Voting has opened for the first-ever West End Wilma Theatre Awards which will take place on Friday, 7 November 2014 at the Freedom Bar in London’s Soho, hosted by actor, director and presenter Tim McArthur and presented before a specially invited audience over afternoon tea and some live performances (check out all the nominees and take the opportunity to vote by clicking HERE). To find out more about the new awards, Musical Theatre Review’s Michael Darvell set some questions for WEST END WILMA herself…
What finally made you decide to have the West End Wilma Awards?
It is something people have been suggesting I do for a while now. There are lots of great awards that recognise theatre achievements, but I wanted to put my own spin on things which I hope is reflected in some of the categories I have chosen. I produced a cabaret show last year (Wilma and Friends) and so feel confident that I have enough knowledge to have a go at doing an awards show. It’s all shaping up to be rather fabulous and I’m very excited!
The awards’ nominees comprise a collection of your reviewers’ favourite shows in each category to form a shortlist, which has now been put on your website for the public to vote. Do you think this the fairest way to do it, rather than just having your own personal vote, based on your reviewers’ opinions?
I have a core group of reviewers, many of which have been with me for years, and I trust and value their opinions. I wanted to get their input into who they think deserves these awards as they have seen shows and people I may not have had a chance to.
You have wisely avoided repeating the same categories that most theatre awards have. This was presumably an intention to make the West End Wilma Awards different from all the others?
There would be no point in putting on ‘another awards show’ if it was going to be the same as every other one. There are categories that I don’t think we really see anywhere else that I wanted to include so I thought why not do my own!
Apart from the three production awards of Best West End Show, Best Fringe Show and Best Touring Production, there are only three performance awards, for Best Supporting Cast Member, Best Take-Over in a Role and the Rising Star Award. Is this to emphasise that theatre is a collaborative effort rather than a star vehicle for one or two actors, and not forgetting minor roles, newcomers and replacements that may often be overlooked by other reviewers?
Theatre is about so much more than just which celebrities we have enjoyed seeing in shows. The venues are important for the enjoyment of the experience and the blogs are where we find out all the latest information so it really is about recognising the whole package.
Do you think the award for the Most Underrated West End Show may help productions that are struggling or, if they have closed already, give hope to the producers?
I think it’s a nice way of acknowledging shows that are often overlooked, forgotten about or that don’t survive for very long for what ever reason. Some of the ones that made the shortlist are still on in the West End and not necessarily even struggling but somehow still seem to be forgotten about.
It might be difficult to judge the Most Welcoming Venue, considering what potential audiences have to put up with – high ticket prices, booking fees, rip-off programmes, exorbitant refreshment prices, uncomfortable old buildings and the occasional falling ceiling. Do you think audiences, generally speaking, get a good deal from today’s theatres?
The award for most welcoming venue started out as three separate categories; best front of house usher, best theatre bar and best fringe venue. I decided that these categories all fit under the umbrella of ‘Most Welcoming Venue’. Ticket prices and programme costs haven’t been factored into the decision for this category, as often these decisions are out of the theatres’ hands and dictated by the shows themselves. I’m not sure we get any better a deal from theatres than we do anywhere else in life these days! London is expensive. It can be the people and the vibe of a place that makes the experience more enjoyable.
You have an award for the Best Theatre Blog. Are there many of these in contention in the West End Wilma Awards?
As theatre blogs we are all doing similar things. I think it’s nice to give other blogs a pat on the back and recognise that they are doing a good job. I think it is great if we can all work together and help each other out rather than seeing each other as competition in the market place. We all have our different strengths and I think it is important to focus on what makes us different from each other and embrace each other’s good points.
You have one category for Best West End Show, which could presumably be a play, a musical, a concert or a cabaret. Will it be difficult to come to a decision with such a wide field?
I’ve recently finalised the shortlists for all the awards and this was an interesting one to decide on. There were some shows that I was adamant I didn’t want to shortlist because they are so popular and have already won a lot of awards. I wanted to give some other, equally good shows a chance to shine. But by talking it through with my team we all realised that we had to include one particular show because it really does tick all the right boxes. And I guess that is why it has done so well. Of the four shows that have made the shortlist, I couldn’t even begin to guess which will win as they are all incredible.
The Lifetime Achievement Award will be a hot topic…
I have to say there are a couple in this category that I wouldn’t have really thought about if I hadn’t discussed it with my team. That’s why I think it was so important to get their opinions as well as my own. They are all women in this category which wasn’t intentional, but I didn’t want to swap one out for a man just to be politically correct.
In the event of a tie, would you have the casting vote in any category?
In terms of shortlisting the nominees yes, I had final say. I would be very surprised if the public vote was tied but I guess I would have to make a call on it if that were to happen.
Have the past 12 months been a good year for you in the theatre?
Yes. I think there have been some great shows and some wonderful performances. Of course there have been some shows I would happily never watch again, but as they say, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. That is the beauty of theatre!
Have you noticed any trends – good or bad in the London theatre?
I think there will always be trends as theatre has to remain current. In the age of reality TV there have been a lot of shows appearing based on films, TV shows and pop groups. While many of these haven’t been what I would consider ‘great theatre’, it is understandable that with ticket prices as high as they are, people are more keen to see something they have an association with already, rather than something new they know nothing about.
* West End Wilma runs around London interviewing performers, reviewing shows and blogging about theatre. Earlier this year Wilma was voted Ticketmaster’s Theatre Blog of the Year 2014.
* Public voting for the West End Wilma Awards closes in 14 October.