British talent triumphs on Broadway

West End Plays Star In America's Dramatic Top 10
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The Independent Online
HALF OF the best theatre productions staged in the US this year have been British, according to Time magazine.

In a pleasing irony, while much has been made of the Hollywood invasion of the British theatre - with Nicole Kidman and Kevin Spacey winning awards on the West End stage - Broadway has been sampling and lauding the best of British talent.

Time has published its annual list of the best shows of the year and, of the 10 plays, 5 are British. Top of the list is The Beauty Queen of Leenane, followed by Sam Mendes' production of Cabaret, starring Natasha Richardson. Not About Nightingales - Trevor Nunn's adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play - Trainspotting, and Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, with male swans, also feature.

William Tynan, chief theatre reporter at Time, said the list reflected the quality of British writing. "A lot of the success of British plays is down to snob value, where people come because they have heard about a play that has done well in London. But British writers have been more active in the theatre, whereas American writers tend to get wooed away to the movies or television."

Martin McDonagh, who wrote The Beauty Queen of Leenane is, admittedly Irish, as are the casts of his play, but The Beauty Queen was one of a trilogy of his plays put on, championed and exported by the Royal Court Theatre.

Broadway's top 10 contains other examples of challenging interpretations that have shown British companies at their most inventive. Adventures in Motion Pictures' Swan Lake, starring the former Royal ballet star Adam Cooper and choreographed by AMP's Matthew Bourne, re- invented a classic and achieved the unthinkable of giving ballet a sell- out West End run before transferring to the States. In Cabaret, America glimpsed the precocious talents of the Donmar Warehouse director Mendes as well as a couple of marvellous performances from Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson.

Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting is more than well known, giving a graphic and intense, witty and violent account ofdrug and dole culture in an Edinburgh far removed from the Royal Mile.

But the piece that must have given the Americans more food for thought than any other is Not About Nightingales. This was Tennessee Williams' first play, and never performed until it was put on at the National Theatre.

This early work from one of America's greatest playwrights was directed by Trevor Nunn, artistic director of the National Theatre and brought to the stage by Vanessa Redgrave, Natasha Richardson's mother, after long negotiations with the Williams estate.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Playwright: Martin McDonough

Director: Garry Hynes

Star: Marie Mulle, Anna Manahan

US critic's view: A well-made plot that keeps bending in unexpected ways. Flawlessly performed... it is one of the major theatrical experiences of the Nineties.

Not About Nightingales

Director: Trevor Nunn

Star: Corin Redgrave and Finbar Lynch

US critic's view: Looking back, Tennessee Williams probably found his early, unproduced play crude and lacking in poetry. Both are true. But Trevor Nunn's intense production (which had its American debut at the Alley Theatre in Houston) also shows off the sheer raw power of a dramatist on the verge of greatness.

Cabaret

Director: Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall

Star: Natasha Richardson, Alan Cumming

US critic's view: Cumming gave Grey's Wilkommen a sinister new twist as the MC; Richardson embodied a defiantly deglamourised Sally Bowles; and British director Mendes made the terrific musical even more terrific.

Trainspotting

Director: Harry Gibson

Star: Seth Ullian, Sebastian Roche

US critic's view: The Scottish slackers of Welsh's novel are even grungier in the stage adaptation than on-screen... Rich dialogue and fine acting turn it into a memorable trip to the lower depths. Including the infamous toilet bowl.

Adventures in

Motion Pictures' Swan Lake

Director: Matthew Bourne

Star: Adam Cooper

US critic's view: You mean, the swans were once played by women?

That is an understandable reaction to Matthew Bourne's acclaimed version of the ballet, with its all- male corps of swans. It is no cross-dressing stunt but a visually luscious and dramatically convincing reinterpretation on an old favourite.

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