Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
Chickens are coming home to roost all over town right now. These start, of course, with Boris Johnson — finally being exposed as a serial liar when he insisted to the House of Commons, no less, that all rules were followed at all times about the dozens of lockdown breaches that happened on his watch in Downing Street itself that have now been extensively detailed in the release, finally, of the Sue Gray report on Wednesday.
Then there’s Kevin Spacey, whom it was announced yesterday that the CPS have formally charged with four counts of sexual assault against three men that took place in London between March 2005 and August 2008, and in Gloucestershire in April 2013 — dates that span his tenure as artistic director of the Old VIc.
Of course Spacey still needs to stand trial — as the CPS have also stated, “The Crown Prosecution Service reminds all concerned that criminal proceedings against Mr Spacey are active and that he has the right to a fair trial.”
Ditto another criminal case, that of alleged serial stalker Alex Belfield, who will go before a judge at Nottingham Crown Court next on June 24, ahead of a full trial to begin on July 4. Belfield, who used to have a YouTube channel called Celebrity Radio before he was banned, obsesses on people, usually more successful than himself, whom he makes regular false accusations against; these have included myself. He recently associated me publicly with paedophilia, and has constantly referred to my mental health difficulties — even though I’ve been public about them myself, so they’re not exactly a secret, he uses them as a weapon against me. So although I’m not one of those he stands accused of stalking, I’m very interested in the outcome.
The comedy of the year (so far)
What bliss to be in a theatre rocking to the sound of laughter again. That’s what happened last night at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, where Steven Moffat’s new play THE UNFRIEND premiered, in a production directed by his long-time television collaborator Mark Gatiss (they did Sherlock and Dracula together)
This pitch-black family comedy revolves around an American outsider from Denver — played to comic perfection by Frances Barber — becomes a house guest of a London family after meeting the parents on a cruise (Robert Jones’s set magically transforms from ship deck to Chiswick house). She may be carrying a dark history. Yet, like Mary Poppins, her arrival works to heal their dysfunction.
The production also fields a West End ready cast that features Reece Shearsmith and Amanda Abbington as the parents and Gabriel Howell and Maddie Holliday as their teenage kids. They are very plausibly a family; and the tensions between them — as well as the affection — is superbly charted by both the play and the actors.
There’s very strong support from Michael Simkins — long one of British theatre’s secret comedy weapons — as a frequently ignored neighbour and Marcus Onilude as a local bobby. This is a comedy full of surprises that’s the closest to a vintage Ayckbourn I’ve seen — and that’s meant as high praise indeed. (The Chichester season will go on to include Ayckbourn’s WOMAN IN MIND in the main house from September 23; THE UNFRIEND runs to July 9).
Where are the new musicals in the West End?
In a column for The Stage, Time Out critic Andrzej Lukowski pondered aloud where the West End’s new musicals have gone to. Since the theatres re-opened, we’ve had six shows — Cinderella, Frozen, Back to the Future, Get Up! Stand Up!, The Drifters Girl and Moulin Rouge — all open within the space of six months.
He goes on, “But was that nature healing? Or purely a mirage – a flurry of activity rooted in a pre-pandemic world, merely the clearing of a backlog, with an altogether less rosy story underneath?Well, let’s take a look at what the big new West End musicals announced for this year are, shall we? Okay, that didn’t take a long time, because there are none, though producers of the Alanis Morrissette musical Jagged Little Edge have declared it’ll make its West End premiere at some point this autumn.”
Interestingly, those shows have managed, with the exception of CINDERELLA which is to close on June 12, to put down roots in the West End, and are going nowhere for the foreseeable future. That, of course, means that five more theatres – Drury Lane, the Adelphi and the Piccadilly, all of them premium musical houses, plus the Lyric and Garrick which often alternate between plays and musicals (though the Lyric has now more or less crossed the divide and has become a full-time musical house) – are now off the grid.
With & JULIET at the Shaftesbury, HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD at the Palace and HAMILTON and WICKED continuing in Victoria, that’s more musical theatre houses unavailable.
As always, the crunch on musicals coming to the West End is ruled more by real estate than product.
As Lukowksi also points out, it’s not as if there aren’t new shows on the horizon, but the Tony winning THE BAND’S VISIT will get its premiere at the Donmar Warehouse, MANDELA will open at the Young Vic on an expected pathway to Broadway, and Disney’s THE NEWSIES will receive its UK professional premiere in Wembley Park (It has been produced at ArtsEd, in a production that launched the career of Jac Yarrow, who was seen in it and propelled to play the title role in JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT at the London Palladium — a role he is now still playing in the show’s UK National tour).
And Harry Hill and Steve Brown — who premiered their first musical together I CAN’T SING! at the London Palladium, based on The X Factor, where it quickly flopped — are launching their new show, TONY! [THE TONY BLAIR ROCK OPERA], far more modestly, at the Park Theatre from next week.
All of these could potentially hope to end up in the West End — but first a theatre would need to open up. But they’d also be vying with the hit revivals of OKLAHOMA!, currently at the Young Vic, and LEGALLY BLONDE, which opened at the Open AIr Theatre on Tuesday, which both may also warrant an extended life.
Queering up Harry Potter….
In a Guardian review of the newly revised one-parter HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD in Melbourne, Sian Cain — a former book editor at the paper who is now back home in her native Australia — makes an interesting observation:
“Among all the cuts, one scene has noticeably been added: in the second half, Albus takes Harry aside to inform his father that he will have to accept Scorpius as “the most important person in my life”, a declaration made with weighted urgency and one that his father benignly accepts. The original show was criticised for ‘queerbaiting’ Albus and Scorpius, but director John Tiffany – who is gay – then said it ‘would not [have] been appropriate’ to make the nature of their relationship any clearer. Six years on, it is clear someone felt it was now appropriate. The sub is gone from the subtext; Scorpius’s female love interest in the original is now a platonic friend. Whether giving Harry a son who seems ever-so-slightly queer has anything to do with Rowling’s now public views on trans people, aired since the play debuted six years ago, is unknown and unlikely ever to be confirmed by anyone. Some wouldn’t even spot the change. What is inarguable is that someone thought the change was important.”
The show continues in its two-part version at London’s Palace Theatre; it will be interesting to see if and when it is reduced to a single edition whether this change stays.
SEE YOU ON MONDAY
I’ll be back here on Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends