ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRIDAY MAY 26: The Week in Review(s)

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last seven days of theatre news and reviews (including my own).


After a five night theatre-free stay on the Algarve in Portugal, I returned for a theatre marathon that saw me in London on six out of the last seven nights.

t included a catch up on four shows I’d missed the openings for while I was away, plus one new opening last night (and another tonight, though that’s for next week’s round-up, not today).  I also saw a truly wonderful cabaret recalling a famous Sondheim flop from 1981 (as told by one of the original principal actors) that is itself returning to Broadway later this year at last.

When I moved out of London nearly two years ago, in June 2022, it was part of a determined effort to be less harnessed to filling every possible evening with theatre — as I regularly say, if you’re an alcoholic it is tough living above a pub, so as a theatre addict I needed to restrict my access somehow.

But this week I’ve taken back possession of a rental flat I own in Elephant and Castle, so I will have a base in London once again. I am still going to be based primarily in West Sussex, but I am going to keep a room in the London flat (while renting the other two bedrooms to lodgers), which means I won’t have to stay in crummy hotels on my weekly visits to London.

And I will no longer find myself having to rush to make the last train (at 22.35) after a London opening but can stay over and take a daytime train back to the countryside instead.


I arrived back in the UK today after a glorious and sunny five nights on the Algarve coast, so I didn’t plan on attending Ruth Wilson’s solo theatrical marathon The Second Woman (pictured below), in which she’s spending 24 hours — from 4pm today to 4pm tomorrow — performing the same short (seven minute) theatrical scene one hundred times over at the Young Vic, with a different actor (or non-actor) joining her for each iteration.

Unlike, say, Taylor Mac’s astonishing A 24 Decade History of Popular Music, a 24-hour performance which I saw the entirety of in one overnight sitting at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in 2016 (and reported on at the time for The Stage here), this was not a durational performance that contained new material in every hour; it was just endless variations on the same premise.

So the theatre critics who reviewed it (including Arifa Akbar in The Guardian, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph, Clive Davis in The Times, Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford for iNews, and Tim Bano for The Stage) may have been recording the trees falling in the forest to prove that it had happened, but those that stuck to their seats, like Akbar, were also selfishly taking space in the small auditorium as queues to get in stretched down the block.

They didn’t all stay the course. As Curtis admitted, “Confession time: I didn’t do the whole thing but took short breaks on Friday evening and Saturday mid-morning, joining the queue of people buying day tickets to get back in each time. Because this is Britain, the queue became part of the experience, especially when two extremely drunk men turned up on e-scooters at 5am, assuming the Young Vic was some sort of underground club.”

For Akbar, however, staying the course became some sort of badge of honour for her even as she admitted, “In the last eight hours, I am wet with sweat and feel horribly dehydrated….. Twenty hours in, I am feeling the toll. But I am also entirely captured by what is happening and feel a sense of exaltation in the final hours. The experience of time changes throughout the show. Some hours feel long, others like minutes. As soon as the morning crowd starts filing in, I feel their sense of freshness.”

But this isn’t really reviewing what the show is about or what it achieves, but rather what it was like to be there. As most of us were denied this chance, that has a value — if only to tell us that we didn’t miss much except an endurance test. A more equitable solution might have been to issue tickets for timed slots that enabled people to see two or three loops each, and then make way for others to sample it.


Today I catch up with the new stage version of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, originally a short story published in the New Yorker that became a famous film, that opened at @sohoplace on Thursday, starring Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges (pictured below) in the roles originated on screen by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heather Ledger respectively.

Curiously it is gay critics who are most wary of what is being put on the stage, with Luke Jones in the Daily Mail reporting, in a very Mail way,

“The night I went, there was no queue for the ladies loo. The house was packed with gay men of a certain age, expecting something special. But I watched as yawns set off yawns, like mouse traps setting off mouse traps. Adapting a much-loved film is no safe bet.”

And in a preview feature for The Guardian before it opened, another gay writer Ryan Gilbey speaks to director Jonathan Butterell, playwright Ashley Robinson who has adapted it for the stage. and composer Dan Gillespie Sells, and reports:

“The director isn’t keen on that “gay” tag. ‘I have no gay agenda,’ he says. ‘I want the play to be universal. I don’t want it to feel niche.’ Surely he isn’t arguing that the characters aren’t gay? ‘It’s not my job to assert anyone’s identity. Ennis could be a straight man going through a complex negotiation of his sexuality.’ Sells agrees: ‘Of course, it’s about two men who fall in love and have sex. But there’s also nuance. That’s why we’re reluctant to go, ‘Oh it’s a queer story.’’ All of which comes straight from the Hollywood playbook of selling LGBTQ+ product. Think of the poster for the Aids drama Longtime Companion (‘A motion picture for everyone’) or the trailer for Torch Song Trilogy (‘It’s not just about some people – it’s about everyone’) or Tom Ford plugging his film A Single Man (‘It’s not a gay story’). Robinson has written a sensitive adaptation, and the team are justified in wanting their work to be widely seen. They shouldn’t be surprised, though, if queer audiences tire of such disavowals, and begin to wonder why the mountainous subject of sexuality keeps being reduced to a mole.”

My own review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here:


Poor Little Rich Men: Today the Sunday Times magazine publishes its annual RICH LIST, its speculative account of just how much Britain’s richest people are. According to today’s report, Andrew Lloyd Webber is poorer than Rishi Sunak (with an estimated wealth of £504m, against £529m for Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty), and Cameron Mackintosh is almost richer than both of them put together.


Hampstead Theatre’s future was recently in serious doubt after the total withdrawal of its Arts Council funding and the resignation of artistic director Roxane Silbert in consequence.

But executive director Greg Ripley-Duggan (pictured above), who has taken over the entire operation now, last week announced a new season that included three world premieres on the mainstage, plus a major revival of Tom Stoppard’s Royal Court hit Rock ‘n’ Roll, as well as three more world premieres and a UK premiere in its Downstairs studio.

And in an interview with Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph to announce the season, he revealed a key pivot in the theatre’s approach: “We’re not now ashamed of the word ‘entertainment’. When I first started here, you couldn’t admit that new writing was supposed be entertaining. It was regarded almost like some sort of medicine.”

Tonight I saw Gareth Farr’s BISCUITS FOR BREAKFAST here, and though it is bleak and bracing at times in its portrait of the effects of food poverty, it is also intense and insightful — a deeply moving portrait of a young couple, beautifully played by Ben Castle-Gibb and Boadicea Ricketts, fighting for survival and dignity.


I have a two-show day today of Broadway musicals being given new productions in London: at Southwark Playhouse, I see Frank Loesser’s 1961 musical HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING that I reviewed in full for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL here:, then tonight I see Ahrens and Flaherty’s joyous 1990 musical ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, reviewed by me here:


I had planned another two-show day today, buying a ticket to revisit THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES at the Almeida this afternoon (I’d previously reviewed it here:

I was already en route to Islington in a cab when I got notice that the matinee was cancelled owing to cast illness — something that also scuppered my attempt to revisit Tammy Faye at the same theatre.  But at least I got to see both of them once.

So I re-routed the cab to Soho (which coincidentally drove past Michael Billington walking to a lunch date to whom I shouted out a greeting) and spent the day in an assortment of cafes there, before heading to Crazy Coqs to see Ann Morrison in her solo cabaret detailing her experience of originating the lead female role of Mary in Sondheim and Furth’s heartbreakingly short-lived 1981 musical MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, 42 years ago when she was just 25.

In the show she essentially recreates the entire experience, from casting and first rehearsal to endless previews and rewrites, cast changes, last night and cast recording, as well as the entirety of the show’s stunning score (mainly in extracts but also all of “Opening Doors”)

I’ve loved this score ever since I bought the original cast recording (laid down the day after the show closed in 1981), and even have my own connection to its history, having written the liner notes to the 1992 Leicester Haymarket production that starred Maria Friedman as Mary. (Sondheim wrote to me complaining at the time of “egregious errors” in them! That was mainly because he didn’t see the notes before the CD was issued; one factual error was later corrected, and another word changed about his reaction to its original failure (I’d said he was devastated: he said he was only disappointed). But I STILL love it!

Tonight the years melted away and Annie took us right back to 1981 and a life-changing event for herself that is now a part of theatrical history. I was thrilled to be able to bear witness to it. It felt like getting a highly personal view of an insider bit of history. She told me afterwards that she’s already been invited to bring the show back to Crazy Coqs. Do not miss it!


Tonight I attend the first night for the new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Charles Hart’s 1989 musical ASPECTS OF LOVE at the Lyric, which brings its original star Michael Ball back to the show, but this time playing George (originally to have been played by the late Roger Moore, who withdrew during rehearsals) instead of his nephew Alex.

Ball had, before Aspects, made his mark as the original Marius in LES MISERABLES; many years later, he would return to that show, too, to play its lead, Javert. (He is pictured above, with Jamie Bogyo who now plays Alex).

There is something intensely moving in seeing an actor return to a show he was part of putting on the map over three decades ago; my full review is here for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL:


My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here:

See you here on Tuesday

I will be here on Tuesday after the bank holiday weekend. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: (though not as regularly on weekends)