OPENINGS OF THE WEEK
- Bug – Found111. War and Peace and Happy Valley star James Norton returns to the theatre for the first time in four years to appear in a revival of Tracy Letts’s play Bug, opening at Found111 on March 29. Simon Evans, who also directed The Dazzle at Found111 last year, directs a cast that also features Kate Fleetwood.
- Les Blancs — National’s Olivier Theatre. Yael Farber directs a cast that includes Danny Sapani, Sian Phillips, Elliot Cowan, James Fleet and Anna Madley in Lorraine Hansberry’s rarely-seen play, opening on March 30 as part of the Travelex £15 season. It revolves around a family and a nation that are falling apart as an African country teeters on the edge of civil war.
- How the Other Half Loves – Garrick. Alan Ayckbourn — soon to premiere his 80th play at his home base of Scarborough — sees his 1969 comedy revived in the West End, with a cast that includes Nicholas Le Prevost, Jenny Seagrove and Tamzin Outhwaite, opening on March 31.
MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THIS WEEK
1) People, Places and Things. Harrowing, intense, emotional, gripping and exhilarating, Duncan Macmillan’s transfer from the National to the West End’s Wyndham’s even had the critics on their feet for the first night standing ovation. As Fiona Mounford declared in her five-star review for the Evening Standard, “It’s rare to see a group of critics, cynical devils that we are, rise to their feet for a sweeping standing ovation on a press night. But this wasn’t any old opening, or any old leading actress. For my money, Denise Gough gives the greatest stage performance since Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.” And (for once) I entirely concur with Mountford; my review for LondonTheatre.co.uk is here. Website: http://www.peopleplacesthingsonstage.com/
2) The Book of Mormon. I’ve not seen this gloriously irreverent, hilariously knowing musical send-up of Mormonism and musicals themselves since its 2013 West End opening night — and returning to see it agaion nearly three years later it remains as fresh, funny and brilliant as it was then. The current cast is led by American imports KJ Hippensteel as Elder Price and Brian Sears as Elder Cunningham, while Olivier winning Stephen Ashfield remains in the cast as Elder McKinley. Website: http://www.bookofmormonlondon.com/
3) Nell Gwynn. A ravishing, rambunctious and hilarious new play by Jessica Swale that’s about a love affair both in and of the theatre, revolving around the true story of the 17th century actress who ended up as mistress to KIng Charles II. First seen at Shakespeare’s Globe (which this week posted record attendances for last year that saw it account for some 12% of the capital’s total playgoing audience in 2015) for a run of just 11 performances last summer, it now gets a West End transfer the Apollo, starring the wonderful Gemma Arterton in the title role of Chris Luscombe’s production. Shakespeare’s Globe previously also transferred Twelfth Night and Richard III with Mark Rylance to the same theatre. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://nellgwynn.co.uk/
4) Motown. Not everyone loved this one — critical opinion was, to say the least, mixed. But even though I thought it was a bit of a cruise ship revue when I first saw it on Broadway, seeing it again in London, with a really fine mostly British cast pumping out the hits, warmed me to this show’s infectious and multiple pleasures. There simply hasn’t been a songstack quite like it in a jukebox musical ever — sure, it’s a pity some of the songs get cut off in their prime and the book makes Rock of Ages seem deep, but I still loved it! See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://motownthemusical.co.uk/
5) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The National revisit August Wilson’s early play in his ten-play cycle of American black experience across the last century that they previously presented the UK premiere of back in 1989 to offer a stunning new production in the Lyttelton, starring Sharon D Clarke in the title role (pictured above). Lucian Msamati, just announced last week to play Salieri in the NT’s new forthcoming production of Amadeus, is extraordinary, too, amongst a superb ensemble that also features Clint Dyer and Giles Terrera. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/ma-raineys-black-bottom
6) 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 King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to October. I saw it again last week and it remains brilliant — and a vivid reminder that Hamilton, the current smash hit Broadway show, didn’t happen kn a vacuum, but its creator’s musical and lyrical inventiveness was on full display already in this show. It it up for this weekend’s Olivier Award for Best Musical, with David Bedella (pictured right) also nominated for Best Supporting Performance. The thrilling choreography is by Drew McOnie, who will soon be represented at the Old Vic by Jekyll and Hyde that he is creating for the venue, opening in May. See my review here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/
7) The Truth. The Menier, who track record on new plays has been patchy to say the least (let’s try to forget Dinner with Saddam, one of the worst new plays of last year, if not the worst), have come up with a hit at last: Florian Zeller’s gently disquieting, sharply observed new play about the nature of lies and truth. It revolves around a man (Alex Hanson, pictured above right with Frances O’Connor) who is cheating on his wife (Tanya Franks) and his best friend (Robert Portal) by having a six-month affair with the friend’s wife (Frances O’Connor), and is himself suddenly stunned, and bizarrely affronted, when he discovers that they’ve all been lying to him, too in turn. My review for The Stage is here. Website is here.
8) Guys and Dolls. I can’t wait to go back to see Guys and Dolls now that it has newly transferred from the Savoy Theatre to the Phoenix, with three of its four principals re-cast. I am especially looking forward to seeing Oliver Tompsett (pictured right), who is possessed of one of the best male voices in British musical theatre, inheriting the role of Sky Masterson from Jamie Parker, and Samantha Spiro as Miss Adelaide. Website: http://www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/
9) Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Rare sighting of a still rarer Jean Anouilh play is updated to the late 50s by playwright Anthony Weigh, and turned into a strange, funny and stylish evening. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2016/welcome-home-captain-fox
10) Mrs Henderson Presents. Transfer from Bath Theatre Royal of this touching, terrific new musical version of the 2005 British film set backstage and frontstage at the Windmill Theatre, which offered audiences live, nude (but completely immobile) women. The cast includes Emma Willimas (pictured above) as one of the showgirls, plus Tracie Bennett in the title role, originally played by Judi Dench in the film. My review of the original production at Bath last summer for The Stage is here, and my review of last week’s opening of the transfer is here. Website: http://www.mrshenderson.co.uk/