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Theatre Press Photo of 2016: My Top 10 Favourites

press photo Soggy Ceasar. Scene from 'Antioniusz i Kelopatra'. Photograph: Courtesy of Marcin Nowak.

A press photo captures an essence of a production that is seen by audiences in reviews and promotionals. So why not celebrate some of 2016’s most striking ones?

What should a press photo do? Mainly, they’re there so that people who haven’t seen to show know what the show looks like, and can make or break a potential audience member’s decision to see it. Does it make the show look dynamic and well produced? Does it capture the essence of the show that only a visual can provide?

Photography is an art in any field, but theatre photography is almost an art of it’s own, having to take into account set, lighting, movement of the cast, sometimes an audience, and a little bit of luck to really snap a great looking document of the show. Therefore, I’d like to celebrate some of the most striking press shots I came across and used in 2016, even if the production they’re attached to might not have been as great as the photos that were taken.

run

Star child. Tom Ross-Williams as Yonni in ‘Run’. Photograph: Courtesy of Richard Lakos.

Run (Vault Festival, London)

Photographer: Richard Lakos

What I love about this press photo is that it captures and energy, dynamism, and emotion that is inherent in Run. I’m a little bias towards this press photo because every time I look at it, it really evokes my memories, both awe-inspired and heartbreaking. I just love the composition too: the fact that Tom Ross-Williams has just shifted from the centrepoint, capturing his fluidity and energy in the show. The bareness of the walls at The Vaults means that the focus is clearly and cleanly on Ross-Williams, making him the (off-)centre of attention. It’s a really well captured moment that just can’t be staged: an opportunity seized at a perfect time, like making sure you don’t miss it at the Bunker this spring!

four play

Door play. Cai Brigden (left), Michael Gilbert (centre), and Peter Hannah. Photograph: Courtesy of Richard Lakos.

Four Play (Theatre503, London)

Photographer: Richard Lakos

Lakos, again, provides another favourite press photo of mine. This time, instead of being able to crystalise a locomotion, Lakos exploits a really great set. Cecilia Carey’s stage design has this wonderful central flat that for which director Jonathan O’Boyle uses to play with distance and separation between characters. This moment in Four Play, where one character is at the door about to send his partner away so he can engage in an agreed extra-relationship tryst with another man, is a brilliant illustration of just how well set design and direction really work together. Lakos’ press photo captures an intriguing enigma that captures a visual feel of fissures, distance, and uneasiness in the characters’ relationships and decisions.

something something lazarus

Chop shtick. Daisy Amphlett as Della in ‘Something Something Lazarus’. Photograph: Courtesy of Jamie Scott-Smith.

Something Something Lazarus (King’s Head Theatre, London)

Photographer: Jamie Scott-Smith

This was one of the boldest pieces of work to emerge for me last year, really playing with the idea of what a musical and theatre is. It was wild, unhinged, and completely nuts. I could have picked any one of Smith’s shots as they’re all fantastic, but this one is my particular favourite press photo. The presence of an offensive weapon adds a scintillating sense of caprice, especially clutched close to Daisy Amphlett’s body as it is. But it’s also Amphlett’s expression that really makes this a perfectly captured press photo. Her look of fear really evokes a sense of danger and uncertainty that is really thrilling and exciting. The press photo desperately wants you to know what happens next, both with the axe and Amphlett’s involvement with it.

anna karenina

Dancing with desire. Ellia Jacob (left) and Will Mytum (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Davor Tovarlaza.

Anna Karenina (Jack Studio Theatre, London)

Photographer: Davor Tovarlaza

I can’t remember if there was actually any fake snow during this moment of the show, although fake snow was definitely used. So it does beg the question whether this is a great example of a staged shot or a great example of capturing a moment in action. Either way, the composition of it is superb. Again, the off-centre placement of the characters suggests movement. But what I really love is how the thickness of the fake snow seems to gradually thin out as you’re drawn towards the figures. Combine this with the intense expressions between Ellia Jacob and Will Mytum, it’s a press photo that is saturated with dangerous and dramatic high romance that really sums up Anna Karenina.

british theatre

Something rattled someone’s cage. Scene from ‘The Quentin Dentin Show’. Photograph: Courtesy of Micaela Bodlovic.

The Quentin Dentin Show (Above the Arts, London)

Photographer: Micaela Bodlovic

I love this press photo from what was a riot of a new rock musical, because it just captures the craziness of The Quentin Dentin Show so magnificently. It’s mad, it’s extreme, and it’s audacious. It’s also a brilliant account of Luke Lane’s truly demonic performance that really encapsulated the sheer unhinged nature of The Quentin Dentin Show. It’s a great example of a press shot that has caught a moment of action at exactly the best millisecond. We can also look forward to a return of The Quentin Dentin Show this year at the Tristan Bates Theatre this summer, with Tom Crowley, who worked on the stage adaptation of cult musical follow-up to The Rocky Horror Show, Shock Treatment being brought on board to revise the book.

Treasure Island

Come sail away. Harold Addo as Jim in ‘Treasure Island’. Photograph: Courtesy of Hannah Barton.

Treasure Island (St Paul’s Church, London)

Photographer: Hannah Barton

Getting a press photo during dress rehearsals is difficult enough, which is when they’re usually taken (ever notice empty chairs or a complete lack of audience?). Getting a good one during an actual performance is even more difficult. Not only does this press photo capture the luscious lighting design of the production, but also the engagement of its young audience. You’re as curiously involved in what’s going on as they seem to be here. This press photo really conjures the intrigue and whimsy at the start of Treasure Island that keeps you hooked (pun not intended, because that would be Peter Pan) in what was Iris Theatre’s most daring endeavor to date.

Cut

Cat cut your tongue? Hannah Norris in ‘Cut’. Photograph: Courtesy of Gary Cockburn.

Cut (Underbelly Festival, London)

Photographer: Gary  Cockburn

Gary Cockburn’s press photo captures a the frightening violence that was inherent in Cut. The show itself was incredibly experimental and dealt with an incredibly menacing and uncomfortable subject in a unmercifully oppressive and claustrophobic environment. Hannah Norris’ intense performance is wonderfully enshrined here during an intense juxtaposition of her character as both aggressor and victim: strident but simultaneously exhibiting a deep terror. We get a sense of the literal and abstract darkness that the production often plunges its audience into. It’s another press photo that makes you want to know more about what the hell is going on.

Cargo

This little light of mine. Milly Thomas in ‘Cargo’. Photograph: Courtesy of Mark Douet.

Cargo (Arcola Theatre, London)

Photographer: Mark Douet

This was possibly the one play last year that had the most profound and core-shaking impact on me last year. The design for the actual production was inspired. Cargo is play set inside a shipping container where refugees are trying to enter a country “illegally”. The production actually took place in a mock-up of a shipping container in Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre. What I love about this press shot is how it captures the light symbolising hope in darkness (for which there was a lot of in the actual production), but also Milly Thomas’ face is a haunting, enhanced by the shawdoy up-lighting of her mobile phone. Douet’s press photo is almost phantasmagorical and evokes a renaissance painting, giving me chills every time I look at it.

Tis a Pity She's a Whore

Bad romance. Scene from ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore’. Photograph: Courtesy of Adam Trigg.

Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

Photographer: Adam Trigg

It’s really difficult to chose a press photo by Adam Trigg’s from what is, in my opinion, Lazarus Theatre’s best production yet: vivid and dripping with menace. However, this one stands out by an inch because it captures a melancholy against the maelstrom of pandemonic movement direction that director Ricky Dukes frantically stirs into things. Trigg can’t take 100% of the credit though, as what helps them get this fabulous shot is the primary-colours-on-crack lighting design that made this production of Tis Pity She’s A Whore a crazed, trippy, and rabid piece of theatrical brilliance. It really is the colours that makes the press photo that extra visually striking to the point of almost being sickeningly rich, but none the less a sumptuous feast for your irises.

Soggy Ceasar. Scene from ‘Antioniusz i Kelopatra’. Photograph: Courtesy of Marcin Nowak.

Antoniusz i Kleopatra (Teatr Jaaracza, Łodz)

Seeing Antoniusz i Kleopatra was probably the maddest thing I did last year: a completely barmy explosion of Shakespeare, completely in Polish, that had me enrapt for two interval-less hours despite not understanding a word said! Again, any press photo for this production could easily be my favourite; all of them capture the insane energy and avant garde craziness, but this one captures it best. This is great Cesar’s ghost (or at least, I’m 90% sure that’s who it is from what I could decipher from the programme) dancing in the literally ashy pool of water at the front of the stage. It captures the very verve of the play so nicely: unhinged, wild, and a little bit very dirty/sexy. This is another press photo that was captured at just the right moment, and it would be extremely difficult to recreate this and get the same spontaneous “wow”.