Diary of a Theatre Addict: Doing the timewarp again, revisiting Gypsy on TV, and catching up with Linda

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This weekend on Dec 27 Imelda Staunton reprises her recent Chichester and West End performance in GYPSY in a filmed version of the production. In this 2012 interview I did with Staunton, approved first published in the Sunday Express, cialis 40mg as she prepared to reprise her Chichester performance as Mrs Lovett in another Sondheim musical SWEENEY TODD in the WEst End, viagra 100mg she mentions that she was already thinking of doing GYPSY next….

***

FROM ARCHWAY TO LA, BY WAY OF THE WEST END
The last time Mark Shenton met Imelda Staunton he offered her a job. Now she’s an Oscar-nominated star of films, but has returned to her stage roots in Sweeney Todd.

Imelda Staunton and I first met 14 years ago — and as a result, she became a Diva at the Donmar. Allow me to explain: I was helping the Covent Garden theatre to programme an inaugural cabaret season that later became a regular yearly fixture, and I was looking at who to book when I wandered into a Covent Garden record shop Dress Circle that specialises in musical theatre. She happened to be in there, and I promptly invited her, on the spot, to be part of it; and what’s more, she immediately agreed. As she wrote in a programme note then, “It all happened because I met a man in a shop.”

imelda-staunton-mrs-lovettAnd now she’s in the West End reprising the role of Mrs Lovett (pictured right) in a new production of Sweeney Todd that has transferred to the Adelphi Theatre after a hugely acclaimed run at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer, and as she tells it, “It all happened because of a man I met on a radio show! I get all my best breaks like that!”

The man in question on this occasion was Michael Ball, and he was hosting his regular Radio 2 show, for which Imelda came in as a guest. “He put a record on, and then said to me, ‘I want to ask you something, but not right now’. I told him to ask me straight away — and he said he wanted to play Sweeney Todd and said, ‘Do you fancy doing Mrs Lovett?'”

She jumped at the chance — she’s played in Sondheim before, starring as the Baker’s Wife in the original 1990 London production of Into the Woods, and it won her an Olivier Award. But despite that pedigree, she says, “I knew I could never make it happen myself, so thank God Michael suggested it to me.”

imelda-dolores-umbridgeIn a varied career that has began in theatre and has since spanned an Oscar-nominated performance in the title role of Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and playing the scene-stealing role of Dolores Umbridge (pictured ldft) in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as TV roles like Miss Pole in Cranford, she has also played Dorothy in the RSC version of The Wizard of Oz (long before the current London Palladium one, cast by reality TV), as well as twice starring as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the National.

She actually began her London stage career in the latter, appearing in the chorus first as a Hotbox Girl to Julia McKenzie as Adelaide before subsequently taking over, and she says now, “I remember thinking what am I doing here — I’m in the chorus of a musical, but I’ve done St Joan and Electra already,” referring to the long apprenticeship she had already served in regional theatre. “But the pragmatic side of me said, this is me working in London, and you’re watching Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Bob Hoskins and Ian Charleson — where does it get better than that?”

Actually, there was one thing better: she also met her future husband Jim Carter in that production, who was playing Big Jule. They have been together ever since, and she remembers that when she saw Julia McKenzie play the role of Mrs Lovett at the National Theatre, “I was pregnant with my daughter Bessie. She’ll be 19 this year! Oh my goodness!” Jim — who has finally become a household name thanks to playing Mr Carson in Downtown Abbey — also works constantly, and in 2007 Jim, Imelda and daughter Bessie all appeared in Cranford together.

The Laurence Olivier Awards 2013 held at the Royal Opera House - Arrivals Featuring: Imelda Staunton,daughter,husband Where: London, United Kingdom When: 28 Apr 2013 Credit: Lia Toby/WENN.com

Bessie (pictured left with mum and dad on the red carpet for the 2013 Olivier Awards) now looks set to follow in her parents footsteps towards an acting career; she’s doing A Levels in English and drama, but goes to RADA classes on Saturdays, which is where her mother trained, too. Imelda welcomes it: “She’s got a headstart, because she feels very comfortable in the world of acting, whether the theatre or a film set. It took me years to be that confident!” But she’s also cautious: “It’s not an easy road being an actor, and I worry that there might be comparisons, which I’ll just loathe, because she’s everything I could never be — she’s gorgeous, 5’9″, with legs up to there!”

Unlike her daughter, Imelda had no theatre in her background at all. Born of Irish immigrant parents in Archway, North London and educated at a local convent school, she says now, “I only started going to the theatre when I was 17. But we had an elocution teacher at the convent, Jackie Stoker, who I still see now, and I started doing drama classes with her after school. I did the school plays and liked doing them, and she said to me, ‘you will be auditioning for drama school, because that is what you’ll be doing’. I knew I wanted to be an actress, but I had no idea how to be one or what you did to become one.”

That she ended up at RADA, one of the world’s best, is she says, partly thanks to the fact that “I didn’t get into the others.” She also auditioned for Central and Guildhall but was rejected. But she’s come a long way since; in a newspaper interview the day before we met, Stephen Sondheim called her “absolutely remarkable” and spoke of how she’d be ideal to play Momma Rose in Gypsy, the musical he wrote lyrics to Jule Styne’s music for.

Imelda would love to do it, too: “I’ve always thought she’s a terrible woman, and I like that. She’s an ogre!” Mrs Lovett is equally morally complex, if not downright ugly. Sondheim has called them “the two juiciest female parts: they’re sort of the Hamlet and Lear of the female repertoire.” Imelda notes this and says, “Yes, they’re tough. I don’t know what Gypsy is like, but Mrs Lovett is so difficult and therefore it is terribly rewarding to do. It’s not an easy job. And that’s why I like it! The bigger the challenge, the better it is. This really is stretching every bit of me.”

The same is true of her co-star Michael Ball, and not just because it shows an entirely different side to him: as Sondheim quipped, “Who knew he could grow facial hair for a start?” But for Imelda its about something else: “Not only is he physically transformed, but also his voice. When I’m standing behind him when he’s signing the Epiphany, I wonder to myself: does anyone know what it feels like to stand here, being so close to the magnitude of his talent?”

The respect, she says, is mutual: “We absolutely adore each other, because we know we work very hard. All I’m interested in is getting it absolutely right, and he’s the same: it’s all about doing whatever it takes to get there.”

 
This weekend on Dec 27 Imelda Staunton reprises her recent Chichester and West End performance in GYPSY in a filmed version of the production. In this 2012 interview I did with Staunton, nurse first published in the Sunday Express, more about as she prepared to reprise her Chichester performance as Mrs Lovett in another Sondheim musical SWEENEY TODD in the WEst End, ambulance she mentions that she was already thinking of doing GYPSY next….

***

FROM ARCHWAY TO LA, BY WAY OF THE WEST END
The last time Mark Shenton met Imelda Staunton he offered her a job. Now she’s an Oscar-nominated star of films, but has returned to her stage roots in Sweeney Todd.

Imelda Staunton and I first met 14 years ago — and as a result, she became a Diva at the Donmar. Allow me to explain: I was helping the Covent Garden theatre to programme an inaugural cabaret season that later became a regular yearly fixture, and I was looking at who to book when I wandered into a Covent Garden record shop Dress Circle that specialises in musical theatre. She happened to be in there, and I promptly invited her, on the spot, to be part of it; and what’s more, she immediately agreed. As she wrote in a programme note then, “It all happened because I met a man in a shop.”

imelda-staunton-mrs-lovettAnd now she’s in the West End reprising the role of Mrs Lovett (pictured right) in a new production of Sweeney Todd that has transferred to the Adelphi Theatre after a hugely acclaimed run at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer, and as she tells it, “It all happened because of a man I met on a radio show! I get all my best breaks like that!”

The man in question on this occasion was Michael Ball, and he was hosting his regular Radio 2 show, for which Imelda came in as a guest. “He put a record on, and then said to me, ‘I want to ask you something, but not right now’. I told him to ask me straight away — and he said he wanted to play Sweeney Todd and said, ‘Do you fancy doing Mrs Lovett?'”

She jumped at the chance — she’s played in Sondheim before, starring as the Baker’s Wife in the original 1990 London production of Into the Woods, and it won her an Olivier Award. But despite that pedigree, she says, “I knew I could never make it happen myself, so thank God Michael suggested it to me.”

imelda-dolores-umbridgeIn a varied career that has began in theatre and has since spanned an Oscar-nominated performance in the title role of Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and playing the scene-stealing role of Dolores Umbridge (pictured ldft) in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as TV roles like Miss Pole in Cranford, she has also played Dorothy in the RSC version of The Wizard of Oz (long before the current London Palladium one, cast by reality TV), as well as twice starring as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the National.

She actually began her London stage career in the latter, appearing in the chorus first as a Hotbox Girl to Julia McKenzie as Adelaide before subsequently taking over, and she says now, “I remember thinking what am I doing here — I’m in the chorus of a musical, but I’ve done St Joan and Electra already,” referring to the long apprenticeship she had already served in regional theatre. “But the pragmatic side of me said, this is me working in London, and you’re watching Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Bob Hoskins and Ian Charleson — where does it get better than that?”

Actually, there was one thing better: she also met her future husband Jim Carter in that production, who was playing Big Jule. They have been together ever since, and she remembers that when she saw Julia McKenzie play the role of Mrs Lovett at the National Theatre, “I was pregnant with my daughter Bessie. She’ll be 19 this year! Oh my goodness!” Jim — who has finally become a household name thanks to playing Mr Carson in Downtown Abbey — also works constantly, and in 2007 Jim, Imelda and daughter Bessie all appeared in Cranford together.

The Laurence Olivier Awards 2013 held at the Royal Opera House - Arrivals Featuring: Imelda Staunton,daughter,husband Where: London, United Kingdom When: 28 Apr 2013 Credit: Lia Toby/WENN.com

Bessie (pictured above with mum and dad on the red carpet for the 2013 Olivier Awards) now looks set to follow in her parents footsteps towards an acting career; she’s doing A Levels in English and drama, but goes to RADA classes on Saturdays, which is where her mother trained, too. Imelda welcomes it: “She’s got a headstart, because she feels very comfortable in the world of acting, whether the theatre or a film set. It took me years to be that confident!” But she’s also cautious: “It’s not an easy road being an actor, and I worry that there might be comparisons, which I’ll just loathe, because she’s everything I could never be — she’s gorgeous, 5’9″, with legs up to there!”

Unlike her daughter, Imelda had no theatre in her background at all. Born of Irish immigrant parents in Archway, North London and educated at a local convent school, she says now, “I only started going to the theatre when I was 17. But we had an elocution teacher at the convent, Jackie Stoker, who I still see now, and I started doing drama classes with her after school. I did the school plays and liked doing them, and she said to me, ‘you will be auditioning for drama school, because that is what you’ll be doing’. I knew I wanted to be an actress, but I had no idea how to be one or what you did to become one.”

That she ended up at RADA, one of the world’s best, is she says, partly thanks to the fact that “I didn’t get into the others.” She also auditioned for Central and Guildhall but was rejected. But she’s come a long way since; in a newspaper interview the day before we met, Stephen Sondheim called her “absolutely remarkable” and spoke of how she’d be ideal to play Momma Rose in Gypsy, the musical he wrote lyrics to Jule Styne’s music for.

Imelda would love to do it, too: “I’ve always thought she’s a terrible woman, and I like that. She’s an ogre!” Mrs Lovett is equally morally complex, if not downright ugly. Sondheim has called them “the two juiciest female parts: they’re sort of the Hamlet and Lear of the female repertoire.” Imelda notes this and says, “Yes, they’re tough. I don’t know what Gypsy is like, but Mrs Lovett is so difficult and therefore it is terribly rewarding to do. It’s not an easy job. And that’s why I like it! The bigger the challenge, the better it is. This really is stretching every bit of me.”

The same is true of her co-star Michael Ball, and not just because it shows an entirely different side to him: as Sondheim quipped, “Who knew he could grow facial hair for a start?” But for Imelda its about something else: “Not only is he physically transformed, but also his voice. When I’m standing behind him when he’s signing the Epiphany, I wonder to myself: does anyone know what it feels like to stand here, being so close to the magnitude of his talent?”

The respect, she says, is mutual: “We absolutely adore each other, because we know we work very hard. All I’m interested in is getting it absolutely right, and he’s the same: it’s all about doing whatever it takes to get there.”

 
This weekend on Dec 27 Imelda Staunton reprises her recent Chichester and West End performance in GYPSY in a filmed version of the production. In this 2012 interview I did with Staunton, link first published in the Sunday Express, abortion as she prepared to reprise her Chichester performance as Mrs Lovett in another Sondheim musical SWEENEY TODD in the WEst End, she mentions that she was already thinking of doing GYPSY next….

***

FROM ARCHWAY TO LA, BY WAY OF THE WEST END
The last time Mark Shenton met Imelda Staunton he offered her a job. Now she’s an Oscar-nominated star of films, but has returned to her stage roots in Sweeney Todd.

Imelda Staunton and I first met 14 years ago — and as a result, she became a Diva at the Donmar. Allow me to explain: I was helping the Covent Garden theatre to programme an inaugural cabaret season that later became a regular yearly fixture, and I was looking at who to book when I wandered into a Covent Garden record shop Dress Circle that specialises in musical theatre. She happened to be in there, and I promptly invited her, on the spot, to be part of it; and what’s more, she immediately agreed. As she wrote in a programme note then, “It all happened because I met a man in a shop.”

imelda-staunton-mrs-lovettAnd now she’s in the West End reprising the role of Mrs Lovett (pictured right) in a new production of Sweeney Todd that has transferred to the Adelphi Theatre after a hugely acclaimed run at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer, and as she tells it, “It all happened because of a man I met on a radio show! I get all my best breaks like that!”

The man in question on this occasion was Michael Ball, and he was hosting his regular Radio 2 show, for which Imelda came in as a guest. “He put a record on, and then said to me, ‘I want to ask you something, but not right now’. I told him to ask me straight away — and he said he wanted to play Sweeney Todd and said, ‘Do you fancy doing Mrs Lovett?'”

She jumped at the chance — she’s played in Sondheim before, starring as the Baker’s Wife in the original 1990 London production of Into the Woods, and it won her an Olivier Award. But despite that pedigree, she says, “I knew I could never make it happen myself, so thank God Michael suggested it to me.”

imelda-dolores-umbridgeIn a varied career that has began in theatre and has since spanned an Oscar-nominated performance in the title role of Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and playing the scene-stealing role of Dolores Umbridge (pictured ldft) in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as TV roles like Miss Pole in Cranford, she has also played Dorothy in the RSC version of The Wizard of Oz (long before the current London Palladium one, cast by reality TV), as well as twice starring as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the National.

She actually began her London stage career in the latter, appearing in the chorus first as a Hotbox Girl to Julia McKenzie as Adelaide before subsequently taking over, and she says now, “I remember thinking what am I doing here — I’m in the chorus of a musical, but I’ve done St Joan and Electra already,” referring to the long apprenticeship she had already served in regional theatre. “But the pragmatic side of me said, this is me working in London, and you’re watching Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Bob Hoskins and Ian Charleson — where does it get better than that?”

Actually, there was one thing better: she also met her future husband Jim Carter in that production, who was playing Big Jule. They have been together ever since, and she remembers that when she saw Julia McKenzie play the role of Mrs Lovett at the National Theatre, “I was pregnant with my daughter Bessie. She’ll be 19 this year! Oh my goodness!” Jim — who has finally become a household name thanks to playing Mr Carson in Downtown Abbey — also works constantly, and in 2007 Jim, Imelda and daughter Bessie all appeared in Cranford together.

The Laurence Olivier Awards 2013 held at the Royal Opera House - Arrivals Featuring: Imelda Staunton,daughter,husband Where: London, United Kingdom When: 28 Apr 2013 Credit: Lia Toby/WENN.com

Bessie (pictured above with mum and dad on the red carpet for the 2013 Olivier Awards) now looks set to follow in her parents footsteps towards an acting career; she’s doing A Levels in English and drama, but goes to RADA classes on Saturdays, which is where her mother trained, too. Imelda welcomes it: “She’s got a headstart, because she feels very comfortable in the world of acting, whether the theatre or a film set. It took me years to be that confident!” But she’s also cautious: “It’s not an easy road being an actor, and I worry that there might be comparisons, which I’ll just loathe, because she’s everything I could never be — she’s gorgeous, 5’9″, with legs up to there!”

Unlike her daughter, Imelda had no theatre in her background at all. Born of Irish immigrant parents in Archway, North London and educated at a local convent school, she says now, “I only started going to the theatre when I was 17. But we had an elocution teacher at the convent, Jackie Stoker, who I still see now, and I started doing drama classes with her after school. I did the school plays and liked doing them, and she said to me, ‘you will be auditioning for drama school, because that is what you’ll be doing’. I knew I wanted to be an actress, but I had no idea how to be one or what you did to become one.”

That she ended up at RADA, one of the world’s best, is she says, partly thanks to the fact that “I didn’t get into the others.” She also auditioned for Central and Guildhall but was rejected. But she’s come a long way since; in a newspaper interview the day before we met, Stephen Sondheim called her “absolutely remarkable” and spoke of how she’d be ideal to play Momma Rose in Gypsy, the musical he wrote lyrics to Jule Styne’s music for.

Imelda would love to do it, too: “I’ve always thought she’s a terrible woman, and I like that. She’s an ogre!” Mrs Lovett is equally morally complex, if not downright ugly. Sondheim has called them “the two juiciest female parts: they’re sort of the Hamlet and Lear of the female repertoire.” Imelda notes this and says, “Yes, they’re tough. I don’t know what Gypsy is like, but Mrs Lovett is so difficult and therefore it is terribly rewarding to do. It’s not an easy job. And that’s why I like it! The bigger the challenge, the better it is. This really is stretching every bit of me.”

The same is true of her co-star Michael Ball, and not just because it shows an entirely different side to him: as Sondheim quipped, “Who knew he could grow facial hair for a start?” But for Imelda its about something else: “Not only is he physically transformed, but also his voice. When I’m standing behind him when he’s signing the Epiphany, I wonder to myself: does anyone know what it feels like to stand here, being so close to the magnitude of his talent?”

The respect, she says, is mutual: “We absolutely adore each other, because we know we work very hard. All I’m interested in is getting it absolutely right, and he’s the same: it’s all about doing whatever it takes to get there.”

 
This weekend on Dec 27 Imelda Staunton reprises her recent Chichester and West End performance in GYPSY in a filmed version of the production. In this 2012 interview I did with Staunton, order first published in the Sunday Express, as she prepared to reprise her Chichester performance as Mrs Lovett in another Sondheim musical SWEENEY TODD in the WEst End, she mentions that she was already thinking of doing GYPSY next….

***

FROM ARCHWAY TO LA, BY WAY OF THE WEST END
The last time Mark Shenton met Imelda Staunton he offered her a job. Now she’s an Oscar-nominated star of films, but has returned to her stage roots in Sweeney Todd.

Imelda Staunton and I first met 14 years ago — and as a result, she became a Diva at the Donmar. Allow me to explain: I was helping the Covent Garden theatre to programme an inaugural cabaret season that later became a regular yearly fixture, and I was looking at who to book when I wandered into a Covent Garden record shop Dress Circle that specialises in musical theatre. She happened to be in there, and I promptly invited her, on the spot, to be part of it; and what’s more, she immediately agreed. As she wrote in a programme note then, “It all happened because I met a man in a shop.”

imelda-staunton-mrs-lovettAnd now she’s in the West End reprising the role of Mrs Lovett (pictured right) in a new production of Sweeney Todd that has transferred to the Adelphi Theatre after a hugely acclaimed run at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer, and as she tells it, “It all happened because of a man I met on a radio show! I get all my best breaks like that!”

The man in question on this occasion was Michael Ball, and he was hosting his regular Radio 2 show, for which Imelda came in as a guest. “He put a record on, and then said to me, ‘I want to ask you something, but not right now’. I told him to ask me straight away — and he said he wanted to play Sweeney Todd and said, ‘Do you fancy doing Mrs Lovett?'”

She jumped at the chance — she’s played in Sondheim before, starring as the Baker’s Wife in the original 1990 London production of Into the Woods, and it won her an Olivier Award. But despite that pedigree, she says, “I knew I could never make it happen myself, so thank God Michael suggested it to me.”

imelda-dolores-umbridgeIn a varied career that has began in theatre and has since spanned an Oscar-nominated performance in the title role of Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and playing the scene-stealing role of Dolores Umbridge (pictured ldft) in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as TV roles like Miss Pole in Cranford, she has also played Dorothy in the RSC version of The Wizard of Oz (long before the current London Palladium one, cast by reality TV), as well as twice starring as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the National.

She actually began her London stage career in the latter, appearing in the chorus first as a Hotbox Girl to Julia McKenzie as Adelaide before subsequently taking over, and she says now, “I remember thinking what am I doing here — I’m in the chorus of a musical, but I’ve done St Joan and Electra already,” referring to the long apprenticeship she had already served in regional theatre. “But the pragmatic side of me said, this is me working in London, and you’re watching Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Bob Hoskins and Ian Charleson — where does it get better than that?”

Actually, there was one thing better: she also met her future husband Jim Carter in that production, who was playing Big Jule. They have been together ever since, and she remembers that when she saw Julia McKenzie play the role of Mrs Lovett at the National Theatre, “I was pregnant with my daughter Bessie. She’ll be 19 this year! Oh my goodness!” Jim — who has finally become a household name thanks to playing Mr Carson in Downtown Abbey — also works constantly, and in 2007 Jim, Imelda and daughter Bessie all appeared in Cranford together.

The Laurence Olivier Awards 2013 held at the Royal Opera House - Arrivals Featuring: Imelda Staunton,daughter,husband Where: London, United Kingdom When: 28 Apr 2013 Credit: Lia Toby/WENN.com

Bessie (pictured above with mum and dad on the red carpet for the 2013 Olivier Awards) now looks set to follow in her parents footsteps towards an acting career; she’s doing A Levels in English and drama, but goes to RADA classes on Saturdays, which is where her mother trained, too. Imelda welcomes it: “She’s got a headstart, because she feels very comfortable in the world of acting, whether the theatre or a film set. It took me years to be that confident!” But she’s also cautious: “It’s not an easy road being an actor, and I worry that there might be comparisons, which I’ll just loathe, because she’s everything I could never be — she’s gorgeous, 5’9″, with legs up to there!”

Unlike her daughter, Imelda had no theatre in her background at all. Born of Irish immigrant parents in Archway, North London and educated at a local convent school, she says now, “I only started going to the theatre when I was 17. But we had an elocution teacher at the convent, Jackie Stoker, who I still see now, and I started doing drama classes with her after school. I did the school plays and liked doing them, and she said to me, ‘you will be auditioning for drama school, because that is what you’ll be doing’. I knew I wanted to be an actress, but I had no idea how to be one or what you did to become one.”

That she ended up at RADA, one of the world’s best, is she says, partly thanks to the fact that “I didn’t get into the others.” She also auditioned for Central and Guildhall but was rejected. But she’s come a long way since; in a newspaper interview the day before we met, Stephen Sondheim called her “absolutely remarkable” and spoke of how she’d be ideal to play Momma Rose in Gypsy, the musical he wrote lyrics to Jule Styne’s music for.

Imelda would love to do it, too: “I’ve always thought she’s a terrible woman, and I like that. She’s an ogre!” Mrs Lovett is equally morally complex, if not downright ugly. Sondheim has called them “the two juiciest female parts: they’re sort of the Hamlet and Lear of the female repertoire.” Imelda notes this and says, “Yes, they’re tough. I don’t know what Gypsy is like, but Mrs Lovett is so difficult and therefore it is terribly rewarding to do. It’s not an easy job. And that’s why I like it! The bigger the challenge, the better it is. This really is stretching every bit of me.”

The same is true of her co-star Michael Ball, and not just because it shows an entirely different side to him: as Sondheim quipped, “Who knew he could grow facial hair for a start?” But for Imelda its about something else: “Not only is he physically transformed, but also his voice. When I’m standing behind him when he’s signing the Epiphany, I wonder to myself: does anyone know what it feels like to stand here, being so close to the magnitude of his talent?”

The respect, she says, is mutual: “We absolutely adore each other, because we know we work very hard. All I’m interested in is getting it absolutely right, and he’s the same: it’s all about doing whatever it takes to get there.”

 
I’ve had a (relatively) restrained Christmas week. Of course December 25 was a day off — in London, more about at least, where the town goes dark for the entire day, viagra approved unlike on Broadway where on Christmas day itself this year you could have seen some 20 shows! (The full list is here on playbill.com) More shows were dark the day before on Christmas Eve than on Christmas Day, with only a handful of shows playing matinees. But many bounced back over the weekend with two show days on both Saturday and Sunday.

No wonder I’m usually in New York myself at this time of year — I can go to the theatre basically uninterrupted! (I’ve spent the last five or six Christmases at least there). But this year, thanks to my hip replacement surgery, I’m not allowed to fly for six weeks — a restriction that comes to an end later this week, but I’ve also had to allow a little extra time for further recovery, especially since I managed to dislocate my new hip, so will not be flying till the end of next week. And then I’ll be consciously avoiding the theatre anyway — we’re going to have a week in Barbados first, ahead of our postponed week in New York.

rocky-horror-showMeanwhile, though, I made good on my inability to get on a plane by getting on several trains instead. Last week I caught the opening of the new tour of The Rocky Horror Show at Brighton’s Theatre Royal (starring Liam Tamne and Diana Vickers, pictured right, and which I reviewed for The Stage here), and was surprised by how fresh-seeming a show I know so well — and has been around for 42 years — felt. I wish I knew the show’s secret to look this good — not to mention its title character Rocky’s secret to look as buff as Dominic Andersen manages to. (Answer: hard work! A visit to his Instagram account, as Gay Times did here, proves that gym plays a big part in his life!)

And on Sunday I travelled to Manchester to catch the Royal Exchange’s new production of Into the Woods, and then yesterday over to Leeds for the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, ahead of its national tour. I had been due to review the openings of both of those for The Stage before my hip displacement took me out of action, so it was great to finally get to them.

Reviewing Matthew Xia’s in-the-round production of Into the Woods for The Independent, Paul Vallely observed:

Twice upon a time. Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods is, to borrow from football commentary, a play of two halves. But unlike Waiting for Godot – in which, famously, nothing happens, twice – the first and second parts of Sondheim’s musical are entirely different. Usually part one is far more successful dramatically than part two. It is a singular triumph of Matthew Xia’s production at the Royal Exchange in Manchester that the second half is the more compelling by far.

That’s when the entire action is transplanted to the eerie woods of Jenny Tiramani’s design in which the trees grow visibly in front of you. Those woods are populated by such familiar faces as Alex Gaumond, Gillian Bevan, Cameron Blakely, and Michael Peavoy (the latter giving us an extra treat in his Wolf disguise wearing just a jockstrap; I’m getting used to seeing this actor stripped down to his underwear, as he also made an appearance in his Y-fronts in Billy Elliot when he played Billy’s brother Tony in the West End). But it was the unfamiliar faces that also made a big impression on me, including David Moorst (Evening Standard newcomer award winner for Violence & Son, which I missed) as Jack, Natasha Cottriall as little Red Riding Hood, Franecsca Zoutewelle as Cinderella and Amy Ellen Richardson’s wonderful Baker’s wife.

gypsy-stauntonLondon’s original baker’s wife when Into the Woods first played at the Phoenix Theatre back in 1990 was Imelda Staunton, and after seeing the matinee at the Royal Exchange of this revival, we went back to our hotel in Manchester for an evening in with the incredible Staunton, who — just 25 years later! — is now a bona fide theatre superstar thanks to her blazing performance as Momma Rose in Gypsy, a filmed version of which was transmitted on BBC4 that evening. In the close-up of the high definition television screen, Staunton’s performance made Rose, yet again, alternately wrenching, desperate and disturbing. “You’ll be swell, you’ll be great, I can tell, just you wait”… we can do it, momma is going to see to it,” she tells Louise as she shifts her focus from making a star of June, who has deserted her, to her older, shyer daughter.

But really she’s channelling her own failed ambitions through her children. ” I made you…I made you!”, she screams at Louise. “And you wanna know why? You wanna know what I did it for? ‘Cause I was born too soon and started too late, that’s why. What I got in me, I could have been better than any of you! What I got in me, what I been holding down inside of me, if I ever let it go, there wouldn’t have been signs big enough. There wouldn’t have been lights bright enough.”??But if Rose has missed her moment, Staunton seizes hers to show a  jolting vision of ferocity and finally self-knowledge. What did it get me, she asks. “Scrap-books of me in the background.” But then she shrugs: “If I could have been, I would have been… and that’s showbusiness.” It’s a terrifying truth and Momma Rose has stripped herself emotionally bare, just as her daughter does physically.

But the joy of this production of Gypsy is that it is no one-woman show, either, but filled out with brilliance throughout: as Louise, Lara Pulver has to bide her time, but the slow burn pays off when she catches fire and sizzles though her own strip show.” At these prices I’m an ecdysiast!,” she declares. And a star in her own right, too!

So are the ecdysiasts of Louise Gold, Anita Louise Combe and Julie Legrand, who between them are a hilarious vanity-free zone. Legrand also doubles up as producer Granzinger’s secretary, and gives the most brilliantly deadpan performances of utter disdain.

Lara-Pulver-and-Dan-Burton-in-Gypsy?The show also offers the best Herbie and Tulsa I’ve ever seen in Peter Davison and Dan Burton. Davison’s Herbie makes his deep love for Rose palpable, but also his exasperation; he is cracking from the start. Burton’s Tulsa (pictured left with Lara Pulver) is an effortless ballectic mover, lovely singer and charming actor: a triple treat!

After the dead-on-arrival Sound of Music Live on TV the Sunday before, which I reviewed for The Stage here, this was proof of how a theatre show can be translated for TV.

Meanwhile over in Leeds — which I managed to get to despite dire reports of floods in the city centre the day before that also led to the cancellation of the train I was originally booked onto from Manchester, but fortunately there was one half an hour later — Chitty Chitty Bang Bang took flight again in a brand-new production at West Yorkshire Playhouse, in this gloriously tuneful slice of English eccentricity, complete with flying car that might have been a useful mode of transport yesterday.

There are times you wonder what sort of drugs its original creator Ian Fleming was on to concoct this weird story of xeno and child phobias, or its composer/lyricists the Sherman brothers with such demented numbers as ‘Me Ol’ Bamboo’, or ‘The Bombie Samba’ . But James Brining’s production is so wittily staged you put such doubts to one side and just enjoy the sheer sincerity, relish and gusto of the performances, brilliantly led by Jon Robyns as Caractacus Potts.

Jon-Robyns-ChittyIt’s only weird (and stupid) that Robyns (photographed right with the company) is only doing Leeds and  not rest of the UK tour that follows its run there; he’s instead being replaced by Jason Manford, then Lee Mead, on the road. Meanwhile, Stephen Matthews, Don Gallagher and Tamsin Carroll, all brilliant as the Childcatcher,  Baron and Baroness Bombhurst respectively in Leeds, will be replaced by Martin Kemp, Phill Jupitus and Michelle Collins.

I understand that star names are needed on the road to sell a tour; but you also need actors who can sell a show. Not that their replacements won’t — I saw Jason Manford in The Producers and he was excellent — but surely the biggest star of this show, from a recognition point of view, is the car anyway, so why mess around with the rest of the casting?

In London, meanwhile, I revisited a couple of shows I’d seen before: the entirely re-cast Bull (returned to the Young Vic) and the entirely unchanged Mr Foote’s Other Leg, and also caught up with Linda at the Royal Court, which had a last-minute casting change of its own when Noma Dumezweni stepped in for the originally announced Kim Cattrall just before previews began.

I’d seen Mike Bartlett’s Bull in its original 2013 premiere at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio, when Lyn Gardner’s Guardian review mysteriously dubbed it a three-hander, even though there her review makes it clear there are four actors onstage. Then it starred Sam Troughton as the bullied man trying to hold onto a job that his colleagues Adam James and Eleanor Matsura were trying to outwit him from, with Adrian Lukis as the boss; I saw it again when it transferred to London’s Young Vic in February, with Neil Stuke replacing Lukis. Now it is being played to painfully pertinent perfection by Marc Wootton as the bullied salesman and Max Bennett and Susannah Fielding as his colleagues, with Nigel Lindsay as the boss.

simon-russell-beale-mr-footeIt was also great seeing Mr Foote’s Other Leg in its home territory — the Theatre Royal Haymarket is where much of it is actually set. It’s one of the best new plays in town, with a fantastic cast led by Simon Russell Beale (pictured left), Dervla Kirwan and Joseph Millson and featuring a scene-stealing turn from the ever-irrepressible Jenny Galloway.

And I’m also glad I finally caught up with Linda at the Royal Court — in this case, it was good that I waited as Noma Dumezweni, who was originally on-book at the press night and friends reported understandable stumbles later on, now completely owns the title role, of a woman facing the crisis (and increased invisibility) of middle-age. Dumezweni, of course, is only going to become more visible in the months to come: she’s recently been announced to star as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There are times when Penelope Skinner’s play becomes a little overwrought, but Dumezweni rages with an astonishing, ferocious and painful intensity that makes it a must-see.