Diary of a theatre addict: Robert Lindsay and I make up, but I fall out with Harvey Fierstein in another busy week

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ArtsEdGraduation-with-Robert Lindsay

If my birthday celebrations that I wrote about here last week were going to be difficult to match, I began this week by attending my first graduation ceremony at ArtsEd to see ArtsEdTriothe first class I taught three years ago graduating —three of whom are pictured left — and am ending it tonight by watching the cream of the West End stripping as part of this year’s West End Bares (hosted by Graham Norton, who will hopefully keep his clothes on!), though of course the best strip show in town is still Gypsy at the Savoy, in which Lara Pulver sheds clothes but Imelda Staunton strips layer upon layer of emotions.

So both the pleasure and satisfaction continued unabated. In both cases, the sense of community that the theatre creates in a special joy. On Broadway, of course, that’s a given — hardly a week goes by without a benefit for one cause or another, which is how Broadway Bares originated (and has now been adopted and copied in the West End). But that community starts at school, and nowhere have I felt it more keenly than at ArtsEd.

I’ve also already watched several of my students graduate to their first jobs, as I wrote about here last week, and the very next day after weeping my way through their graduation ceremony (it was like Merrily We Roll Along come to life!) I saw four more of them onstage at Leicester’s Curve appearing in the new national tour of Hairspray (which I reviewed here). In fact, Omari Douglas, Bobbie Little and Katharine Pearson were each moving onto their second shows after making their professional debuts in High Society at the Old Vic (the first two) and Carrie at Southwark Playhouse (the third). And special kudos to Glen Facey, making his professional debut, with the most athletic performance on that stage as he does back flips from a standing position!

ArtsEdGraduation-with-Robert LindsayI did a (metaphorical) back flip of my own this week. The guest speaker at their graduation was veteran actor Robert Lindsay (pictured on the front row with the ArtsEd students, sitting beside deputy principal Chris Hocking). Aafter a twitter spat (or two) between us (as I chronicled here at the time), in which he dubbed me “a complete twat because like most critics you have no conception how to perform or even comprehend to sustain a show”, we were able to make up after the graduation, and then speak to each other fondly when we saw each other again at the opening night of Hangmen at the Royal Court.

That’s another great lesson for the students, whose latest intake I start teaching again tomorrow: feel free to cross swords, if you feel strongly enough with those that criticise you, but be sure to uncross them again at the earliest opportunity. The business is too small to sustain grudges.

harvey-fiersteinIt’s a lesson I had to take onboard myself, I realised, as I went to see (and loved) Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina premiere at Southwark Playhouse this week (my review is here). Last month I had possibly one of the most uncomfortable phone interviews I’ve ever done with Mr Fierstein (unsmilingly pictured left) in which he took serial offence at the connections I was trying to make between his work, which is a standard journalistic practice.

When I pressed him on why he seemed to be particularly attracted to drag — as witness shows from Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage Aux Folles to Hairspray (which he starred in but didn’t write), Kinky Boots and Mrs Doubtfire, (he’s writing a musical version of the latter now), he replied,

You’re really making me laugh — .you’re trying to take all my work and put it in one envelope, Is that something you do in your life, do you sit at home and alphabetise everything? You seem to be hell bent on getting my work neatly filed, but I do not think that way or feel that way.  It’s like asking David Mamet if you were interviewing him, “you had some heterosexuals in hour last play, is there a reason you have heterosexuals in this play?” To me, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Mrs Doubtfire os about a man hiding as a woman so that he can see his children. It has nothing in common with La Cage, Torch Song or Casa Valentina at all!

The defensiveness does feel like I hit a nerve. Be that as it may, he got right on mine, too. I don’t like him now; but that doesn’t mean I don’t like his work, and I was able to embrace his play just as fondly as if my troubling encounter with him hadn’t taken place.

At other times, of course, you can establish such a great rapport with an interview subject that it can predispose you to like their work. Over the years, I’ve come to know Mark-RylanceMark Rylance onstage and off (pictured left) very well — and I love him on both sides of the footlights. Just the other day I spent another wonderful hour with him talking to him immediately before he did a matinee of Farinelli and the King that has just brought him back to the West End. We once, by sheer coincidence, shared the same gym trainer — when he buffed up for his West End run in Jerusalem, he saw Paul, a trainer from Soho Gym in Borough, whom my husband and I worked with, too (Paul also trained Patina Miller when she over here in Sister Act).

And as we have spoken very frankly to each other over the years, we have discovered that we share other things in common, too. Some of this is too private to make its way to the print interview, but it’s also what makes him a great actor as well as a great human being: he is always utterly honest. For years he has been a major stage star — that rare person who can sell tickets on the strength of their stage fame. But now he’s getting real screen fame from Wolf Hall and his imminent appearance in Steven Spielberg’s latest film Bridge of Spies that’s being shown in the New York Film Festival later this month before it is released in the US next month.

In a news interview in the Daily Telegraph recently, Spielberg acclaimed him thus: “Mark Rylance is one of the most extraordinary actors working anywhere. I saw him on the stage in Twelfth Night and that pretty much cinched it for me and I asked him to play him the part of the spy.” I can’t wait to see it or Farinelli, which I missed at the Globe.

I’ve had a(nother) busy week, though I managed to get one night off only thanks to a diary error: I had wrongly put the opening of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen into my diary for Thursday, and was only alerted to it when the eagle-eyed PR for the Royal Court spotted that I’d posted a pick of the week entry in The Stage wrongly stating its opening night! By the time she told me, it was too late to re-plan anything else for Thursday night (and I had to quickly cancel the show I was going to see on the Friday instead); but I was glad of the break, as I was still going back to town that evening for a late night cabaret at the Hippodrome, seeing my friend Scott Alan conclude his 9 night residency there.

I saw five of those nine nights — including of course my big birthday bash! — and while no two shows of Scott’s are ever the same as it is, he really mixed it up this time with different featured guess every night, and unannounced extra guests, too. This week I was blown away by Rachelle Ann Go on Monday and Lucie Jones on Thursday in the featured spots; but it was great also seeing them sharing the stage with appearances by Britain’s Got Talent winners Collabro (who won the 2014 series), the always divine olllie-tompsett-&-scottOllie Tompsett (pictured left with Scott, returning as a surprise guest after being a featured guest last week), and the lovely Georgina Hagen (who threw off her shoes to duet with Lucie Jones, and then when she tried to retrieve them from underneath the piano before a solo turn gave herself an instant black eye as she bumped into it). Scott’s concerts routinely run a fine line between wrenching heartache and pure joy; that night, for Georgina, it became dangerous, too!

Callabro’s Michael Auger has also been turning producer this week, presenting a short run of the Pasek and Paul revue Edges at Fulham’s London Theatre Workshop (where it opened on Wednesday and runs to October 1), with one more performance at Covent Garden’s St Paul’s Actors Church on October 3. As a show of support, Scott and I ventured out to Fulham on Saturday afternoon to see it, and what a lovely surprise it turned out to be.

I’m a big fan of Pasek and Paul’s work— they also wrote Dogfight, which I saw (multiple times) at Southwark Playhouse last year and is returning for a one-night reunion concert of the original cast at the St James on October 11, and last month I saw their brilliant latest show Dear Evan Hansen at Washington DC’s ArenaStage, before it gets its New York premiere next year at Second Stage. Edges is not a book musical, but their version of Maltby and Shire’s Starting Here Starting Now or Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World: a show that pulls together songs written for different projects into one place.  A terrific cast of young actors comprising Lauren Allan, Christ Barton, Claudia Kariuki and Robert Woodward perform it with punch and point.