brydon, supported by 23 young performers. Future Conditional tackles the conundrum of British schooling through a myriad of characters including parents, teachers, and Alia, a prodigiously clever young Afghan refugee and the newest member of Britain’s Education Research Board. Alia 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…? Written by Tamsin Oglesby (The Mouse and His Child, Really Old, Like 45), Future Conditional proves that when it comes to education, we’ve all got a lot to learn.
2. THE HAIRY APE
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Richard Jones
Previews from 17 October 2015, press night 29 October
Eugene O’Neill‘s timeless classic of class and identity tells the story of Yank, a labourer who revels in his status as the strongest stoker on a transatlantic ocean liner. But when Yank is called a ‘filthy beast’ by the overbred 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. Searching for a way to belong, Yank is forced to confront primal questions about his true place in the world.
3. Dr Seuss’ THE LORAX
Adapted by David Greig
Directed by Max Webster
Previews from 2 December 2015, press day 15 December
Inspired by Dr Seuss’s classic tale, The Lorax tells of a moustachioed and cantankerous critter who’s on a mission to protect the earth from the greedy, tree-chopping, Thneed-knitting businessman known only as The Once-ler. Brought to the stage by Max Webster (James And The Giant Peach, To Kill A Mockingbird, Twelfth Night), The Lorax blends theatrical invention, songs and zany humour in a timely and vibrant Christmas show with a message that will speak to audiences of all ages.
4. THE MASTER BUILDER
By Henrik Ibsen, New adaptation by David Hare
Directed by Matthew Warchus, Starring Ralph Fiennes
A searing and mesmeric exploration of power, control, death and life, Henrik Ibsen’s late masterpiece The Master Builder comes to the Old Vic in a lively new adaptation by David Hare (multi-award-winning writer and author of 32 plays for the stage including Skylight, The Absence Of War, Amy’s View, Pravda and Stuff Happens). Ralph Fiennes stars as Halvard Solness, a master architect, has spent his lifetime building the tallest spires in the land. But when Hilde, a radiant country girl, descends unexpectedly into his world, age is confronted by youth, and a series of revelations builds to a vertiginous climax.
5. THE CARETAKER
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Matthew Warchus, Starring Timothy Spall
When it premiered in 1960, Harold Pinter‘s The Caretaker changed the face of modern theatre. Disturbed handyman Aston has invited an irascible tramp to stay with him at his brother’s jumbled London flat. At first it seems that the manipulative guest will take advantage of his vulnerable host. But when Aston’s brother Mick arrives, an enigmatic power struggle emerges between the three men that is in equal parts menacing, touching and darkly comic. Timothy Spall makes a rare return to the stage to star.
6. JEKYLL & HYDE
A new dance thriller devised, directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie
Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
One of the UK’s most innovative theatre choreographers, Drew McOnie reimagines Robert Louis Stevenson’s sinister drama in an excitingly physical new dance production with music by Grant Olding (who collaborate with McOnie on Drunk). Jekyll & Hyde has been specially commissioned by the Old Vic as part of its new dance collaboration with the McOnie Company, led by Associate Artist Drew McOnie.
7. GROUNDHOG DAY
Book by Danny Rubin
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Choreography by Peter Darling
Matthew Warchus, composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, choreographer Peter Darling, and designer Rob Howell, four of the creators of the international musical sensation Matilda The Musical, have joined forces with writer Danny Rubin to collaborate on a new musical based on the 1993 hit film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. Groundhog Day is the story of Phil Connors, an arrogant Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, when sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself caught in a time loop where he is forced to repeat the same day again and again…and again.
The Old Vic Community Company Show
Directed by Alexander Ferris
Two hundred Londoners will take over the Old Vic for one week to present a kaleidoscope of ideas, discussions and stories that centre around an epic new production that explores our relationship with the environment. With music, movement and bicycles, Rise will explore the impact of living in a city where the temperature is rising.
9. THE OLD VIC VARIETY NIGHTS
On Sunday nights, the Old Vic will present a series of spectacular evenings featuring collectable performances from celebrated comedians, musicians, magicians and other variety acts from around the world. The Variety Nights are a contemporary take on a time when the Old Vic was the Royal Coburg Theatre presenting music, magic, ‘whims and oddities’.
Further season details are available at www.oldvictheatre.com.
What the papers (and other press) say
THE BIG INTERVIEW
Matthew Warchus: ‘I don’t want the Old Vic to be posh anymore’
It is “a something-for-everyone approach, which reflects my own eclectic tastes”, Matthew Warchus told the Telegraph. Spacey brought Hollywood star power to the Old Vic, Warchus brings much more.
THE BIG QUESTION
Is Matthew Warchus Better than Kevin Spacey?
“The most exciting thing about the Old Vic is not its past, it’s its future,” Kevin Spacey said at a recent event marking the end of his tenure there as artistic director. Dominic Cavendish agrees.
ALL THE NEWS ANGLES
THE TIMES: Spacey’s Star-studded Farewell Gala Ends an Era
“Oh my God, he is gorgeous,” said the woman high up in the dress circle. “I’ve loved him for 20 years.” Proof of their love: theatregoers paid £2,000 a ticket for Spacey’s farewell gala on Sunday.
THE TIMES: Nothing Will Ever Be the Same Again – Groundhog Day the Musical
Those who remember Bill Murray in Groundhog Day may think they’ve seen it all before, but this time the story has returned as a musical in Matthew Warchus’ first season leading the rebranded Old Vic.
New Take on Old Vic with Matthew Warchus as Artistic Director
A musical version of Groundhog Day, an adaptation of Dr Seuss’ The Lorax and Timothy Spall in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker will all feature in the first post-Kevin Spacey season at the Old Vic.
Kevin Spacey’s Successor at the Old Vic Promises a More Low-key Approach
Matthew Warchus’ first productions will include works by Henrik Ibsen, Harold Pinter and a musical adaptation of Groundhog Day. His season indicates a significant change of approach.
Groundhog Day Musical Has World Premiere at Old Vic
A new stage musical of Groundhog Day premieres at the Old Vic in London next year. Based on the 1993 comedy film with Bill Murray, the show has music by Tim Minchin and is directed by Matthew Warchus.
Old Vic Seals Transfers Deal with Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin
Warchus has begun his Old Vic tenure by securing a new partnership with producers Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin, giving them exclusivity on commercial West End and Broadway transfers.
Fiennes, Brydon, Spall, Minchin to feature in Matthew Warchus’ First Old Vic Season
Incoming Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus has unveiled plans to double numbers of shows staged at the venue each year. His first season features Ralph Fiennes, Rob Brydon and Timothy Spall.
Ralph Fiennes and Timothy Spall Lead Old Vic season
Ralph Fiennes, currently in Shaw’s Man and Superman at the National, will star in Harold Pinter’s modern classic The Caretaker as part of Warchus’ first season as artistic director of the Old Vic.