Diary of a Theatre Addict: 49 shows in 6 weeks!

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palace-theatreMy two absolutely favourite shows have now departed the West End — Bend it Like Beckham (which closed last Saturday, order but I’m sure will be back) and Close to You. Coupled with a slew of other recent scheudled closures, information pills the West End is suddenly an unaccountably dark place — in addition to the Phoenix and the Criterion, and also dark this week are the Palace (pictured right), Wyndham’s and Prince Edward, as well as mostly the London Palladium (though it is staging one-nighters).

And the imminent closures this week of Guys and Dolls at the Savoy and War Horse at the New London will soon join the list of dark theatres.

All of them, of course, have their next shows already lined up, so it’s not for long — Hangmen, which closed at Wyndham’s last Saturday, is being replaced but People and Places and Things from next March 15; Guys and Dolls goes to the Phoenix from the Savoy from March 19.

But as Whatsonstage recently reported, as of March 13 there will be approximately 8,000 seats across the West End empty (in addition to the unsold inventory elsewhere) — almost 20% of all seats in the West End.

As Ryan Woods, Head of Sales and marketing at London Theatre Bookings, tells Whatsonstage, “I don’t think there has ever been a point where 20 per cent of the West End has been completely inaccessible. Spring can always be a time for change but even looking further ahead, large houses remain empty, the Victoria Palace is due to close for refurbishment and Aladdin doesn’t open at the Prince Edward until the end of May. It’s very unusual to have this amount of seats just not available.”

That doesn’t mean London is a wasteland — far from it. Here are some of the shows opening this week and my top tips for what’s still playing.

MAIN THEATRE OPENINGS OF THE WEEK??

motown-logoMotown – Shaftesbury Theatre
Import from Broadway of the ultimate pop catalogue of Motown, the Detroit record label founded in the 60s by Berry Gordy who has itself authored the book for this show. It  launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and more, whose music all variously features in the show, opening officially on March 8.

Bar Mitzvah Boy — Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Fringe outing for the short-lived 1978 West End musical that has a score with music by Jule Styne (Gypsy, Funny Girl), and lyrics by the Oscar-winning Don Black (currently represented int he West End by Mrs Henderson Presents, see below, and soon to be represented by the revival of Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum that he also wrote lyrics for). It opens on March 10.

MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THIS WEEK

akhnaten1) Akhnaten. OK, surprise entry here: but Philip Glass’s 1984 opera is, now that Bend it Like Beckham has left town, my favourite musical evening in town! The evening is a glorious wallow in rapturously beautiful music, with an amazing, meditative staging by Phelim McDermott that is full of haunting imagery — and even juggling. It was seeing  the ENO’s original version in 1985 that made me a fully-fledged fan of Glass; now it’s wonderful to see it again in a brand-new production, running in rep at the London Coliseum, to March 18. Website: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/akhnaten/

 

nell-gwynn2) Nell Gwynn. A ravishing, rambunctious and hilarious new play by Jessica Swale that’s about a love affair both in and of the theatre, revolving around the true story of the 17th century actress who ended up as mistress to KIng Charles II. First seen at Shakespeare’s Globe for a run of just 11 performances last summer, it now gets a West End transfer the Apollo, starring the wonderful Gemma Arterton in the title role of Chris Luscombe’s production.  Shakespeare’s Globe previously also transferred Twelfth Night and Richard III with Mark Rylance to the same theatre. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://nellgwynn.co.uk/

 

ma_rainey-bw3) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The National revisit August Wilson’s early play in his ten-play cycle of American black experience across the last century that they previously presented the UK premiere of back in 1989 to offer a stunning new production in the Lyttelton, starring Sharon D Clarke in the title role (pictured above). Lucian Msamati, just announced last week to play Salieri in the NT’s new forthcoming production of Amadeus, is extraordinary, too, amongst a superb ensemble that also features Clint Dyer and Giles Terrera. See my review for The Stage here. Website:  http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/ma-raineys-black-bottom

4) Guys and Dolls. Originally only booking for a limited season at the Savoy before heading off on a U.K tour, the Chichester transfer of the show I consider to be the greatest Broadway musical of all time is now moving to the Phoenix after it ends its run at the Savoy on March 12, to resume performances March 19. A separate company will fulfil the touring obligations. See my review of the Savoy opening here. Website: http://www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/

bedella5) In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony winning Broadway musical returns to London in the exhilarating production first seen at Southwark Playhouse last year, and now at King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to October. It has just been Olivier nominated for Best Musical, with David Bedella (pictured right) also nominated for Best Supporting Performance. See my review here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/

uncle-vanya-paul-rhys6) Uncle Vanya. There isn’t a more up-and-coming director in town than Robert Icke, associate at the Almeida, who last year directed the award-winning Oresteia there that transferred to the West End. Now he does equally revelatory work on Chekhov’s enduring masterpiece, bringing it into the here and now with startling immediacy, and with an astonishing lead performance from Paul Rhys in the title role (actually re-named Uncle Johnny in this version, pictured above). My review for londontheatre.co.uk is here. Website: http://www.almeida.co.uk/whats-on/uncle-vanya/5-feb-2016-26-mar-2016

7 and 8) The Father/ The Mother. French playwright Florian Zeller has gone from unkown to soon having three plays running simultaneously in London — The Truth begins performnces at the Menier Chocolate Factory this week from March 10, while The Mother, with Gina McKee  plays the title role of a middle-aged woman losing her family, ends its run at the Tricycle this week. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/current-programme-pages/theatre/theatre-programme-main/the-mother/

The-FatherBut it is is James Macdonald’s beautiful production of The Father (pictured right), now back in the West End at the Duke of York’s until March 26 prior to a national tour, that has caused this flurry of interest. Kenneth Cranham, who won the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best Actor, is newly joined now by Amanda Drew as his daughter. See my reivew for The Stage here; Website: http://sfentertainment.co.uk/projects/the-father/

Bad-Jews9) Bad Jews. Return run to the West End for Joshua Harmon’s brilliant, exorciating study of a family of young Jewish people and their claims and counter-claims for assimilation… or not. A ferocious, lacerating family comedy that’s like a gladiatorial contest, it was first seen at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, then transferred to the St James before moving to the Arts and now the Haymarket, where it runs to March 20. Even the poster ignited controversy, getting banned by London Underground. But the show demands to be seen. Website: http://www.trh.co.uk/whatson/bad-jews/

10) Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Rare sighting of a still rarer Jean Anouilh play is updated to the late 50s by playwright Anthony Weigh, and turned into a strange, funny and stylish evening. See my review for The Stage here; Website: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2016/welcome-home-captain-fox

 
palace-theatreMy two absolutely favourite shows have now departed the West End — Bend it Like Beckham (which closed last Saturday, patient but I’m sure will be back) and Close to You. Coupled with a slew of other recent scheudled closures, stuff the West End is suddenly an unaccountably dark place — in addition to the Phoenix and the Criterion, viagra order also dark this week are the Palace (pictured right), Wyndham’s and Prince Edward, as well as mostly the London Palladium (though it is staging one-nighters).

And the imminent closures this week of Guys and Dolls at the Savoy and War Horse at the New London will soon join the list of dark theatres.

All of them, of course, have their next shows already lined up, so it’s not for long — Hangmen, which closed at Wyndham’s last Saturday, is being replaced but People and Places and Things from next March 15; Guys and Dolls goes to the Phoenix from the Savoy from March 19.

But as Whatsonstage recently reported, as of March 13 there will be approximately 8,000 seats across the West End empty (in addition to the unsold inventory elsewhere) — almost 20% of all seats in the West End.

As Ryan Woods, Head of Sales and marketing at London Theatre Bookings, tells Whatsonstage, “I don’t think there has ever been a point where 20 per cent of the West End has been completely inaccessible. Spring can always be a time for change but even looking further ahead, large houses remain empty, the Victoria Palace is due to close for refurbishment and Aladdin doesn’t open at the Prince Edward until the end of May. It’s very unusual to have this amount of seats just not available.”

That doesn’t mean London is a wasteland — far from it. Here are some of the shows opening this week and my top tips for what’s still playing.

MAIN THEATRE OPENINGS OF THE WEEK??

motown-logoMotown – Shaftesbury Theatre
Import from Broadway of the ultimate pop catalogue of Motown, the Detroit record label founded in the 60s by Berry Gordy who has itself authored the book for this show. It  launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and more, whose music all variously features in the show, opening officially on March 8.

Bar Mitzvah Boy — Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Fringe outing for the short-lived 1978 West End musical that has a score with music by Jule Styne (Gypsy, Funny Girl), and lyrics by the Oscar-winning Don Black (currently represented int he West End by Mrs Henderson Presents, see below, and soon to be represented by the revival of Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum that he also wrote lyrics for). It opens on March 10.

MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THIS WEEK

akhnaten1) Akhnaten. OK, surprise entry here: but Philip Glass’s 1984 opera is, now that Bend it Like Beckham has left town, my favourite musical evening in town! The evening is a glorious wallow in rapturously beautiful music, with an amazing, meditative staging by Phelim McDermott that is full of haunting imagery — and even juggling. It was seeing  the ENO’s original version in 1985 that made me a fully-fledged fan of Glass; now it’s wonderful to see it again in a brand-new production, running in rep at the London Coliseum, to March 18. Website: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/akhnaten/

nell-gwynn2) Nell Gwynn. A ravishing, rambunctious and hilarious new play by Jessica Swale that’s about a love affair both in and of the theatre, revolving around the true story of the 17th century actress who ended up as mistress to KIng Charles II. First seen at Shakespeare’s Globe for a run of just 11 performances last summer, it now gets a West End transfer the Apollo, starring the wonderful Gemma Arterton in the title role of Chris Luscombe’s production.  Shakespeare’s Globe previously also transferred Twelfth Night and Richard III with Mark Rylance to the same theatre. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://nellgwynn.co.uk/

ma_rainey-bw3) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The National revisit August Wilson’s early play in his ten-play cycle of American black experience across the last century that they previously presented the UK premiere of back in 1989 to offer a stunning new production in the Lyttelton, starring Sharon D Clarke in the title role (pictured above). Lucian Msamati, just announced last week to play Salieri in the NT’s new forthcoming production of Amadeus, is extraordinary, too, amongst a superb ensemble that also features Clint Dyer and Giles Terrera. See my review for The Stage here. Website:  http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/ma-raineys-black-bottom

4) Guys and Dolls. Originally only booking for a limited season at the Savoy before heading off on a U.K tour, the Chichester transfer of the show I consider to be the greatest Broadway musical of all time is now moving to the Phoenix after it ends its run at the Savoy on March 12, to resume performances March 19. A separate company will fulfil the touring obligations. See my review of the Savoy opening here. Website: http://www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/

bedella5) In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony winning Broadway musical returns to London in the exhilarating production first seen at Southwark Playhouse last year, and now at King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to October. It has just been Olivier nominated for Best Musical, with David Bedella (pictured right) also nominated for Best Supporting Performance. See my review here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/

uncle-vanya-paul-rhys6) Uncle Vanya. There isn’t a more up-and-coming director in town than Robert Icke, associate at the Almeida, who last year directed the award-winning Oresteia there that transferred to the West End. Now he does equally revelatory work on Chekhov’s enduring masterpiece, bringing it into the here and now with startling immediacy, and with an astonishing lead performance from Paul Rhys in the title role (actually re-named Uncle Johnny in this version, pictured above). My review for londontheatre.co.uk is here. Website: http://www.almeida.co.uk/whats-on/uncle-vanya/5-feb-2016-26-mar-2016

7 and 8) The Father/ The Mother. French playwright Florian Zeller has gone from unkown to soon having three plays running simultaneously in London — The Truth begins performnces at the Menier Chocolate Factory this week from March 10, while The Mother, with Gina McKee  plays the title role of a middle-aged woman losing her family, ends its run at the Tricycle this week. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/current-programme-pages/theatre/theatre-programme-main/the-mother/

The-FatherBut it is is James Macdonald’s beautiful production of The Father (pictured right), now back in the West End at the Duke of York’s until March 26 prior to a national tour, that has caused this flurry of interest. Kenneth Cranham, who won the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best Actor, is newly joined now by Amanda Drew as his daughter. See my reivew for The Stage here; Website: http://sfentertainment.co.uk/projects/the-father/

Bad-Jews9) Bad Jews. Return run to the West End for Joshua Harmon’s brilliant, exorciating study of a family of young Jewish people and their claims and counter-claims for assimilation… or not. A ferocious, lacerating family comedy that’s like a gladiatorial contest, it was first seen at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, then transferred to the St James before moving to the Arts and now the Haymarket, where it runs to March 20. Even the poster ignited controversy, getting banned by London Underground. But the show demands to be seen. Website: http://www.trh.co.uk/whatson/bad-jews/

10) Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Rare sighting of a still rarer Jean Anouilh play is updated to the late 50s by playwright Anthony Weigh, and turned into a strange, funny and stylish evening. See my review for The Stage here; Website: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2016/welcome-home-captain-fox

 
I’ve not updated my diary of a theatre addict for six weeks now — I was last here on January 31 — since when I’ve seen all of 49 shows, more about including outings to Newbury, Dartford, Clwyd, Manchester, Bromley and Cardiff, plus a week in New York. I’ve also taken an active part in two more shows by appearing onstage as a contestant in a theatrical re-run of Mr and Mrs with husband (so it was really Mr and Mr, we’re pictured below with host Sam Holmes) and as part of David Bedella and Friends, his monthly chat show at the St James Studio.

IMG_1843Mr and Mrs was a fundraiser for the Union Theatre, as it prepares to move to new premises across the street (an architectural representation of the new premises are shown left). As I wrote here, it’s one of my absolutely favourite of all London venues, just a stone’s throw from where I live and at whose outdoor, all-weather cafe I buy my daily coffee en route to the office I rent just around the corner. So I’m very much part of the Union’s extended family, and proud to be so; as I was also honoured to be included in Bedella’s bill, whose other guests included Janie Dee and the legend that is Mary Wilson, one of the original line-up of The Supremes.

Of those 49 theatre visits, several were naturally repeats — Bend it Like Beckham (twice more, including the last night, to take my total to seven), Close to You (for the sixth time, after seeing it during its original New York run, then three times at the Menier, and once before at the Criterion),  Funny Girl (another Menier show, seeing it again in the last week of its run there before its West End transfer next month, and catching Sheridan Smith’s understudy, as I wrote here), Grey Gardens (at Southwark Playhouse), and ENO’s The Magic Flute, though the latter was part of my commitment to The Mousetrap Foundation’s Play the Critic scheme, in which I took the student who filed the best review as a result of participating in the programme to a second opera after they went as a group to La Boheme, also at ENO.

But I also reviewed the following, and have actually seen most of these plays and musicals before (in different productions):

  • Red Velvet — also a repeat, but some years on from its original Tricycle premiere, as it now made it’s West End debut at the Garrick, as part of Kenneth Branagh’s season there, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — a new production of a play I’ve also seen before, when the National last did it in 1989 and now revived there, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Andy Capp: Rare sighting for an early 80s British musical, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Tell Me on a Sunday — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smallest — and shortest — musical, written originally for television and later included as half of Song & Dance on stage. Now it is being done as a stand-alone piece again — and a new touring production has launched at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre, where I caught it, reviewed for The Stage here
  • jamie-muscatoStay Awake Jake — Another one person musical, this one written by Tim Gilvin and performed by Jamie Muscato, (pictured left) reviewed for The Stage here. He did the show on a break from Bend it Like Beckham in which he was starringa at the time.
  • Footloose — a new touring production of the stage version of the film that I’ve seen previously both in its original Broadway incarnation and its subsequent different West End one, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Nell Gwynn – I missed last year’s brief run of this play at the Globe but was very happy to catch it now in its West End incarnation at the Globe, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Uncle Vanya – Robert Icke reinvents Chekhov’s classic play at the Almeida, reviewed for londontheatre.co.uk here
  • Hand to God — the Broadway comedy (which I first saw there) comes to London soon after closing there, and fails to make the same impact, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Mrs Henderson Presents. A new British musical that I first saw in its Bath premiere last summer now transfers to the West End, reivewed for The Stage here
  • The Maids — Jamie Lloyd directs Genet’s play in a version I originally saw in New York that starred Cate Blanchett and Isabella Huppert, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Joe-McElderryJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat — the longest-running touring musical in British history — 36 years and counting — is reinvigorated by Joe McElderry in the title role (pictured left), reviewed for The Stage here
  • Rabbit Hole — A Broadway Pulitzer prize winner gets its British premiere at Hampstead Theatre, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Cirque Berserk — Zippo’s circus produce an indoors circus show, reviewed for The Stage here
  • The End of Longing – Matthew Perry makes his playwriting debut and stars in his own play, reviewed for The Stage here
  • The War of the Worlds. Jeff Wayne’s much toured arena rock show finally receives a West End outing, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Welcome Home, Captain Fox! New version of an Anoulh play, reviewed for The Stage here
  • Torsten, The Beautiful Libertine. Erasure’s Andy Bell appears in a London fringe musical, reviewed for The Stage here
  • motown-logoMotown— A juggernaut Broadway jukebox musical arrives in London, reviewed for The Stage here. I’d seen it on Broadway, too, but much preferred it here.

 

  • Tom: A Sory of Tom Jones — Another jukebox show, this time about Welsh-born singing superstar, premieres on home territory ahead of a regional tour, reviewed for The Stage here

hughieAnd during my week in New York, I also formally reviewed the opening of Hughie, a new production by Michael Grandage of O’Neill’s short drama (for The Stage here) starring Forest Whitaker (left), and I saw Mark Rylance in a play he co-created called Big Fish (reviewed by me here at Brooklyn’s St Ann’s Warehouse here, three days before he scooped this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).

In addition, I saw (but didn’t review) a new production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at ArtsEd, The Rolling Stone (Orange Tree), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Theatr Clwyd), Husbands and Sons (Royal Exchange), The Encounter (Barbican), Road Show (Union Theatre), Akhaten (London Coliseum) and Beyond the Fence (Arts Theatre); at least three of those were related to interviews I did around them — see below.

I’ve also been busy (very busy!) doing interview profiles, meeting:

  • James Graham — the author of such plays as Privacy and This House talks to me about a new play of his premiering at Plymouth’s Drum Theatre here
  • Emma-Williams-stage-interviewEmma Williams — the star of Mrs Henderson Presents talks to me about her long history with new musicals here. (She’s only 32, but this is already her done 12 original musicals already!)

 

  • Simon McBurney — the director, writer and actor talks to me about his show The Encounter that transferred from last year’s Edinburgh Festival to the Barbican here.
  • Tamara Harvey — the director who has newly taken over as artistic director at Mold’s Theatre Clwyd talks to me here.
  • Benjamin Till – the composer behind the UK Theatre Award winning musical Brass (returning for a run in London this August) tells me about his efforts curating and co-ordinating a musical written with computer assistance here.

Across the last six weeks, I’ve also participated in forums about critics for students at the University of Chichester and LIPA, and hosted a spot-show talk at Funny Girl and a panel discussion on new musicals as part of the BEAM Festival at the Park Theatre.

And I’ve appeared on Soho Radio with my friend and colleague Terri Paddock (which you can hear here) and on Resonance Radio (which you can hear here)

I plan to get back into a more regular rhythm with my diaries in the coming weeks — but hope I’ve brought myself up to date now!