Diary of a theatre addict: from the Tony’s to future Tony winners at ArtsEd

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the dayLeave a Comment


addictI’ve been cramming the diary even fuller than usual, if that’s possible, over the last week, even allowing for the fact that I actually allowed myself a day off yesterday (imagine!), paying a social trip to have lunch with friends in Bath — and even resisting the temptation to see The Mother at the Ustinov studio, even though it had both a matinee and an evening performance I could have popped into see.

So perhaps I’m slowing down a bit. But it certainly didn’t feel like it last Monday, when I landed from New York at 7.30am and wrote up a column published on The Stage website that day on the results of this year’s Tony Awards before I even left the airport. I had got myself upgraded (using mileage, I hasten to add) to Virgin Upper Class for my return leg, only so that I could use the Virgin Revivals lounge on arrival (but no, they paying tribute to the previous night’s Tony winner The King and I, despite its name).

And then I headed directly to Osterley, home of Sky News, to do a live TV interview on this year’s Tony results, and particularly the great run of British wins for shows that included the National’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Best Play, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting), The Audience (Best Actress, Best Featured Actor), Skylight (Best Play Revival) and Wolf Hall (best costumes).

From Osterley it was direct to ArtsEd in Chiswick (both of them handily on a direct route from Heathrow) for my weekly triplicate teaching sessions with the first year Musical Theatre students, for whom this week’s class for the first two groups was devoted to the musicals of Boublil and Schönberg. Claude-Michel-SchonbergThe third group, however, got an extra bonus: they came with me to Southwark for an interview I was conducting with Claude-Michel Schönberg himself (pictured left) at Jerwood Space, at the end of a day laid on by Mercury Musical Developments for its aspiring musical writers to work with the master himself.  He was quietly inspirational about sticking to your guns in trying to write musicals of your dreams, and also revealingly honest about the ‘borrowings’ that musicians typically make from each other and openly acknowledged the ones he’d made in Miss Saigon.

My day wasn’t done yet — from Jerwood I finally made it home to drop off my travel bag and then head to Southwark Playhouse for the first night of Teddy, which I was reviewing for The Stage here. Fortunately, just as Osterley and ArtsEd were in a direct route from Heathrow, so Jerwood Space and Southwark Playhouse are neatly positioned about equidistant from my home in a five minute walk either direction, so at least I didn’t have far to go!

I spent a lot of time at ArtsEd this week — as well as my Monday teaching session, I also teach there on Thursday, this time to the first year acting students, and for this week’s session I brought in young playwright Diana Atuona to talk to them. They had all seen her debut play Liberian Girl at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, mainly because one of the third year ArtsEd acting students had been in it — Juma Sharkah, who was subsequently shortlisted for an Olivier Award in the ‘Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre’ category.

And on Friday I was back at ArtsEd to see the final show of the 3rd year Musical Theatre students, Defect — the world premiere of a show, developed by new musical organisation Perfect Pitch, by Craig Adams and Clare Prenton, that brilliantly saw them engaging and wrestling with an atmospherically weird ‘West Side Story’ like story of love across a divide of genetic mutations.

I have watched this year’s 3rd years — some 32 of whom were represented here — grow across their time there, and it been amazing to watch many of them already migrating into the profession for real. I’ve already seen some of them in Carrie at Southwark Playhouse and Sweeney Todd at The London Coliseum. Some more of those missing from the line-up here are already in Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables and High Society in the West End; another is in A Damsel in Distress in Distress at Chichester; others are now in the tours of Love Me Tender and Shrek.

This is an incredible track record for one school’s graduating class, and although I’m obviously not unbiased here, there were no defects, at least from the training and performance point of view, in Defect.

Sam-ORourkeSam O’Rourke (left), who played the lead in Defect at the performance I saw, is already lined up for two jobs: a lead in the Open Air Regent’s Park production of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, then a tour of the new musical The Smallest Show on Earth, featuring an Irving Berlin score. I last saw him in the lead of the ArtsEd production of Crazy for You, when he proved his worth as an outstanding comic actor, singer and dancer: a true triple threat. He’s going places, and fast.

This week also saw me at Chichester for the opening of A Damsel in Distress (whose cast contained another graduating ArtsEd third year Mairi Barclay), the latest ‘new’ Gershwin musical following in the footsteps (not to mention dance steps) of My One and Only, the aforementioned Crazy for You, Nice Work if You Can Get it, and the current Broadway hit An American in Paris. The Gershwins’ wrote great songs — some of the greatest, in fact, in the history of Broadway — but few of their shows, outside of Porgy and Bess, are truly revivable. The fashion for making ‘revisals’ out of old properties is a brilliant way of making their songs theatrically viable again, and A Damsel in Distress is another expertly joyful, irresistibly silly addition to the repertoire. I reviewed it for The Stage here.

The Chichester opening clashed with the London premiere of Patrick Marber’s latest The Red Lion at the National, so I didn’t catch that till Thursday night (and reviewed it here). I was also out of synch with Waiting for Godot, briefly imported to the Barbican from Sydney Theatre Company, which opened last Friday when I was in New York so I caught up with on Tuesday and which again I had a personal investment in — Pozzo was being played by my good friend Philip Quast, and it was great to have him back on the London stage, for the second time this year (he was also Judge Turpin in the ENO Sweeney Todd), since his return to his native Australia three years ago.

I’m continuing to play catch-up today, with a double bill later of the National’s The Beaux Stratagem this afternoon and the Open Air Theatre’s Peter Pan tonight — as I couldn’t make the first night of the latter, I’m making the last night instead! Truly a case of better late than never. But I’m checking the weather forecasts hourly as a result…..