The last time I was here, I reported on my latest round of hip replacement that took place on November 19, and I returned home just last night from a return visit to the hospital for an emergency operation to put that new hip back in place after I suddenly dislocated it on Monday. Now I’ve all but shredded my diary commitments for the next fortnight, which will put me in the paradoxical position of having a lot more time on my hands to write, but less to write about given that I’ll be seeing less!
But I think I’ve finally learnt an important lesson: there’s no point having a busy diary if I don’t have a healthy, healed body in which to fulfil it. No sooner was I out of the operating theatre from the first surgery than I was lining up trips to go back to the theatre, and just four nights later, I was back at the National, seeing the premiere of Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House (reviewed by me here) and then another world premiere there of Caryl Churchill’s Here We Go later that week (reviewed here).
The first play runs just over 90 minutes; the second just 40. In their publicity leaflet for Here We Go (pictured left), the NT are helpfully suggesting, “Make the most of your evening” by making a double bill of it by going around the corner to the Dorfman Theatre afterwards to see Talk House afterwards — which made me only publicly declare in my review of it, “Why stop at seeing one dull play in a night when you can see two?”
Actually, Here We Go has been another of those marmite shows that divides the critics, as I wrote here. There were another last week that I didn’t get to — reviews for the Almeida’s new production of Little Eyolf ran from two to four stars.
So, as ever, you either have to trust your own instincts or make up your own mind by seeing it for yourself (so yes, I am going to try to get to the Almeida in the next few weeks). I have a friend in New York — who is a former arts reporter from London — who happily provides definitive opinions on shows he hasn’t seen based purely on what he’s heard about them. When I told him I was seeing Allegiance on my last trip, he wrote, “Allegiance? Seriously!” I replied, “You have NO right to an opinion on Allegiance. You’ve not seen it!!!” But he insisted, “No need. I am informed as to its inadequacies!” And then he linked me to a review by one of the least qualified of all New York critics to back him up.
It’s not just critics who come with pre-determined agendas but also entire award ceremonies. I’ve been shocked by the diminution of the credibility of the Evening Standard Theatre Awards over the last few years, which as well as being Britain’s longest established theatre awards, used to carry real critical weight from being decided by a panel of some of the leading daily and Sunday critics from other papers as well as its own.
Three of them famously resigned a couple of years ago when the award for Best Actress went to a candidate that none of them had voted for; this year’s awards took a further tumble in the credibility stakes when it was announced, as I wrote here, that one of its major categories, that for Best Musical, was being turned into a public popularity contest rather than a vote on merit, by being decided by public vote of Radio 2 listeners. As a friend suggested to me, “Next near, best new play will be decided by the audience of Gardeners’ Question Time and most promising playwright by You and Yours.”
But this year’s awards saw even the remaining judges wrong-footed by the ultimate decisions. It turns out they are merely an advisory panel nowadays, helping to draw up the shortlist, but more than one ‘judge’ told me that their own votes clearly weren’t counted in the celebrity wins for Nicole Kidman and James McAvoy to take the top acting awards. As I wrote here, “Even the specially created new category for newcomer in a musical seems to have been created only to honour someone who was a star already — as Time Out noted on Twitter: ‘The brand new category newcomer in a musical (?) mysteriously goes to the most famous nominee Gemma Arterton!!! Crazy!!! #ESTheatreAwards”
The real winner of that category should clearly have been Natalie Dew (pictured left, with Lauren Samuels), the wondrous star of Bend it Like Beckham (which is also surely the Musical of the Year), and I revisited (for the sixth time) on Saturday with a party of 28 of my ArtsEd Musical Theatre first year students. I have Howard Goodall kindly coming in to talk to them at next week’s class, but last week I also did a public interview with him for Mountview Drama school’s fundraising campaign at the Hospital Club.
Last weekend I also attended the last night of Gypsy at the Savoy, which I wrote about here; when a friend heard of my new hip dislocation, he wondered aloud whether it had occurred by me leaping to my feet spontaneously at the end of Imelda Staunton’s rendition of Rose’s Turn, as most of the rest of the audience had done. (I did, but no, it didn’t occur then!) Staunton has, of course, already won the UK Theatre Award and the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical Performances, but will win many more, I’m sure, before the awards season is over.
There will be no awards, alas, for the other new musical I saw last week, Desperate Measures at Jermyn Street Theatre that I reviewed here. I was not alone in my one-star pan: my former Stage colleague Scott Matthewman drily noted in his one-star review for Musical Theatre Review, that “all the roles, including those of old men”, seem to have been cast “with actors who look as if they’ve only just graduated from drama school, and who sound as if there was no vocal section to the audition process.”
I’m bowing out of most theatrical commitments for the rest of this week and next, though hoping to get out a couple of times at least. Meanwhile, I finally have a chance though to catch up on all those films and TV series I’ve been meaning to see for ages, and I started last night by watching Birdman, set backstage during the fraught rehearsals of a new play featuring a movie star making his Broadway debut. This frequently startling, hilarious and surprising film is full of theatrical gems — including a brilliant portrait of a scathing breed of New York critic, fiercely embodied by our very own Lindsay Duncan — though it is disconcerting to see the two lead actors exit their theatre on west 44th Street and suddenly find themselves entering a bar next door on west 47th Street!