Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE, with my regular digest of last week in the theatre and the week ahead, both personal and more wide-reaching, including theatrical announcements of the week and openings of both the week past and the one ahead, plus my own day-by-day observations. (Last week’s column is here: shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-monday-april-11/)
Diary and Digest of the theatrical week
- MONDAY APRIL 11
Today, after months and months of extreme pain and extremely low mobility, I finally checked in to the Schoen Clinic in Wigmore Street, for a revision surgery to the three-level spinal fusion I originally had done in September 2020. According to the MRI and C-scans, a screw had come loose in the cage they built in my back then — as I replied to my surgeon, this is not the first time I’ve been told I’ve got a screw loose
Here’s me entering the lift with my husband that would take me to my ward…. though thanks to COVID rules, he would not be able to come to the ward itself this week at all. But thanks to FaceTime, I was still able to see him every day….
* COVID SAFETY: In a BBC interview (reported in The Guardian) after last night’s Olivier Awards, LIz Carr — pictured below, who won the Olivier for best supporting actor for her appearance in the National’s revival of THE NORMAL HEART — made a plea for theatres to continue to offer socially-disanced and masked performances for the clinically vulnerable.
As she said,
“I haven’t been to the theatre in over two years. This is a frightening night for me. Now, you could say, ‘Yeah but you did a play, Liz, in front of 1,200 people every night’. Yes, but I was on stage with everybody who was testing, everybody in the cast tested every day, so I felt safer than being a random member of the public in an audience around people I didn’t know… I think theatres could think about having safer performances. I think they should have face mask performances that are more socially distanced. In the same way you might have a British Sign Language performance, I think you should have Covid-safer performances.”
- TUESDAY APRIL 12
Following the news of Boris Johnson receiving a first fine for breaching his own COVID restrictions on public gathering (though there may yet be more fines to follow), I wrote to my local Conservative MP Andrew Griffith, as follows:
- WEDNESDAY APRIL 13
My ShentonSTAGE DAILY newsletter for today has further notes and observations on this year’s Olivier Awards, including how LIFE OF PI’s five wins translated into 14 statuettes, seen below with adaptor Lolita Chakrabarti. It can be found here http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-wednesday-april-13
I also draw together commentary from Kevin Sessums, an American cultural writer who attended the awards in person and dubbed them a “super spreader event”, in terms of their total disregard for COVID safety in the room; critics Arifa Akbar and Andzrej Lukowksi on the winners; Sonia Friedman’s unusually empty plate; and a personal Olivier-related llbel of me from one-time BBC local radio presenter turned professional grievance merchant Alex Belfield (currently awaiting trial on harassment and stalking charges).
- THURSDAY APRIL 14
Today I am discharged from hospital, after a three night stay, and my husband picks me up to drive me to our home in West Sussex. (This coming Sunday, I discovered that it is a year since I wrote this column about our planned move there; we still haven’t fully unpacked yet).
So much has changed for me since the first lockdowns in March 2020 that brought us to implement these life changes. And today, too, we get confirmation that our New York apartment sale can also finally go through: the new buyers have been approved by the board. So today we booked one more trip, for next month from May 6-16, so we can bid farewell to the apartment that we’ve owned for 10 years now. Of course, we were not ALLOWED to use it from March 2020 to November 2021 at all, when the US had its travel ban on Europeans in place, so that was a massive blow; but also we are fearful that Donald Trump may yet return to power in 2024, in which case we may never want to return to New York, at least for the four years that follow that.
- FRIDAY APRIL 15
My ShentonSTAGE Daily newsletter today is about the ongoing battlefront between the cheerleading of unbridled enthusiasm and what critics are supposed to actually do, taking the time and thought to add something meaningful to the conversation. You can find it here: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-friday-april-15/
This led me, inevitably, to yet another run-in with one of the bloggers concerned, more or less demanding that I engage in conversation with him. But it’s NOT an obligation to respond to everybody who demands an interaction, actually. Just as actors do not HAVE to meet fans at stage doors, the only writing a critic is obliged to do is their review. That may, of course, provoke a conversation; but we are not required to take part in it. Any commentary or engagement beyond the original review or column is entirely up to us.
My own view, born of painful experience, is that it is best not to feed a narcissist’s constant desire for attention. He suggests that we have a “mature” conversation, but has already repeatedly proved this maturity is a complete impossibility.
Onto more cheerful matters: Today is the hottest day of the year so far. And a former London flatmate who returned to her native Germany after many years in Britain when Brexit struck came to visit us in Amberley. And here’s one of the pictures that resulted, as we lunched at the Riverside, a cafe beside the Arun river!
- SATURDAY APRIL 16
Another beautiful day sees an impromptu visit from an old University pal Alison Cork. We met in our first year at Cambridge in 1982 — so we’ve known each other for 40 years now! We take her to our local Amberley Tea Rooms for afternoon tea. I post this on Facebook:
One of the replies I get comes from Broadway legend Donna McKechnie — the Tony winning original Sheila in A CHORUS LINE:
When I first moved here, Donna told me she’d been to the village; she has a friend who lives in Chichester who brought her over! Now I think of her every time I go to the tea room!
- SUNDAY APRIL 17
In the SUNDAY TIMES today, Quentin Letts offers a rare five-star review for THE 47TH that opened at the Old VIc a week ago last Friday, MIke Bartlett’s play that stars Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump, directed by Rupert Goold.
He seems to be trolling his own readership though, when he writes:
“No, the show is not perfect. So why five stars? Because it’s so refreshing. Bartlett does not merely and lazily attack Trump. He acknowledges something of his electoral genius. Trumpism appeals to people ‘sick of paying taxes to a stifling culture they do not believe’. In jabbing the liberal, metropolitan Old Vic crowd, this show does something to make that culture less stifling. Also, Bartlett and Goold are plainly having a lot of fun. So much modern theatre is po-faced, palsied by political correctness. Not this.”
It really is remarkable that this passes for theatre criticism in that paper now.
- Announcements of the week
Deborah Warner (pictured above) has announced her first season as artistic director at Bath’s Theatre Royal’s Ustinov Studio. Plans include a production of THE TEMPEST that she will direct, running July 1 to August 6 (press night July 7); and SHOWMANISM, A Concise Histrionic of Performance, devised and performed by Dickie Beau, with dramaturgy by former Telegraph opera critic Rupert Christiansen, running November 11 to December 10.
London’s Young Vic Theatre announced its summer and autumn plans, via an advance story in The Guardian. It includes a new musical MANDELA (from November 28 to February 4, press night December 8), and Ivo van Hove directing an adaptation of Édouard Louis’ WHO KILLED MY FATHER, that Dutch actor Hans Kesting will perform as a monologue from September 7 to 24 (press night September 8).
Openings of last week
Broadway saw the openings of THE LITTLE PRINCE (at Broadway’s Broadway Theatre on Monday (April 11), which I wrote about in my Friday newsletter here; and a revival of David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO at the Circle in the Square on Thursday (April 14): the picture below (via @akakarenwilson on twitter) is about the playwright rather than the play, but the revival of David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO that opened at the Circle on the Square on Thursday saw him courting controversy (again) earlier in the week by linking school teaching and paedophilia. That quote should make the press ads!
Whatever you (now) think of the man, the play is still its own story; but some critics are determined to merge the latter with the now apparently diminished man that wrote it. In The Stage, Nicole Serratore ends her review by stating, “Scott Pask’s set is full of colourful, period detritus including eight-track tapes, wooden school chairs, hobby horses and a mishmash of old lamps. As night falls, Tyler Micoleau’s lighting glows from these antique lamps, radiating atmosphere. It is a junk shop that would lure you in for hours and leave you pondering the past lives of these dusty relics. But, unfortunately, the play feels like one of them.”
In the Wall Street Journal, Charles Isherwood is in more considered (and considerable) form: ” Now might seem an inopportune time to be reviving a play by David Mamet, who could be called America’s bard of toxic masculinity, although the term was hardly current—in fact it hadn’t entered the popular lexicon, let alone swamped it — when Mr. Mamet was in his prime. But the bruisingly funny revival of Mr. Mamet’s 1975 play American Buffalo on Broadway proves that such a judgment would be myopic. It’s true that the play depicts men—mostly the foul-mouthed Teach, played by Sam Rockwell —displaying volcanic amounts of swaggering machismo, seasoned by a little misogyny and homophobia. And yet Mr. Mamet’s characters are themselves the victims of their flaws and throbbing insecurities, so that any toxins they spew poison their own bloodstreams. In his finest plays, including this one and Glengarry Glen Ross, Mr. Mamet is hardly a cheerleader for testosterone-driven aggression; he is a clear-eyed analyst of its destructive futility.”
Sunday also saw the opening of Tracy Letts’ THE MINUTES at Studio 54. There’s a full round-up of reviews here, but for once, I’m not going to read them: I’m heeding the warning in Naveen Kumar’s for Variety, “Some stories creep up in disguise, hiding a ghastly scowl. THE MINUTES is an astonishing feat from playwright and star Tracy Letts, not least for its brilliant finesse in orchestrating audience expectations and surprise. To go in knowing little or nothing about the play may be the purest way to experience its dramatic cunning. (Reader, be warned.”)
London saw openings for ZORRO! at Charing Cross Theatre on Tuesday (April 12, pictured above left); Ryan Calais Cameron’s FOR BLACK BOYS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE HUGE GETS TOO HEAVY at the Royal Court on Wednesday (April 13, above middle); and MIke Bartlett’s SCANDALTOWN at Lyric Hammersmith on Thursday (April 14, above right).
I’ve already written about some of the Twitter fall-out here about ZORRO between a critic and the same blogger who repeatedly comes for me. Marienka Swain’s review for iNews has the sharpest review of the show: “Durham’s minimalist staging does this daft show no favours. Olé? More like oy vey.”
The Royal Court’s celebration and affirmation of the lives of young black men, meanwhile, gets more space to breathe there than it did when it was originally premiered at the New Diorama last year.
According to JN Benjamin in The Stage, “A line at the beginning of For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy says: ‘Let a Black boy dance, and let him take up as much space as he needs’.It’s a declaration to set out the intention of the play….” She concludes her review by stating that it has not changed that intention: “That affirmation is no less necessary than it was last year: Black boys, you are beautiful, you are valuable – and you matter. How wonderful that more people get to receive this message.”
As for SCANDALTOWN: critics are entertained, sort of, but disappointed, too. For Nick Curtis, writing a two-star review in the Evening Standard, “It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times but its discussions of freedom, liberty and responsibility – not to mention some last-minute gags about partygate – are schematic…. The play paddles through the shallows of the culture wars while evading the treacherous depths…. Altogether the effect is showy but insubstantial. One comes away with the sense of having watched and enjoyed a diverting confection, a stylish exercise in pastiche with a gloss of contemporary debate, but ultimately superficial.”
Sam Marlowe, writing a two-star review for iNews, declares, “With the nation ablaze with fury over the Tories’ continuing grotesque political pantomime, this Restoration-style satire by Mike Bartlett ought to go off like a rocket. Instead, it’s strangely tepid, neither as stinging nor as wickedly funny as it needs to be, and slackly plotted. Bartlett – practically unavoidable in London right now, with his earlier play COCK in the West End and his new Trumpian dark comedy THE 47TH at the Old Vic – takes potshots at our egregious Government, the culture wars, the generation gap, freebooting libertarians and social justice warriors – but it’s simplistic, fish-in-a-barrel stuff: you can find genuinely sharper, more thoughtful discourse on Twitter.”
For WhatsOnStage, Sarah Crompton nails the disappointment in a three-star review: “It’s bad luck for the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, that their new Mike Bartlett play is the last of the trio of productions written by him that have opened in close succession. Following the stylish COCK about modern sexual mores, and the coruscating THE 47th, a drama in Shakespearean blank verse about the threat to democracy from authoritarianism,SCANDALTOWN feels a touch underwhelming…. There is a lot of pleasure to be had en route in Rachel O’Riordan’s lively production…. I smiled throughout; it’s a sign of how high a bar Bartlett has set himself that I emerged vaguely disappointed.”
- Openings in the Week Ahead
Another busy week on Broadway this week sees openings for a revival of Paula Vogel’s HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE (with its original Off-Broadway leads Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse reprising their roles from the original 1997 Off-Broadway premiere, opening tonight April 19 at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J Friedman), Ntozke Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (opening tomorrow, April 20, at the Booth Theatre), and transfers from London of Martin McDonagh’s HANGMEN (first seen at the Royal Court, and now opening Thursday April 21 at the Golden) and the Menier’s revival of FUNNY GIRL (opening Sunday April 24 at the August Wilson).
On this side of the pond, meanwhile, we have the first full run of Frank Wildhorn’s BONNIE AND CLYDE musical (opening at the Arts tomorrow April 19), and the kick-off of this year’s Chichester Festival Theatre season with Kate Moss’s own stage adaptation of her novel THE TAXIDERMIST’S DAUGHTER (also opening tonight April 19). On Thursday, the Donmar Warehouse has the UK premiere of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s MARY SEACOLE.
For full details of these and other upcoming openings in London, at selected regional theatres and on Broadway, visit http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-april-18-onwards/
SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY
If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter, subject to the progress of my recovery, here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/.