August 13: Friday Diary: Constellations, Laura Osnes, and US theatre’s ‘tentative’ comeback

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A constellation of stars at Constellations
One of the smartest — and boldest — bits of producing for the post-lockdown theatre re-opening has been the Donmar Warehouse’s revival of its artistic director Michael Longhurst’s original 2012 Royal Court production of Nick Payne’s Constellations at the Vaudeville. I saw that original production — in the tiny Theatre Upstairs at the Court — when it starred Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, and again after it moved to the Duke of York’s in the West End; then again on Broadway in 2015 (Jake Gyllenhaal/Ruth Wilson).

This current West End run (to September 12) has featured four diverse couples — by age, race and sexuality — and rather wonderfully critics have been invited to see all four companies. Of course we think nothing of seeing multiple Hamlets, Macbeths or Romeo and Juliets across a year, so why not return to see the same play again and again?

Each press day has allowed us to see the play twice over on the same day, too, which really underlines the similarities and well as differences between them. Each combination brings their own nuances, interactions and comic business to the play — Chris O’Dowd last night, for instance, had a delightful routine with a balloon; while the engagement scene when Russell Tovey proposes to Omari Douglas got a spontaneous round of delighted applause yesterday afternoon.

But more than this, given that the play is about “multiverses” and the possibility that our lives are being lived by others elsewhere, there’s a rich resonance to seeing different combinations of actors living them in slightly different ways. It may be that we’re living on pre-determined tracks; but we also can’t help being unique.

This production was a pretty unique opportunity to turn this short play into a major event: one that demands — and rewards — repeated viewings. I’m so glad I saw them all.

Of course, it was not possible to represent every possible coupling; I remember when it was first announced I saw a woman on Twitter complaining that the production ‘erased’ lesbians by not incorporating a lesbian couple. But what’s wonderful is that the play can (and no doubt will) be done like that one day.

Another battle line is being drawn….
While the West End has prevaricated on implementing COVID protocols to keeping its actors and audiences safe — not requiring proof of full vaccination status for either, and recommending, but not insisting, on mask wearing for instance — in America venues are laying down the law: that proof of full vaccinations are required before actors can work or audiences enter theatres.

This week loyal Trump supporter Laura Osnes has been reported to have been let go from a concert performance of Crazy for You, due to be staged in the Hamptons on August 29, after refusing to be vaccinated against COVID. But she’s keeping herself busy at home offering a Corona Clearance sale on her Cameo videos:

She is due in London in January to be reunited with Jeremy Jordan, her original co-star of the 2012 Broadway flop Bonnie and Clyde, for two concert performances of the show at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

When fellow Broadway star Sutton Foster was heading here to appear in Anything Goes (now incidentally the latest show to be suffered a COVID cancellation yesterday), an 11-year-old video surfaced of her doing an allegedly racist tribute to Jennifer Holliday.

There were calls in some quarters for her run to be cancelled; she of course opened here in triumph, but addressed the controversy in an interview in The Stage, explaining how she came to sing the song in the first place:

“One of the songs I decided I wanted to sing was And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls, because I love the show and I am obsessed with Jennifer Holliday. And I, at the time, made this decision to sing it emulating her. It’s hard as now I only have the perspective of today to look back and realise how insensitive and thoughtless that was, to make that choice to perform it that way – and I am just so sorry to anyone I have offended or hurt, especially her, as I revere her. I was mortified that I had not realised it, that is why I am like: ‘Oh my gosh.’ It would be so much better if I had realised it.”

On the first day of rehearsals, she duly publicly apologised to the cast and crew:

“I wanted to look people in the eye. No one knows me. I didn’t want anything to cast doubt on who I was or what I stood for, or the type of space I am so passionate about creating. We have had this devastating year and we have this opportunity to come back as an industry and be better. And I am this major advocate for creating a space that is safe and inclusive, where everyone is seen and valued and heard, and where everyone can do their best work. I wanted to be completely transparent to everyone in that room, as I was mortified I would lose anyone’s trust, so I wanted to clear the slate from the beginning.”

I wonder what Laura Osnes will do to regain people’s trust, should her London debut in Bonnie and Clyde go ahead. In a tweet responding to how Osnes is a Trump supporter, actor Cedric Neal tweeted this:

Notwithstanding Foster’s clarification (published July 9), he was still trash-tweeting about her on July 22.

I fear this says a lot more about Neal than it does about Foster.

Theatre’s US comeback….

LA Times critic Charles McNulty tweeted on Wednesday:

“Tentative” is a great word. And for all the attempts to restore business-as-usual in the West End, we’ve seen how this has been playing out, with shows forced to take regular hiatuses when members of the company or crew test positive. Of course, next week the rules change, and an enforced ten day self-quarantine can be replaced by a negative test.

But we need to step up with more preventative measures, like requiring companies to be fully vaccinated. Otherwise the chronic uncertainty around whether shows will be summarily shut down, for a single night or multiple nights, will only continue.