Sonia Friedman featured in the telegraph magazine
14 April 2015
Sonia Friedman, 49, is one of Britain’s most prolific and influential theatre producers, having started her career at the National Theatre. She has produced more than 145 shows in the West End and on Broadway.
Sonia Friedman, 49, is one of Britain’s most prolific and influential theatre producers, having started her career at the National Theatre. She has produced more than 145 shows in the West End and on Broadway. At the 2014 Laurence Olivier Awards she was the first producer to win the awards for best new play (Chimerica), best new musical (Book of Mormon), best play revival (Ghosts) and best musical revival (Merrily We Roll Along) in the same year, picking up 13 in total; this year she is up for 17 at tonight’s Olivier awards ceremony. Friedman lives in a converted pub in east London with her boyfriend and two bichon frisé dogs, Teddy and Buddy.
Daily routine The dogs sleep on the bed and I often wake up with Buddy sucking my ear. I’m a terrible morning person – so I stumble around making coffee, then check my BlackBerry in bed for overnight US business, before leaving for my office at the Duke of York’s Theatre. I’ve currently got 10 shows running, closing, or getting ready to transfer or tour, and many more in development, so it’s impossible to get home before 11.
Piano My mother got this piano [pictured] for me, so I’m sentimental about it. She wanted to be a concert pianist, but when she was 32 her husband left her with four children under the age of 10 so she gave up her dream and did whatever she could to support us. She was an Egyptologist and a London guide, and she lectured at the National Gallery. At 83 she still teaches the piano; I’m in awe of her. As a wilful child, I resisted learning piano, but I’ve been teaching myself – it’s one of the things I do to unwind. I’m very self-conscious, though; I play when the house is empty.
Childhood We were tricky children because we’re all creative and single-minded and have an issue with authority. My mother sort of gave up on trying to get us to do things normally, and let us create our own world. We’d sit around the dinner table eating scraps from the fridge while my brother Ricky, who’s a musician, made music from anything that was around. Then we’d make his music into a story, or record it with my sister Maria [Friedman, the actress] and me singing. It was heaven.
Education I trained as a stage manager at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and last year they made me an honorary fellow [certificate pictured]. It’s particularly special to me because I had a pretty sketchy education. I left my first school because of bullying, was expelled from my second, left my third because we couldn’t afford the fees, and didn’t complete my A-levels because I got run over. I truanted a lot between the ages of 11 and 13 and missed a crucial period of my education, but it also formed who I am.
Pub living I bought the pub about 15 years ago, when it was only half-converted and full of bar stools and pumps. There’s still a dumb waiter in the basement, which is now the room I watch films in. Over the years I’ve had a lot of people living here – nine at one point. It’s quite theatre-free, so when I come home it’s not all about work.
Shed When I bought the property the garden was just a garage but there was this gorgeous little shed [click for picture] in the corner. A few landscape gardeners have told me to take it down, but I can’t bring myself to. Inside it’s a beautiful place to sit and contemplate or read.
Light-bulb moment I fell in love with theatre when I was about 13. Maria was in Oklahoma! at the Palace Theatre and invited me to watch from the wings. I sat on a stool in the prompt corner and soon realised I was much more interested in what was going on behind the scenes. Eventually I tried to sign up for an evening class in make-up, but it was full. They convinced me to take stage management and swap to make-up if anybody dropped out. But I fell in love with stage management.
Bear This bear is about 110 and lived at my grandma’s house, where I spent a lot of time when I was growing up. I always slept with the teddy, and when my grandma passed away he was the only thing I wanted, even though the house was full of beautiful furniture and antiques. He doesn’t have a name; I feel like he’s still my grandma’s and I’m just looking after him.
First job My first job interview was with Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright in their kitchen in the King’s Road. They wanted a stage manager for a double bill in Edinburgh. I don’t know why I was interviewed by them – it wouldn't normally happen like that. I don’t think my grandmother and mother were ever more proud than the day I got that job.
Country escape What I like doing more than anything is taking long walks with my boyfriend and dogs. I have a Tudor cottage in Hampshire, which is my haven, my therapy. It’s set on hundreds of acres of private land, so we walk for miles. I go for a weekend and it feels like being away for a week.
Table I produced Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece Arcadia in 2009, and this table [click for picture] was designed for it. I immediately knew that, come the end of the run, it was coming back home with me – partly because it’s a work of art but also because Tom is one of my best friends. Now I have a constant reminder of the beauty of the man.
Instincts I’ve never known how I choose shows that end up being so successful but I do have a strong hunch when something won’t work, and I’m usually right. I choose shows to nourish myself, too, and I feel a responsibility to champion certain types of work. When I first saw The Nether [a dark play about the future of the internet] I knew that it had to have a life beyond the Royal Court, but I was already so busy. I asked the director, ‘Is there really no one else that will transfer this?’ He said there wasn’t so I took it on. I will be very disappointed if it doesn’t work commercially but proud to have done it.
Poster In the mid-to-late 1980s I became very passionate about the Aids cause and felt I had to do something. My friend [the actress and director] Kelly Hunter and I came up with an idea to have celebrities working in all of Covent Garden’s shops, pubs and restaurants for one day. We called it Shop Assistance [click for picture]. We created a huge day of fundraising and awareness that led to people shaking buckets in theatres on World Aids Day, which is now one of the biggest fundraising campaigns in theatre. I’m often asked what I’m most proud of, and in many respects it’s that. I can sit in theatres on December 1 and think, ‘I did my bit.’
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