Entertainment & Arts

English Touring Theatre launches search for nation's favourite play

Penelope Keith in Hayfever/ Still from dress rehearsal of Hamlet in Moscow in 2006
Image caption Top plays? Penelope Keith in Hayfever and dress rehearsal of Hamlet in Moscow in 2006

Will it be Hamlet or Hayfever? Julius Caesar or Jerusalem?

One of the country's leading touring theatre companies is launching an online vote to find the nation's favourite play.

The poll is the idea of English Touring Theatre to mark its 21st birthday celebrations.

The company plans to perform nine of the most popular plays in 2014 alongside its regular touring schedule of 12 - making 21 plays in total.

"It's a surprisingly simple yet tricky question: what is your favourite play?" said Rachel Tackley, who has been the English Touring Theatre's director since 2008. "We're very excited and curious to see what the nation votes for."

She told the BBC it was the company's patron, Sir Ian McKellen, who suggested the 21 play idea.

"For a company our size that's a massive undertaking, but as I considered which plays audiences would want to see, I thought 'why don't we ask them?'" she said.

The vote, open to people in the UK and abroad, is thought to be first time anything has been attempted on this scale since the National Theatre's NT2000 poll to catalogue the 100 most important plays of the 20th Century.

The most selected plays in that list were Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.

In this year's poll, voters get one chance to vote for any original, English language play from any period of time. Musicals, translations or adaptations are not counted. The vote closes on Sunday 8 December 2013.

Winners from each region will be announced ahead of the overall winner.

"I'm interested in the regional aspect, because we tour all over the country," said Ms Tackley. "Whether people in the north-west will choose the same things as people in the south-west. I didn't want to have a very London-centric vote."

Her own favourite play choice is Conor McPherson's The Weir (1997) which she describes as "a beautiful story with a real punch to it". The play was recently revived in "a pitch-perfect" production, directed by Josie Rourke, at London's Donmar Warehouse.

"I think a lot of people will find it hard get down to one choice," she added, admitting poll results can often be divisive.

"Of course people are going to argue, and there will be lots of people - possibly including myself - who don't like the result, but that's the risk we're taking."

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