With the Olivier Awards 2018 this weekend, theatre editor Daniel Perks looks back at some of the Off West End Awards winners for 2018.

The weekend of the Olivier Awards 2018 is upon us – the best and brightest of the West End and its affiliate theatres will descend on the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the last 12 months of theatrical talent and tenacity. But only five weeks ago, another award ceremony was held. It’s one that Miro Magazine are proud to have covered, one that fits much closer with our ethos of championing the emerging creative. These were the Off West End Awards 2018, or the Offies.

The Albany played home to this year’s ceremony, now in its seventh year. 91 nominees resulted in 26 awards across the spectrum – plays, musicals and young people’s theatre; directors, actors, playwrights and designers. Here at Miro, on the weekend that celebrates UK commercial theatre at its brightest, we wanted to shine the spotlight back on a selection of the winners from the fringe theatre scene.

Off West End Offies 2018

Next up are the winners of the Best Opera Production Award – the show Tosca, produced by the King’s Head Theatre. I caught up with soprano and librettist, Becca Marriott, to chat about the awards, the production and how it felt to be both an Offies 2018 winner and an Olivier Award nominee:

Tosca King's Head Theatre

Becca Marriott

How does it feel to be an Off West End winner?

“The standard of Off West End theatre is exceptionally high. In the opera world, Off West End productions are exciting and dangerous, on the cutting edge, free from some of the constraints of traditional stratospheric budget West End shows. Therefore, to win an award like this is a huge honour and privilege. It also feels like a real vindication of the form of opera that we as a team are leading exponents of – not just miniaturisations of grand operas, but complete re-imaginings of operas, perfectly created for small, specific spaces and casts.”

Tell me about your experience of working on Tosca.

“For me, the show was a long and exciting journey.

It began with the story.

“At the centre of the plot of Puccini and Sardou’s original is a dying despotic regime, bolstered by violence and religion. However, the fall of the kingdom of Naples to Napolean over 200 years ago is not an event most people can relate to. The collapse of Nazism at the end of the Second World War is the obvious mirror to this period in history. We wanted to look at the Second World War through a slightly different lens and look at Nazism as it was experienced in France under the French gestapo – the Carlingue.

“We started with a huge amount of research, then we considered cuts that would work musically and facilitate reducing the cast to only four actors. Only after all that was it time to write the words. There is a fine balance to be found between lyrical and poetic language, between words that feel natural and that the audience feel the character would have used.

“The rehearsal room for Tosca was an explosive, dynamic and creative space. Working on studio opera differs widely from working on huge productions – singers have to show initiative and create their roles in minute detail, as every move is under the microscope. It’s no use simply following a map of moves invented by the director, the approach has to be far more method. We did a huge amount of work on movement, touch and relationships; it adds the danger of improvisation to the safety of script and music.”

Roger Paterson; Thomas Isherwood; Michael Georgiou & Becca Marriott

How does the field of opera compare between shows eligible for Offies Awards and those eligible for Olivier Awards? As someone who has won in one category and is nominated in another, I’m sure you’ve got a pretty unique perspective on the two!

Since the award for Best New Opera Production was introduced, the Olivier Awards have been dominated by the English National Opera and The Royal Opera; occasional nods to Welsh National Opera, Opera North and large touring opera companies at huge venues – with only one exception. Seven years ago, OperaUpClose were awarded an Olivier for La Bohème at The Soho Theatre.

“Our recent nomination for La Bohème at Trafalgar Studios Two pits us against two Royal Opera Productions. The difference in scale and budget doesn’t bear thinking about. For these major awards to recognise that the form of studio opera is as worthy of recognition as large scale opera house productions is very satisfying.

“Our Offies win saw us competing against companies with similar budgets and similar projects – to bring opera out of the opera houses and to a wider audience.”

To win an Offie tells you that you are at the top of your game; being nominated for an Olivier tells the world that your game is as valuable as that being played by the really big boys.

Tosca King's Head Theatre

Becca Marriott

 Why and how did you become interested in making opera in the first place? 

“My background as a performer was in acting, stand-up and improvised comedy, so I know how rewarding small-scale theatre can be for both performers and audience members. When I started studying classical singing and performing as an opera singer, I didn’t want to lose this tangible connection with the audience.”

Studio Opera seemed like the perfect medium.

 Who, or what, are your inspirations?

“My biggest inspiration is, and always has been, the audience – both as a performer and an adaptor. Trying to put myself in the audience’s shoes – to see, hear and feel what they will is the foundation of all my work.

“My other big inspiration is history and politics. Sometimes you see or study an event and it makes you want to explore this in a powerful and moving way that will engage and audience and make them think differently.”

Do you have any future/ upcoming projects that you’d like to highlight?

“I’m currently working with Helena Jackson (Associate Director on Tosca) and Panaretos Kyriazidis (Musical Director on Tosca) on a new four-person adaptation of Verdi’s La Traviata to be performed at the King’s Head Theatre in the Autumn. This production has a very modern twist, looking at depression, sex work, the media and political hypocrisy. I’m very excited about how it is coming together and the challenges and opportunities Verdi’s score presents to a studio opera adaptor.

 

 

 

The Off West End Awards 2018 were held on 4 March 2018. For more information about the ceremony or the company, visit the website.

For more information about Becca Marriott and the King’s Head Theatre, visit their website.