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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK

Brits on Broadway

Dame Judi blazes the British flag at the Tony Awards

By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Last week's Tony Awards, Broadway's equivalent of the Oscars, has fuelled more talk of a backlash against the unusually large number of British and Irish plays that have arrived on the Great White Way this past season.

Those looking for evidence point to the fact that a small American play called Side Man, about the impact a jazz musician's career choice has on his family, won the coveted best play award, squeezing out artistically praised British and Irish imports.

The three other best play contenders passed over by Tony voters include British playwright Patrick Marber's dark, sexy tragi-comedy Closer; the British co-production of the recently unearthed Tennessee Williams early play Not About Nightingales; and Martin McDonagh's Irish tale of dysfunctional brothers, The Lonesome West.

Side Man's triumph

[ image: No signs of an anti-British backlash on Broadway]
No signs of an anti-British backlash on Broadway
On closer inspection there may be valid artistic reasons why Side Man triumphed. It is heartfelt, and well observed, whereas Patrick Marber's work is clever but extremely cold.

Also, Tennessee Williams' play was beautifully staged, but as a piece of writing it only included elements of the genius that later emerged.

As for The Lonesome West, it was seen by many as a poorer version of Martin McDonagh's more celebrated work The Beauty Queen of leenane.

Those at the very forefront of the current British invasion dismiss any notion of a backlash.

Dame Judi Dench did manage to triumph by winning the best actress in a play Tony for her performance in the David Hare drama Amy's View.

She told me she had not experienced any resentment at all: "I must say that not for one single second have we felt that, not any of us, not any of the British on Broadway have found that, so I don't know where that information came from."

David Hare overlooked

[ image: Dame Judi: No resentment]
Dame Judi: No resentment
Talk of a backlash first began to emerge when it was found that David Hare, Britain's most successful contemporary playwright on Broadway, had been overlooked.

In the past year Hare has had three productions on the New York stage: Amy's View, The Blue Room, and his own one man work, Via Dolorosa.

It was reported at the time of the nominations that he felt wounded by the Tony omission.

Although he insisted he wasn't, there are valid reasons why Hare's two plays might not have won nominations.

The Blue Room, that memorable act of "theatrical Viagra" starring Nicole Kidman, created a lot of heat but not much light.

Personally, I thought Amy's View was a brilliant play, but I can understand how American critics could find it rambling and incoherent.

Transferring plays overseas

[ image: Kevin Spacey: Missed out]
Kevin Spacey: Missed out
If there is any resentment it could be coming from the actors union American Equity.

Some of its members are concerned by the large number of British and Irish actors on the New York stage.

The union has already put the brakes on the smash London revival of the musical Oklahoma coming to New York by barring the producers from using a British cast.

Kevin Spacey fought hard to bring some British cast members with him when The Iceman Cometh transferred to New York.

At the Tonys he told me that "we really are a global theatre", and in regard to the strict exchange policies governing the transfer of actors he thinks "the wall should start to be chipped away at".

There have been other murmurings that the policies governing the transfer of British and American productions need to be revised.

There may have been one or two minor slights, but to my mind the Americans committed no major transgressions in their response to the welter of imports from London.

Taking everything into account it strikes me that Broadway critics, audiences and yes, even the Tony voters were remarkably generous to British theatre this year.

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