THEATRE AWARDS ROUND-UP: with James Seabright

Olivier Awards logo
The annual awards season is drawing to a close, and we’re thrilled that so many NHB plays and theatrebooks have picked up gongs along the way. The King’s Speech won both the Bafta and Academy Award for Best Screenplay; Simon Callow beat off stiff competition to take the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography with My Life in Pieces; and Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn was voted the Best Play of 2010 by the 45,000 theatre-going voters in the WhatsOnStage.com Awards.

Anne Boleyn jacket

This Sunday is the biggest theatre awards in the UK calendar – the Oliviers – and both Nina Raine’s Tribes and Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park are nominated for Best Play – the latter having already picked up the same prize at the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards. James Seabright, author of So You Want to be a Theatre Producer?, considers the impact of the Oliviers, and how he feels about being nominated for the first time…

‘This is an exciting year for the Olivier awards. A major relaunch funded by sponsorship from Mastercard has allowed its organisers, the Society of London Theatre, to give the whole event a much bigger public profile. This includes a red-carpet style ceremony this coming Sunday at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with extensive coverage on the BBC both in advance – through the Audience Award promoted via Radio 2 – and on the night, as you can watch the whole thing via the red button at home, or listen in on the radio.  I see all of these as very welcome developments, especially for the selfish reason that for the first time one of my productions has been nominated in the awards: Potted Panto is up for Best Entertainment.

So on Sunday, I will be donning a tuxedo (the last time I did was a decade ago!), and joining several colleagues from the show – and several hundred from the industry as a whole – at my first-ever red carpet awards ‘do’. The hope is that, despite the considerable competition presented by major hits in our category like The Railway Children and Ghost Stories, our show is smiled upon by the mysterious panel of Olivier voters.  Whether or not that happens – it will be a great opportunity to celebrate the success of the show, which is the third in the series of “Potted Productions” that I have developed with Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner since first seeing them perform an early version of Potted Potter at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006.  Potted Panto is the first of these to transfer to a proper West End run, hence making it eligible for Olivier consideration. So whatever the envelope reveals on Sunday,  the awards will be a welcome celebration of five years’ hard work developing a fringe format into a mainstream, award-nominated one.

As well as this year’s awards taking on a new format and enhanced presence in the public eye, it feels like there are some exciting developments in terms of up-and-coming theatre practitioners being acknowledged through the Olivier shortlists – and not just the single category given over to ‘Affiliate venues’, as the off-West End houses are euphemistically known. It is particularly welcome to see the wonderful work of the team at Opera Up Close being recognised with a nomination for their production of La Bohème, which moved all the way from a pub theatre in Kilburn to two record-breaking runs at Soho Theatre. Now that would be a quite extraordinary achievement, to win an Olivier above the publicly-funded opera houses. So for a whole host of reasons, selfish and otherwise, I’m hoping that the underdog wins out on Sunday night!’

So You Want To Be A Theatre ProducerJames Seabright runs his own production company Seabright Productions and is the author of So You Want To Be a Theatre Producer? (£12.99, 9781854595379). You can order your copy of this title – plus any of the award-winning books featured in this post – through the NHB website with free P&P by adding ‘AWARDS blog offer’ in the comments field (UK customers only).

Potted Panto is currently touring the UK to June 2011, click here for more information and to book tickets.

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THE KING’S SPEECH Special

Jacket of THE KING'S SPEECH Shooting Script

The King’s Speech dominated this year’s Oscars, winning awards for Best Film, Director, Actor and Original Screenplay. Here, its author, David Seidler, explains the inspiration behind the film – and why it is such a personal story to him.

The crackle of the radio always got me excited. I loved that radio. The case was made of wood. Bakelite, as plastic was called, was too fancy for a lad. My wooden radio had holes in it. I’d been given a toy drill for Christmas. Never give a drill to a small boy unless you want holes in everything.

The static, like an overture, readied me for the thrills to come. If I’d been particularly well behaved it might be an American favourite, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, or Bob Hope. This was an extra special occasion… the King was speaking tonight.

I remember his voice, high, and tense, with occasional pauses and hesitation. Yet the cumulative effect was marvellous: stalwart, staunch and stirring. Despite his stutter he was able to deliver glorious sentences that rallied the free world. He was my King (I felt so proud of being British), and although everyone in the world, ally and enemy alike, listened critically to every syllable he uttered, he doggedly persevered. So there was hope for me.

Childhood for those who stammer is not pleasant. You live in self-imposed silence because it is too painful to speak. Hard not to notice how uncomfortable everybody becomes: eyes glaze over, fingers tap, they want to get away as quickly as possible. Or try to be helpful, which is even worse. ‘Take your time… slow down… relax.’ If only it were that simple.

There was hope though. I heard it on my Swiss cheese radio. My parents told me, ‘The King was far worse than you.’ George VI of England, known as Bertie, gave inspiration to a little boy exiled to a former colony.

Of all the moments in the film, there is one that is especially close to my heart. It is a very crucial moment—although unfortunately earning the film a ridiculous R-rating (the same as Chain Saw in 3D) in the US and a 15, later reduced to 12A, in the UK. It’s a scene where the King swears and says the naughty f-word (which is heard every day in every school playground everywhere). The naughty word is not in the scene to shock, nor for prurient interest. It is there because it demonstrates an important aspect of stammer therapy that I learned from my own stutter, and which all speech therapists I’ve ever spoken to agree has validity.

image of David Seidler
David Seidler receives his Academy Award for ‘Best Original Screenplay’

I was sixteen and my defect had not eased. I’d been told if a stammer doesn’t disappear by the end of adolescence, the chances of its leaving decrease dramatically. That’s another reason I felt Bertie was so brave; he was still slogging away through his twenties, thirties and forties. That takes guts. Well, I got angry. My hormones were raging, but I couldn’t ask a girl out. Even if she said yes, what was the point, I couldn’t talk to her. Was this fair? I was a good lad who hadn’t done anything dreadful to anyone. Hadn’t slept with my mother or killed my father. Why was this awful burden being placed upon me? Naughty-word it! I’m a human being and I’ve a right to be heard. If I’m stuck with this naughty-word affliction for the rest of my life, well naughty-word it, the rest of you are just going to have to naughty-word listen to me!

That flipped an internal switch. The stutter melted away. Two weeks later I was auditioning for the school play. Even got a part. A small role in Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. I was a Christian, about to be eaten by a lion in the Coliseum, but I didn’t stutter as I died. I’m sure Bertie must’ve had a similar defiant defining moment. How else could he carry on so bravely. That’s why the naughty word is there.

Why tell the story at all, though? It’s old and forgotten. Well, one per cent of the population stammers. That’s an awful lot of stuttering. A great deal of living in silence. An awful lot of emotional pain and anguish. If this film brings hope to those afflicted and understanding as to their plight, I’ll be very well pleased. From the Introduction to The King’s Speech shooting script

‘A richly enjoyable, instantly absorbing true-life drama’ Guardian

‘Thanks to the best efforts of writer David Seidler… The King’s Speech isn’t just an enlightening period drama, but a very entertaining, heartfelt and surprisingly funny crowd-pleaser.’ Time Out

‘For a film about being horrendously tongue-tied, Seidler’s words are exquisitely measured, his insight as deep as it is softly spoken.’ Empire

David Seidler’s Oscar and Bafta-winning screenplay for The King’s Speech is published in the UK by Nick Hern Books (£12.99), and can be ordered through the NHB website with free P&P – quote ‘TKS blog offer’ in the comments field (UK customers only).