Diary of a Theatre Addict: from New York to Edinburgh and Eastbourne, plus meeting Judi Dench

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I’ve not produced a top ten of the week since before Christmas (apart from a Top 10 look ahead for 2016 of the shows I’m most looking foward to this year).

Meanwhile, ed quite a lot has changed since I was last here, price not least that my favourite new musical of last year Bend it Like Beckham received its closing notice while I was on holiday in Barbados the week before last. So that has to top my first list of the New Year! Also this week: the Donmar’s sell-out production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses gets a NT Live broadcast, visit this and its your last chance to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

MAIN THEATRE OPENINGS OF THE WEEK

In London:

  • The Oliviers in Concert: The Laurence Olivier Awards turn 40 this year — and in advance of this year’s ceremony on April 3 at the Royal Opera House, a concert is being held at the Royal Festival Hall tonight (January 18) to celebrate the anniversary that is being directed by multiple Olivier winner Maria Friedman. The anniversary year will also see a major exhibition at the V&A that will also subsequently transfer to New York’s Lincoln Center.
  • the-motherThe Mother: Florian Zeller, whose hit play The Father is about to return to the West End next month for another run at the Duke of York’s ahead of a national tour (while a separate production of the play is being staged on Broadway in March), sees the transfer of a companion play The Mother at the Tricycle on Tuesday January 26 with Gina McKee in the title role (picture right). It has also just been announced that yet another play by him, The Truth, will be premiered at the Menier Chocolate Factory in March.  Website: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/current-programme-pages/theatre/theatre-programme-main/the-mother/
  • Escaped Alone: after the National’s premiere of Caryl Churchill’s Here We Go in November, the Royal Court now has the world premiere of another Churchill play, opening January 28. James Macdonald directs a cast that comprises Linda Bassett and Deborah Findlay (two of my favourite actors), Kika Markham and June Watson. Website: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/escapedalone

MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THIS WEEK
beckham-girls1) Bend it Like Beckham. My favourite new musical of last year, as I wrote here for The Stage, was the stage version of the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, featuring the glorious and soaring music of Howard Goodall. It has sadly been announced that it will close on March 5 at the end of the original cast’s contracts, so catch it now — or catch it again, as I intend to, as much as possible in the next few weeks! See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://benditlikebeckhamthemusical.co.uk/

2) Close to You. Joyful concert revue of Burt Bacharach classics, mashed up and re-made for now, now extended at the Criterion to Feb. 14. See my review for The Stage here.  Website: http://closetoyoulondon.com/

in-the-heights3) 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 the new Olivier-eligible King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to April 10. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/

4) Les Liaisons Dangereuses. This grimly gripping portrait of human manipulation and sexual game playing casts a dark spell, superbly played by Janet McTeer and Dominic West, at the Donmar Warehouse. My review for London Theatre Guide is here. Webiste: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2015/les-liaisons-dangereuses. It will also be broadcast live to cinemas in the UK and elsewhere in partnership with NT Live this week on Jan. 28. Check out details here on venues it will be screens in: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/ntlout14-les-liaisons-dangereuses
5) Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Last week to see Mischief Theatre’s version of JM Barrie’s story that defiantly insists it is not a pantomime, closing at the Apollo on December 31. But it is a farce — and a riotous one — in which, instead of Peter Pan’s traditional declaration that to die would be an awfully big adventure, it is more of an awfully big misadventure. It’s a cliche to say you were crying with laughter, but I really was. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com/peter-pan-goes-wrong

guys-and-dolls-sit-down6) 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 for The Stage here. Website: http://www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/

funny-girl7) Funny Girl. The entire run at the Menier (to March 5) is sold out — but it moves to the Savoy next from April 8 (to take over from Guys and Dolls, see above), so book now to see the wonderful Sheridan Smith starring in the first major London revival of Jule Styne’s 1960s musical since its original premiere on Broadway and in the West End featured Barbra Streisand in the title role (as well as in the subsequent film version). Seen my review for The Stage here. My interview with Sheridan Smith for The Stage is here. Website: http://www.funnygirlthemusical.co.uk/
GreyGardens8) Grey Gardens. The 2006 Broadway musical based on the true story of a reclusive mother and daughter who lived in squalor in an East Hampton mansion and were related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis receives its London premiere in a  production starring the great Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell, running to February 6. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/grey-gardens/

andy-nyman-hangmen9) Hangmen. Martin McDonagh’s latest thriller chiller comedy stars David Morrissey and Johnny Flynn, newly joined by Andy Nyman for its West End transfer to Wyndham’s (where it runs to March 5) from the Royal Court. My review of the Royal Court opening for London Theatre Guide is here. My interview with Andy Nyman (pictured above) for The Stage is here. Website: http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/Hangmen/Hangmen.asp

homecoming10) The Homecoming. Jamie Lloyd directs an insinuatingly creepy, beautifully acted production of Pinter’s masterpiece about a family battle for possession and control, running at Trafalgar Studios to February 13. The cast features Keith Allen, Gemma Chan, Ron Cook, Gary Kemp, John Macmillan and John Simm.  Website: http://thejamielloydcompany.com/our-shows/the-homecoming
I’ve not been here with my usual weekly diary of a theatre addict for a month now, purchase since my last posting here. ??So today I’m catching up, viagra not on a week, but on an entire month — during which time I’ve been to Edinburgh, Barbados, New York, Eastbourne and of course London. I’ve interviewed Andy Nyman, Sheridan Smith, Joe McElderry, composer Lucy Simon, Janie Dee and Diana Rigg.

I’ve (only) seen 19 shows — though one of them I saw twice on consecutive nights (and am returning to again next Saturday for another viewing), namely Grey Gardens – a show that has got the musical year off to an exceptional start. (And yes, I’m even buying my tickets for next weekend — always the mark of a show I truly love! It has just been announced that last summer’s US production at Sag Harbor that starred Rachel York and Betty Buckley is heading to LA’s Ahmonson Theatre this July, and I’ve already been consulting flight schedules….)

Two of those shows were in Edinburgh, where I went to spend a few days between Christmas and New Year; that I wrote about here; another seven were in New York (there should have been two more, but I had to cut the trip short when the massive snowstorm that hit the city last weekend made me leave town on the Friday evening instead of Sunday morning). noises-off-bwayNew York was partly pleasure, partly work: I reviewed the new Broadway production of Noises Off (pictured left) that had just opened here, and reported on some of the rest of my week here, which also included a couple of the notable things I’d missed back in London, including Audra McDonald’s one-night and Ramin Karimloo’s two-night return to the London stage.

But one of the reasons I had to make sure I was home by last Monday was four awards events back-to-back: on Monday, the Oliviers in concert launched this year’s 40th anniversary celebrations of the event at the Royal Festival Hall, which I reviewed here; judi-dench-mark-shentonand on Tuesday, I hosted this year’s Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, at which Judi Dench accepted the award for Best Shakespearean performance, but the Daily Mail hilariously focused on what she’d chosen to wear in a news story that masqueraded as a fashion report, which you can check out for yourself in the picture of the two of us together.

Judi made an effort not to distract from the purpose of the evening and slipped into a simply stylish monochrome ensemble. he versatile screen star – who has played a number of leading roles in Shakespeare’s best-loved plays over the duration of her 59-year career – sported a white loose-fitting silk top, featuring a scooped neckline, a black longline cardigan and a pair of black slim-fitting trousers. Judi topped off her conservative look with a pair of small-heeled black boots which afforded her some height. She decorated her right wrists with stacks of thin silver bangles and her neck with delicate gold chains.

Then on Wednesday I was part of the judging panel of this year’s Offies Awards, whose shortlist has been announced today. Given the number of shows that were eligible for consideration, it always impresses me how rigorously Sofie Mason, founder of the Offies, and her co-conspirator Diana Jervis-Read have established a way in which the productions have an equal opportunity to judged and rewarded. Shows are seen first by banks of assessors who submit reports; those that are short-listed for awards by them are then seen by super-assessors in each category, and finally the super-assessors and a team of professional theatre critics including the FT’s Ian Shuttleworth, Daisy Bowie-Sell (from Whatsonstage), Tom Wicker and myself meet to discuss them all. The winners will be announced on Sir Ian McKellen’s Twitter feed on February 28.

On Friday The Stage held its annual New Year’s party at Drury Lane, as usual — at which this year’s Stage Awards were presented, crowning the week’s awards events with recognition to theatres, schools and people for achievements across the year, including the Almeida (London theatre of the year), Manchester’s Royal Exchange (regional theatre of the year), Cardiff’s The Other Room (fringe theatre of the year)  Producer of the year (Sonia Friedman, for the second year running) and Theatre building of the year (National for its NT Futures refurbishment and rebuild). I was on the judging panel for this one, too — though I hasten to add I excused myself from voting in the Best School category, won by ArtsEd London, since I teach there!

And talking of ArtsEd — I was back there last Wednesday to see its production of Urinetown, performed by 3rd year Musical Theatre students. This is an audacious, disquieting and knowing musical presented with unabashed energy, and featured a star-making turn from Vinny Coyle as Bobby Strong, living up to his character’s name; he has a great voice, acting and huge presence. Particular kudos, too, to Domonic Ramsden, who despite breaking a foot in the previous night’s performance, was absolutely superb on crutches, which he made seem utterly organic to his performance: much like Antony Sher used them, deliberately, in his famous Richard III, they became an additional tool of menace.

the-mother-tricycleI also, of course, spent part of the week catching up on other shows, new and old — I was at the openings of Caryl Churchill’s latest perplexing play Escaped Alone at the Royal Court that I longed to escape from (my review is here) as well as the transfer of Florian Zeller’s The Mother to the Tricycle from Bath’s Ustinov (pictured above), following a similar journey as Zeller’s The Father, which I reviewed here.

I also caught up, on its penultimate night, with Richard Greenberg’s The Dazzle at Found 111, which I was due to see when it first opened but was prevented from doing so when I was held up by an over-running hospital appointment then a non-arriving Uber. I’m glad I waited — at the time I was having to take one step at a time, and since there are more than 70 to get to the venue, it would have been a very slow journey. Though Found 111 is only a temporary space — it is due to be converted into luxury flats soon — its great to see such a bold alternative in the heart of the West End; as Emily Dobbs, co-producer of the play with the Michael Grandage Company, said in an interview with Lyn Gardner in The Guardian,

It’s all in the juxtapositions. I look across Charing Cross Road and I see Bend It Like Beckham playing in the theatre opposite, and here we are in Found111 trying to do something on a different scale and in a different way. There’s room for both of us. In a way, what we’re doing is turning the commercial model on its head and saying small can be beautiful. You don’t have to be a grand West End theatre or big producing house to create work of high quality that sells tickets. It feels like a moment, as if we might be on the cusp of something.

Of course selling tickets to this one wasn’t difficult: the main reason most people would have booked to see it would have been to see the return of Sherlock star Andrew Scott to the live stage.

But in fact there was a lot more to it. This disturbing play about co-dependent brothers who become hoarders is acted with impressive feeling by Scott and his co-star David Dawson.

cats-napier-setAnd yesterday, I went to see a central part of some of the nearly 200 theatre productions that have been designed by John Napier in his 50-year career, in a brilliant retrospective exhibition he curated at Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery. It closes there today, but a London home must surely be found for it, since most of his work has begun in London from the National (including the famous horse masks for Equus) and RSC to such landmark international musicals as Cats (his set model is pictured right), Starlight Express and the regional productions of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon.

 

Napier himself led a fascinating walking tour of the exhibition yesterday, that traced his career from art college to early stage design for the Royal Court (that first stripped out the idea of a stage at all and created what must have been theatre’s first immersive space back in 1970) to his current preoccupations as a sculptor. Seeing me amongst the throng, he said, “I’m working on different stages now, Mark — ones with no actors.”

lear-napier-paintingHe has also productively turned his own productions into artworks, including an incredibly desolate painting based on his set design for Edward Bond’s Lear (also at the Royal Court, pictured left). At one point in his commentary he reflected, “I feel I have fulfilled my life.” What a wonderful thing to be able to say!

And I feel I am fulfilling mine, celebrating it and all the other theatrical wonders I am privileged to see.