Diary of a theatre addict: from a pool in Gran Canaria, a sense of perspective, at last

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Across less than a seven day period over last week, nurse I’ve been in New York (from where I returned a week on a week ago Monday), England, Wales and Scotland  — so all I missed out was Northern Ireland, but otherwise I’ve covered the old countries and one of the Colonies, as well!??I’ve already covered my New York travels in my diary of a theatre addict here last week, and in the week I returned I saw (a relatively) modest six shows, but I’ve stretched my own usual geographical boundaries by going to one of them in Wales and another in Scotland, as well as four in London, at venues both high profile and not, including the Donmar and West End on the one hand, and the tiny Hope Theatre and much smarter St James (though there’s not much smarter to choose between them in the (dis)comfort stakes).

sweeney-walesWhat took me to Wales was yet another production of Sweeney Todd — my third this year, so far, though one of them I actually saw twice over, so it was really my fourth! Sweeney Todd is becoming the Hamlet of musical theatre in terms of the number of times we can expect to see it in a single year — though it’s more akin to Macbeth in the bloody stakes.  Welsh National Opera’s version that I saw the opening of in Cardiff (David Arnsperger and Janis Kelly, who star as Sweeney Tod and Mrs Lovett are pictured above; my review is here) is itself a re-visit of a production I’ve also seen before: first done at Dundee Rep in 2010 (where I didn’t see it but it earned mouth-watering reviews) by director James Brining when he in charge there, then at West Yorkshire Playhouse (when Brining took that theatre over in 2013), and where I caught it first. it has now been re-cast with a mostly operatic cast, and an interesting change of perspective occurred.

Firstly, I realised that Brining’s high-concept staging — setting it within a mental asylum and playing it out in giant metal containers — wouldn’t seem so odd in an opera house, where they’re used to such scenic liberties being taken.  And secondly, in an opera world where sound is more important than dramatic verisimilitude, the fact that the title role was played by David Arnsperger, a clearly Germanic sounding singer, didn’t matter, either: he sang beautifully, even if his Cockney was closer to Hamburg than Hackney. But it was also nice to see how easily a couple of musical theatre performers slipped in among them, including the wonderful Jamie Muscato as Anthony Hope and George Ure as Toby (I nearly wrote Boq).

nick-holder-elsa-canastaWhat took me to Scotland was more personal, and outside of my usual comfort zone — not to mention that of the person I’d gone to see there. It was to see a piece, originally made by choreographer Javier de Frutos for Ballet Rambert, being revived by Scottish Ballet called Elsa Canasta, which is a dance drama set to songs by Cole Porter that are sung live by a singer. In the original, it was Melanie Marshall; now it was the turn of Nick Holder (pictured left with teh company), who has become a very good friend and someone I credit with turning my life around in the last year for reasons unrelated to the theatre.

But Holder is also a thrilling performer; I’ve loved him for years, but I’ve only really gotten to know him since he appeared in a brilliant production of Assassins at the Union (directed by Michael Strassen), and we became Twitter friends, then friends away from Twitter, too. He was outstanding in Rufus Norris’s production of the landmark London Road at the National (and its subsequent film version), and also in Norris’s Everyman; he’s going to be in The Threepenny Opera there next. From the Union to the National and now Scottish Ballet, he is always an original — and the figure you are drawn to instinctively on any stage. Here, delivering knock-out renditions of Cole Porter songs with a burning intensity and anguish, full of lungs and longing, he broke my heart once again.

46-BEACONI had a personal connection to another show that started my week: 46 Beacon at the Hope Theatre was a delicate two-hander by my long-time friend Bill Rosenfield, who I first got to know in his native New York, but who relocated to London over a decade ago and now lives not too far from the  Hope in Islington. In fact, his play ended up at the Hope after I took him to see a show there  (Snoo Wilson’s Lovelong of the Electric Bear) earlier this year, and introduced him to the artistic director Matthew Parker, so that puts me in another direct connection to it. So, after making that full disclosure, I can also say that I was really moved by this beautiful exploration of awakening sexuality and the casual dismissals we make of each other as we use each other’s bodies for pleasure and discard them so quickly and casually afterwards. I’ve done this so many times in my life, and you don’t always realise the consequences. This play made me think of the investments that the other person might make, especially when they’re a lot younger.

In a review of Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrara, another play about contemporary gay lives that opened at the Donmar Warehouse last week, Michael Coveney said of the play: “The ironic point is that it’s still hard to be gay and happy even as society bends over backwards, so to speak, to accommodate diversity, difference and even promiscuous life-style.”

The ‘even’ gave me pause — that sounds very much like a specific judgement against exactly what society was accommodating — as did the cheap line about bending over backwards, which is also a very reductive (and reactionary) view of gay sexuality, which doesn’t necessarily (but often very pleasurably) involves bum-fun.  Sometimes it is difficult to unpack the baggage behind what a writer is trying to say, and I mean Coveney as much as Shinn; last night Coveney shouted at me in the street on the way to In the Heights for the “outrageous” accusation of homophobia I’d made here, which I’m happy to withdraw, though his words still stand in all their loaded meaning.

I had my own difficulties unpacking Shinn’s play, which I reviewed here, for very different reasons. As I wrote, “The play seeks to have an all-purpose inclusivity as it portrays [its characters] exclusivity from each other, and the casual and not-so-casual slights, hurt and damage they variously inflict on each other.” It duly becomes diffuse and overburdened with lots of subplots.

niall-sheehyThe week also took me to the slightly unimaginative, but very well sung, Pure Imagination — a traditional jukebox show devoted to the work of the prolific lyricist Leslie Bricusse, whose title song of course is also currently to be heard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the West End’s Drury Lane. The six-man band (led by Michael England) and five-strong cast are pure class, including the always-wonderful Julie Atherton, whose version of the Superman theme song ‘Can you Read My Mind?’, (lyrics by Bricusse to John Williams’s melody) equalled the original gloriously sung by Maureen Lipman, and was worth the price of admission alone. I also enjoyed seeing and especially hearing Niall Sheehy (pictured above), a new face and voice to me, give full power minus the usual cheese factor to ‘This is the Moment’ from Jekyll and Hyde (Bricusse lyrics to Frank Wildhorn’s tune).

ImeldaStaunton-Momma-RoseFinally, I made yet another return visit to Gypsy — and why not? Last week it was also filmed for posterity, so I’ll be able to re-visit it many, many more times in the years to come, but Imelda Staunton (pictured left) is truly phenomenal. It’s difficult to describe just how transcendent Staunton is; she gives it such heart (and heartache), resilience and power; and keeps it always truthful.

But the thrill of Jonathan Kent’s old-fashioned but pitch-perfect production is that it isn’t a one-woman show but a true ensemble effort, right through the ranks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better Herbie than Peter Davison, a better Tulsa than Dan Burton, or a performance of such timid brilliance than Lara Pulver’s Louise. And the trio of principal strippers are a vanity-free riot in the show’s scene-stealing ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’. The show is, in every other regard, completely gimmick-free; just the real deal.
Across less than a seven day period over last week, more about I’ve been in New York (from where I returned a week on a week ago Monday), pill England, Wales and Scotland  — so all I missed out was Northern Ireland, but otherwise I’ve covered the old countries and one of the Colonies, as well!??I’ve already covered my New York travels in my diary of a theatre addict here last week, and in the week I returned I saw (a relatively) modest six shows, but I’ve stretched my own usual geographical boundaries by going to one of them in Wales and another in Scotland, as well as four in London, at venues both high profile and not, including the Donmar and West End on the one hand, and the tiny Hope Theatre and much smarter St James (though there’s not much smarter to choose between them in the (dis)comfort stakes).

sweeney-walesWhat took me to Wales was yet another production of Sweeney Todd — my third this year, so far, though one of them I actually saw twice over, so it was really my fourth! Sweeney Todd is becoming the Hamlet of musical theatre in terms of the number of times we can expect to see it in a single year — though it’s more akin to Macbeth in the bloody stakes.  Welsh National Opera’s version that I saw the opening of in Cardiff (David Arnsperger and Janis Kelly, who star as Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett are pictured above; my review is here) is itself a re-visit of a production I’ve also seen before: first done at Dundee Rep in 2010 (where I didn’t see it but it earned mouth-watering reviews) by director James Brining when he in charge there, then at West Yorkshire Playhouse (when Brining took that theatre over in 2013), and where I caught it first. it has now been re-cast with a mostly operatic cast, and an interesting change of perspective occurred.

Firstly, I realised that Brining’s high-concept staging — setting it within a mental asylum and playing it out in giant metal containers — wouldn’t seem so odd in an opera house, where they’re used to such scenic liberties being taken.  And secondly, in an opera world where sound is more important than dramatic verisimilitude, the fact that the title role was played by David Arnsperger, a clearly Germanic sounding singer, didn’t matter, either: he sang beautifully, even if his Cockney was closer to Hamburg than Hackney. But it was also nice to see how easily a couple of musical theatre performers slipped in among them, including the wonderful Jamie Muscato as Anthony Hope and George Ure as Toby (I nearly wrote Boq).

nick-holder-elsa-canastaWhat took me to Scotland was more personal, and outside of my usual comfort zone — not to mention that of the person I’d gone to see there. It was to see a piece, originally made by choreographer Javier de Frutos for Ballet Rambert, being revived by Scottish Ballet called Elsa Canasta, which is a dance drama set to songs by Cole Porter that are sung live by a singer. In the original, it was Melanie Marshall; now it was the turn of Nick Holder (pictured left with the company), who has become a very good friend and someone I credit with turning my life around in the last year for reasons unrelated to the theatre.

But Holder is also a thrilling performer; I’ve loved him for years, but I’ve only really gotten to know him since he appeared in a brilliant production of Assassins at the Union (directed by Michael Strassen), and we became Twitter friends, then friends away from Twitter, too. He was outstanding in Rufus Norris’s production of the landmark London Road at the National (and its subsequent film version), and also in Norris’s Everyman; he’s going to be in The Threepenny Opera there next. From the Union to the National and now Scottish Ballet, he is always an original — and the figure you are drawn to instinctively on any stage. Here, delivering knock-out renditions of Cole Porter songs with a burning intensity and anguish, full of lungs and longing, he broke my heart once again.

46-BEACONI had a personal connection to another show that started my week: 46 Beacon at the Hope Theatre was a delicate two-hander by my long-time friend Bill Rosenfield, who I first got to know in his native New York, but who relocated to London over a decade ago and now lives not too far from the  Hope in Islington. In fact, his play ended up at the Hope after I took him to see a show there  (Snoo Wilson’s Lovelong of the Electric Bear) earlier this year, and introduced him to the artistic director Matthew Parker, so that puts me in another direct connection to it. So, after making that full disclosure, I can also say that I was really moved by this beautiful exploration of awakening sexuality and the casual dismissals we make of each other as we use each other’s bodies for pleasure and discard them so quickly and casually afterwards. I’ve done this so many times in my life, and you don’t always realise the consequences. This play made me think of the investments that the other person might make, especially when they’re a lot younger.

In a review of Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrara, another play about contemporary gay lives that opened at the Donmar Warehouse last week, Michael Coveney said of the play: “The ironic point is that it’s still hard to be gay and happy even as society bends over backwards, so to speak, to accommodate diversity, difference and even promiscuous life-style.”

The ‘even’ gave me pause — that sounds very much like a specific judgement against exactly what society was accommodating — as did the cheap line about bending over backwards, which is also a very reductive (and reactionary) view of gay sexuality, which doesn’t necessarily (but often very pleasurably) involves bum-fun.  Sometimes it is difficult to unpack the baggage behind what a writer is trying to say, and I mean Coveney as much as Shinn; last night Coveney shouted at me in the street on the way to In the Heights for the “outrageous” accusation of homophobia I’d made here, which I’m happy to withdraw, though his words still stand in all their loaded meaning.

I had my own difficulties unpacking Shinn’s play, which I reviewed here, for very different reasons. As I wrote, “The play seeks to have an all-purpose inclusivity as it portrays [its characters] exclusivity from each other, and the casual and not-so-casual slights, hurt and damage they variously inflict on each other.” It duly becomes diffuse and overburdened with lots of subplots.

niall-sheehyThe week also took me to the slightly unimaginative, but very well sung, Pure Imagination — a traditional jukebox show devoted to the work of the prolific lyricist Leslie Bricusse, whose title song of course is also currently to be heard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the West End’s Drury Lane. The six-man band (led by Michael England) and five-strong cast are pure class, including the always-wonderful Julie Atherton, whose version of the Superman theme song ‘Can you Read My Mind?’, (lyrics by Bricusse to John Williams’s melody) equalled the original gloriously sung by Maureen Lipman, and was worth the price of admission alone. I also enjoyed seeing and especially hearing Niall Sheehy (pictured above), a new face and voice to me, give full power minus the usual cheese factor to ‘This is the Moment’ from Jekyll and Hyde (Bricusse lyrics to Frank Wildhorn’s tune).

ImeldaStaunton-Momma-RoseFinally, I made yet another return visit to Gypsy — and why not? Last week it was also filmed for posterity, so I’ll be able to re-visit it many, many more times in the years to come, but Imelda Staunton (pictured left) is truly phenomenal. It’s difficult to describe just how transcendent Staunton is; she gives it such heart (and heartache), resilience and power; and keeps it always truthful.

But the thrill of Jonathan Kent’s old-fashioned but pitch-perfect production is that it isn’t a one-woman show but a true ensemble effort, right through the ranks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better Herbie than Peter Davison, a better Tulsa than Dan Burton, or a performance of such timid brilliance than Lara Pulver’s Louise. And the trio of principal strippers are a vanity-free riot in the show’s scene-stealing ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’. The show is, in every other regard, completely gimmick-free; just the real deal.
Across less than a seven day period over last week, viagra I’ve been in New York (from where I returned a week on a week ago Monday), cheapest England, Wales and Scotland  — so all I missed out was Northern Ireland, but otherwise I’ve covered the old countries and one of the Colonies, as well!??I’ve already covered my New York travels in my diary of a theatre addict here last week, and in the week I returned I saw (a relatively) modest six shows, but I’ve stretched my own usual geographical boundaries by going to one of them in Wales and another in Scotland, as well as four in London, at venues both high profile and not, including the Donmar and West End on the one hand, and the tiny Hope Theatre and much smarter St James (though there’s not much smarter to choose between them in the (dis)comfort stakes).

sweeney-walesWhat took me to Wales was yet another production of Sweeney Todd — my third this year, so far, though one of them I actually saw twice over, so it was really my fourth! Sweeney Todd is becoming the Hamlet of musical theatre in terms of the number of times we can expect to see it in a single year — though it’s more akin to Macbeth in the bloody stakes.  Welsh National Opera’s version that I saw the opening of in Cardiff (David Arnsperger and Janis Kelly, who star as Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett are pictured above; my review is here) is itself a re-visit of a production I’ve also seen before: first done at Dundee Rep in 2010 (where I didn’t see it but it earned mouth-watering reviews) by director James Brining when he in charge there, then at West Yorkshire Playhouse (when Brining took that theatre over in 2013), and where I caught it first. it has now been re-cast with a mostly operatic cast, and an interesting change of perspective occurred.

Firstly, I realised that Brining’s high-concept staging — setting it within a mental asylum and playing it out in giant metal containers — wouldn’t seem so odd in an opera house, where they’re used to such scenic liberties being taken.  And secondly, in an opera world where sound is more important than dramatic verisimilitude, the fact that the title role was played by David Arnsperger, a clearly Germanic sounding singer, didn’t matter, either: he sang beautifully, even if his Cockney was closer to Hamburg than Hackney. But it was also nice to see how easily a couple of musical theatre performers slipped in among them, including the wonderful Jamie Muscato as Anthony Hope and George Ure as Toby (I nearly wrote Boq).

nick-holder-elsa-canastaWhat took me to Scotland was more personal, and outside of my usual comfort zone — not to mention that of the person I’d gone to see there. It was to see a piece, originally made by choreographer Javier de Frutos for Ballet Rambert, being revived by Scottish Ballet called Elsa Canasta, which is a dance drama set to songs by Cole Porter that are sung live by a singer. In the original, it was Melanie Marshall; now it was the turn of Nick Holder (pictured left with the company), who has become a very good friend and someone I credit with turning my life around in the last year for reasons unrelated to the theatre.

But Holder is also a thrilling performer; I’ve loved him for years, but I’ve only really gotten to know him since he appeared in a brilliant production of Assassins at the Union (directed by Michael Strassen), and we became Twitter friends, then friends away from Twitter, too. He was outstanding in Rufus Norris’s production of the landmark London Road at the National (and its subsequent film version), and also in Norris’s Everyman; he’s going to be in The Threepenny Opera there next. From the Union to the National and now Scottish Ballet, he is always an original — and the figure you are drawn to instinctively on any stage. Here, delivering knock-out renditions of Cole Porter songs with a burning intensity and anguish, full of lungs and longing, he broke my heart once again.

46-BEACONI had a personal connection to another show that started my week: 46 Beacon at the Hope Theatre was a delicate two-hander by my long-time friend Bill Rosenfield, who I first got to know in his native New York, but who relocated to London over a decade ago and now lives not too far from the  Hope in Islington. In fact, his play ended up at the Hope after I took him to see a show there  (Snoo Wilson’s Lovelong of the Electric Bear) earlier this year, and introduced him to the artistic director Matthew Parker, so that puts me in another direct connection to it. So, after making that full disclosure, I can also say that I was really moved by this beautiful exploration of awakening sexuality and the casual dismissals we make of each other as we use each other’s bodies for pleasure and discard them so quickly and casually afterwards. I’ve done this so many times in my life, and you don’t always realise the consequences. This play made me think of the investments that the other person might make, especially when they’re a lot younger.

In a review of Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrara, another play about contemporary gay lives that opened at the Donmar Warehouse last week, Michael Coveney said of the play: “The ironic point is that it’s still hard to be gay and happy even as society bends over backwards, so to speak, to accommodate diversity, difference and even promiscuous life-style.”

The ‘even’ gave me pause — that sounds very much like a specific judgement against exactly what society was accommodating — as did the cheap line about bending over backwards, which is also a very reductive (and reactionary) view of gay sexuality, which doesn’t necessarily (but often very pleasurably) involves bum-fun.  Sometimes it is difficult to unpack the baggage behind what a writer is trying to say, and I mean Coveney as much as Shinn; last night Coveney shouted at me in the street on the way to In the Heights for the “outrageous” accusation of homophobia I’d made here, which I’m happy to withdraw, though his words still stand in all their loaded meaning.

I had my own difficulties unpacking Shinn’s play, which I reviewed here, for very different reasons. As I wrote, “The play seeks to have an all-purpose inclusivity as it portrays [its characters] exclusivity from each other, and the casual and not-so-casual slights, hurt and damage they variously inflict on each other.” It duly becomes diffuse and overburdened with lots of subplots.

niall-sheehyThe week also took me to the slightly unimaginative, but very well sung, Pure Imagination — a traditional jukebox show devoted to the work of the prolific lyricist Leslie Bricusse, whose title song of course is also currently to be heard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the West End’s Drury Lane. The six-man band (led by Michael England) and five-strong cast are pure class, including the always-wonderful Julie Atherton, whose version of the Superman theme song ‘Can you Read My Mind?’, (lyrics by Bricusse to John Williams’s melody) equalled the original gloriously sung by Maureen McGovern, and was worth the price of admission alone. I also enjoyed seeing and especially hearing Niall Sheehy (pictured above), a new face and voice to me, give full power minus the usual cheese factor to ‘This is the Moment’ from Jekyll and Hyde (Bricusse lyrics to Frank Wildhorn’s tune).

ImeldaStaunton-Momma-RoseFinally, I made yet another return visit to Gypsy — and why not? Last week it was also filmed for posterity, so I’ll be able to re-visit it many, many more times in the years to come, but Imelda Staunton (pictured left) is truly phenomenal. It’s difficult to describe just how transcendent Staunton is; she gives it such heart (and heartache), resilience and power; and keeps it always truthful.

But the thrill of Jonathan Kent’s old-fashioned but pitch-perfect production is that it isn’t a one-woman show but a true ensemble effort, right through the ranks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better Herbie than Peter Davison, a better Tulsa than Dan Burton, or a performance of such timid brilliance than Lara Pulver’s Louise. And the trio of principal strippers are a vanity-free riot in the show’s scene-stealing ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’. The show is, in every other regard, completely gimmick-free; just the real deal.
Across less than a seven day period over last week, order I’ve been in New York (from where I returned a week on a week ago Monday), see England, price Wales and Scotland  — so all I missed out was Northern Ireland, but otherwise I’ve covered the old countries and one of the Colonies, as well!??I’ve already covered my New York travels in my diary of a theatre addict here last week, and in the week I returned I saw (a relatively) modest six shows, but I’ve stretched my own usual geographical boundaries by going to one of them in Wales and another in Scotland, as well as four in London, at venues both high profile and not, including the Donmar and West End on the one hand, and the tiny Hope Theatre and much smarter St James (though there’s not much smarter to choose between them in the (dis)comfort stakes).

sweeney-walesWhat took me to Wales was yet another production of Sweeney Todd — my third this year, so far, though one of them I actually saw twice over, so it was really my fourth! Sweeney Todd is becoming the Hamlet of musical theatre in terms of the number of times we can expect to see it in a single year — though it’s more akin to Macbeth in the bloody stakes.  Welsh National Opera’s version that I saw the opening of in Cardiff (David Arnsperger and Janis Kelly, who star as Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett are pictured above; my review is here) is itself a re-visit of a production I’ve also seen before: first done at Dundee Rep in 2010 (where I didn’t see it but it earned mouth-watering reviews) by director James Brining when he in charge there, then at West Yorkshire Playhouse (when Brining took that theatre over in 2013), and where I caught it first. it has now been re-cast with a mostly operatic cast, and an interesting change of perspective occurred.

Firstly, I realised that Brining’s high-concept staging — setting it within a mental asylum and playing it out in giant metal containers — wouldn’t seem so odd in an opera house, where they’re used to such scenic liberties being taken.  And secondly, in an opera world where sound is more important than dramatic verisimilitude, the fact that the title role was played by David Arnsperger, a clearly Germanic sounding singer, didn’t matter, either: he sang beautifully, even if his Cockney was closer to Hamburg than Hackney. But it was also nice to see how easily a couple of musical theatre performers slipped in among them, including the wonderful Jamie Muscato as Anthony Hope and George Ure as Toby (I nearly wrote Boq).

nick-holder-elsa-canastaWhat took me to Scotland was more personal, and outside of my usual comfort zone — not to mention that of the person I’d gone to see there. It was to see a piece, originally made by choreographer Javier de Frutos for Ballet Rambert, being revived by Scottish Ballet called Elsa Canasta, which is a dance drama set to songs by Cole Porter that are sung live by a singer. In the original, it was Melanie Marshall; now it was the turn of Nick Holder (pictured left with the company), who has become a very good friend and someone I credit with turning my life around in the last year for reasons unrelated to the theatre.

But Holder is also a thrilling performer; I’ve loved him for years, but I’ve only really gotten to know him since he appeared in a brilliant production of Assassins at the Union (directed by Michael Strassen), and we became Twitter friends, then friends away from Twitter, too. He was outstanding in Rufus Norris’s production of the landmark London Road at the National (and its subsequent film version), and also in Norris’s Everyman; he’s going to be in The Threepenny Opera there next. From the Union to the National and now Scottish Ballet, he is always an original — and the figure you are drawn to instinctively on any stage. Here, delivering knock-out renditions of Cole Porter songs with a burning intensity and anguish, full of lungs and longing, he broke my heart once again.

46-BEACONI had a personal connection to another show that started my week: 46 Beacon at the Hope Theatre was a delicate two-hander by my long-time friend Bill Rosenfield, who I first got to know in his native New York, but who relocated to London over a decade ago and now lives not too far from the  Hope in Islington. In fact, his play ended up at the Hope after I took him to see a show there  (Snoo Wilson’s Lovelong of the Electric Bear) earlier this year, and introduced him to the artistic director Matthew Parker, so that puts me in another direct connection to it. So, after making that full disclosure, I can also say that I was really moved by this beautiful exploration of awakening sexuality and the casual dismissals we make of each other as we use each other’s bodies for pleasure and discard them so quickly and casually afterwards. I’ve done this so many times in my life, and you don’t always realise the consequences. This play made me think of the investments that the other person might make, especially when they’re a lot younger.

In a review of Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrara, another play about contemporary gay lives that opened at the Donmar Warehouse last week, Michael Coveney said of the play: “The ironic point is that it’s still hard to be gay and happy even as society bends over backwards, so to speak, to accommodate diversity, difference and even promiscuous life-style.”

The ‘even’ gave me pause — that sounds very much like a specific judgement against exactly what society was accommodating — as did the cheap line about bending over backwards, which is also a very reductive (and reactionary) view of gay sexuality, which doesn’t necessarily (but often very pleasurably) involves bum-fun.  Sometimes it is difficult to unpack the baggage behind what a writer is trying to say, and I mean Coveney as much as Shinn; last night Coveney shouted at me in the street on the way to In the Heights for the “outrageous” accusation of homophobia I’d made here, which I’m happy to withdraw, though his words still stand in all their loaded meaning.

I had my own difficulties unpacking Shinn’s play, which I reviewed here, for very different reasons. As I wrote, “The play seeks to have an all-purpose inclusivity as it portrays [its characters] exclusivity from each other, and the casual and not-so-casual slights, hurt and damage they variously inflict on each other.” It duly becomes diffuse and overburdened with lots of subplots.

niall-sheehyThe week also took me to the slightly unimaginative, but very well sung, Pure Imagination — a traditional jukebox show devoted to the work of the prolific lyricist Leslie Bricusse, whose title song of course is also currently to be heard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the West End’s Drury Lane. The six-man band (led by Michael England) and five-strong cast are pure class, including the always-wonderful Julie Atherton, whose version of the Superman theme song ‘Can you Read My Mind?’, (lyrics by Bricusse to John Williams’s melody) equalled the original gloriously sung by Maureen McGovern, and was worth the price of admission alone. I also enjoyed seeing and especially hearing Niall Sheehy (pictured above), a new face and voice to me, give full power minus the usual cheese factor to ‘This is the Moment’ from Jekyll and Hyde (Bricusse lyrics to Frank Wildhorn’s tune).

ImeldaStaunton-Momma-RoseFinally, I made yet another return visit to Gypsy — and why not? Last week it was also filmed for posterity, so I’ll be able to re-visit it many, many more times in the years to come, but Imelda Staunton (pictured left) is truly phenomenal. It’s difficult to describe just how transcendent Staunton is; she gives it such heart (and heartache), resilience and power; and keeps it always truthful.

But the thrill of Jonathan Kent’s old-fashioned but pitch-perfect production is that it isn’t a one-woman show but a true ensemble effort, right through the ranks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better Herbie than Peter Davison, a better Tulsa than Dan Burton, or a performance of such timid brilliance than Lara Pulver’s Louise. And the trio of principal strippers are a vanity-free riot in the show’s scene-stealing ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’. The show is, in every other regard, completely gimmick-free; just the real deal.
IMG_2428I am writing this sitting beside a pool, viagra in glorious sunshine, at a private hotel across the street from a beach in Gran Canaria (view of the resort left). This is the sort of holiday my husband and I always give ourselves at least once a year — a place with no theatre at all. Not that you can’t find bits of it: last night, for instance, we went to the really awful Yumbo Centre, a giant outdoor shopping centre where most of the gay nightlife is centred, and found a little piece of theatrical heaven in the Centrestage bar, where they play video extracts from film and stage musicals all night long.

So of course there was Gene Kelly dancing up a storm, so to speak, in Singin’ in the Rain, and Deborah Kerr getting to know the Thai kids she’s looking after in The King and I. And Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Rita Moreno performing ‘America’ in West Side Story, and even one or two clips I couldn’t begin to identify.

But I also loved re-visiting some stage classics via archive footage I’d not seen for a while: Liz Robertson performing a song from My Fair Lady, Jonathan Pryce doing ‘American Dream’ from Miss Saigon, a (very young) Teddy Kempner  and Ellen Greene in the London production of Little Shop of Horrors. I’d seen all of these shows, of course, the first time they came around; it was a special, if slightly incongruous, treat to be re-visiting them in a bar in an otherwise entirely characterless brick shopping centre.

But I’ve not come to Gran Canaria for the showtunes but for the sun and relaxation, and I’m getting that — even if I’m spending some of the time doing things like writing this! And suddenly it puts the theatrical addiction that this diary chronicles every week into some kind of perspective; there is more to life than the theatre!

Having said that, I had a bit of a theatrical immersion before I went, and in the time since I was last here  a week ago last Wednesday, I’d been to New York, England, Wales and Scotland in a seven day period. Last week, meanwhile, I found myself wearing my teaching hat three times over, with my regular musical theatre class at ArtsEd class on Monday, a day with the Musical Theatre students at Mountview on Tuesday and seeing the dress rehearsal of ENO’s La Boheme with a group of A level students attending thanks to the Mousetrap Foundation on Wednesday evening, before the next Tuesday co-leading (with opera and classical critic Alexandra Coghlan) a day’s workshop on critical writing with them.

Teaching is a richly enjoyable part of what I do now; I love sharing my enthusiasm for what I do and passing the torch, in whatever way I can. It’s also part of what informs my own critical writing, which I always hope is driven by passion, though not, I hope, indiscriminate cheer-leading.

streetcar-stewart-clarkeSo it is that, over the last week, I wasn’t able to cheer quite as loudly as I’d have liked to at Nikolai Foster’s new production of A Streetcar Named Desire at Leicester’s Curve Studio (my review for The Stage is here), even though I love the play, like the director personally and and know its leading man Stewart Clarke, pictured left, a bit. (I was sitting three seats away from his mum Julia Hills, another actor I know and love). ??This is where I can only be honest, or else my praise would be an empty gesture. (And lead readers to distrust what I say, too).

On the other hand, I cheered just as loudly as I’ve done on each of the CLOSE-TO-YOU-kyleprevious four times I’ve seen Close to You, as What’s It All About? has now been renamed, on its transfer to the West End’s Criterion (my review for The Stage is here). This brilliant Burt Bacharach tribute and mash-up saw the great man in attendance himself on the first night, and — in a post-show masterstroke — bringing Piccadilly Circus itself to a standstill as he accompanied the cast in their post-show encore of ‘Raindrops keep Falling On My Head’ near Eros outside the theatre. (He watched the show that preceded it, sitting along from Tom Jones, from the front row of the dress circle — not as my Times colleague Ann Treneman erroneously suggested in her review, the front row of the Upper Circle. Perhaps she has not been going to the theatre long enough yet to know the difference).

I also spent a full day with the theatrical patron saint of depression Chekhov last Saturday when Chichester presented a trilogy day of his first three plays — Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull (which I reviewed here) — in which all of the principal characters suffer from forms of depression. Both the night before and two nights later I was also in the world of depression: last Friday I caught after Fake it till You Make It at last, an extraordinary show about a couple and their different perspectives of dealing with the long-term depression of the male party that had been a big hit at Edinburgh this year; and on Monday, I finally caught up, too, with Farinelli and the King, Claire van Kampen’s beautiful play about the King of Spain whose own depression is alleviated by the singing of a celebrated castrato.

Each of these shows resonated on a personal level, as a fellow sufferer; I’m not in a depression now, so was able to watch them with a little more disinterest though far from lack of interest.