I am writing this sitting beside a pool, diagnosis in glorious sunshine, try 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, dosage 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.
So 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 previous 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.
I’m seriously chasing my tail now after a week away in Gran Canaria that I reported on here last, visit this site which meant I missed openings like RoosevElvis at the Royal Court (and now will miss entirely) and Husbands and Sons at the National (which I’m booked into at the start of December now). But I’ve have seen fifteen shows in the last ten days in between getting back on October 28 and leaving again for New York tomorrow (November 9).
I returned from a week in Gran Canaria on a Wednesday afternoon — fortunately the Easyjet plane back wasn’t just on time, it was actually early, landing at 4.30pm instead of the scheduled 4.55pm, and meant I was on a train to Victoria soon after 5pm, and made it, with time to spare, for the 7pm first night of Pig Farm (pictured left) at the St James. Not that if offered much of a homecoming; my review for The Stage here shows that I might have been better delayed en route!
The next day, meanwhile, there was another of those annoying clashes of major openers, with the Old Vic’s rare revival of O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape going head-to-head with Hampstead’s premiere of David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano; I saw The Hairy Ape that night (reviewed here), and then caught up with The Moderate Soprano at that Saturday’s matinee.
The latter (starring a virtually unrecognisable Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, pictured left) found Michael Coveney awarding another of his now nearly-routine five-star reviews, and even he was drawn to note in his opening para here, “The trouble with handing out four or five star ratings, as I’ve been doing lately with alarming frequency, is that you feel some poor sucker’s got to get it in the neck tomorrow. Well, hey, as the new Times critic is wont to exclaim, hold that chopper, here comes another high five for David Hare after a whole bunch of them down at Chichester for his revelatory early Chekhov season.”
Coveney had also awarded a four-star rave to Pig Farm, that I — and several others— had given a far less welcoming two-stars to. But then the new Times critic (Ann Treneman) that he draws attention to has also recently been wayward, with a five-star rave for Ticking at Trafalgar Studios that many of her colleagues had given two-stars to.
But then I always say there’s no such thing as right or wrong in theatre reviewing, it’s always simply a matter of opinion, and how you justify that opinion that counts. I’m afraid that Treneman’s endorsement of Ticking still didn’t make me want to rush out to see it — with limited slots available, part of the critical choice lies in what you actually choose to cover.
But Coveney’s rave of The Moderate Soprano sharpened my anticipation for it, just as Treneman’s three-star diminution of the same play didn’t put me off. And I duly made my own mind up here. I also finally caught up with Medea (pictured left) at the Almeida, which opened when I was last in New York — since I’d missed the press night, I splashed out on two of the £10 front side stalls seats (billed as restricted, but in fact only very partially so) for my husband and I to have a night off at. Hardly the most romantic choice, of course — this is a play about the fall-out of the disintegration of a marriage in this very modern re-telling of the fabled play — but I’m very glad to have caught in, and in particular Kate Fleetwood’s bruising performance as a woman furiously grieving over being dumped by her husband. (Since Fleetwood’s own husband Rupert Goold directs her, it’s hardly the most romantic choice for them to work on it together, either)
This last week, meanwhile, has taken me from a theatre on my doorstep in Southwark to visit Venice Breach in California (in the musical Xanadu, reviewed here) and Bristol to watch a nanny flying over the rooftops of London that I’d left behind (in Mary Poppins, reviewed here) to the North Pole (via the London premiere of Elf – the Musical, reviewed here) and the Forest of Arden (in the National’s As You Like it, reviewed here)
You can’t say theatre critics don’t get around! I’ve also had a bumper weekend of it this weekend — the critics piled into the Garrick yesterday (all on their lonesome ownsome, since we were unusually only afforded single tickets) for the opening two productions in Ken Branagh’s year-long residency of his own company, both of which he co-starred in and co-directed (my review of The Winter’s Tale, pictured left, is here; my review of Harlequinade is here). And later today I’m doing another theatrical double-bill, seeing The Stationmaster, a new musical by my friend Tim Connor at the Tristan Bates as part of producer Katy Lipson’s From Page to Stage festival of new musicals, and then catching the latest edition of La Soiree, a personal seasonal favourite, on the South Bank.
All that, and Charles Aznavour at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening — an experience seriously marred by a sea of mobile phone users taking photographs and filming it throughout, so eventually I left after about an hour — having paid £85 (plus booking fee) for my ticket. I protested to the duty manager as I left, and discovered that it was an official policy not to intervene. The battle is officially lost and I’m going to stop going to live concerts entirely. As Judi Dench points out in an interview (links to paid content) in today’s Sunday Times about the Branagh season, “I can’t see well but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.”
I feel slightly more confident about still going to cabaret, though, and on Monday night had a simply wonderful late night catching up with one of my long-time favourite Broadway singers Julia Murney at the Hippodrome, after seeing Xanadu earlier the same evening. And on Friday, I saw the British premiere of Andrew Lippa’s Broadway show Big Fish being done at ArtsEd by third year Musical Theatre students: a whimsical delight of a show whose whimsy was rather drowned in a large Broadway show here reveals more poignant depths in the more intimate focus of a studio production, and greater clarity in the doubling up of actors to play the younger and older versions of the father and son at its centre. I actually cried twice at the story — and my eyes pricked with tears of pride regularly, too, as I watched these students who I’d taught in their first years showing their professional potentail.