ShentonSTAGE Daily for MONDAY AUGUST 29

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, filed on the last bank holiday of the year and with today’s official end to the Edinburgh Fringe seeing us now, finally, bracing for what promises to be an unusually challenging winter.

The cost of living and energy crisis will doubtless impact harshly on the theatrical industry. While costs will rise to run the venues, lack of money could see audiences stay away: a perfect storm is on the horizon. This could be worse and more prolonged than COVID was: at least a vaccine arrived, and it was possible to mask up (even if SOLT and UK Theatres utterly failed to rally around a cohesive policy that might have made theatres safer environments). Where will SOLT and UK Theatres’ inaction take us this winter?

We will see. Meanwhile, enjoy it while we (still) can. It’s why over the last week I was in Edinburgh, Bath, Windsor and London seeing shows. I’ve already reported on Edinburgh (here and here) and Bath (here).

It’s one of the reasons I routinely return to shows I’ve REALLY liked: at least I know I’m guaranteed a good time. Last week I bought tickets to return to MY FAIR LADY at the London Coliseum (my second time there, but my fifth for this production that I originally saw multiple times in New York) and ANYTHING GOES at the Barbican (pictured above at my fourth time there, twice each in 2021 and 2022, plus once on Broadway when it first opened there in 2011).

But there’s also nothing quite like having your expectations completely changed of something you’ve never seen before. Somehow I thought I knew exactly what

Frederick Knott’s 1952 West End and Broadway murder thriller DIAL ‘M’ FOR MURDER — best known for the 1954 Hitchcock film version — would be. But as revived at the Theatre Royal, Windsor in a production of grippingly sinister energy by Sean Mathias, its theatrical credentials are fully restored.

An old-fashioned potboiler is revealed anew as a Pinteresque play of marital menace and intrigue, and is played with a chilling intensity by a cast that includes Carley Stenson (swapping musicals for plays with credibility) as a philandering wife whose husband plans her despatch, and Paul Nicholls returning to the stage as the inspector who comes to investigate after she instead despatches her would-be assassin.
Last summer producer Bill Kenwright — who now operates the theatre — brought real excitement (and all the London critics) here when Ian McKellen starred in an age-blind production of HAMLET, plus a more traditional production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD, both of them directed by Sean Mathias.

This year Kenwright and Mathias are offering Windsor theatregoers more standard repertory theatre fare with Knott’s knotty stage thriller — a genre that used to be a staple at venues like this (my first-ever visit to this theatre in the 80s was to see a revival of Agatha Christie’s A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED), with a new all-star revival of Enid Bagnold’s THE CHALK GARDEN to follow (running from September 16 to October 1, and featuring Edward Fox,Siân Phillips, Jenny Seagrove,  John  Partridge and Finty Williams.

These are both plays that have strangely fallen out of the popular professional repertory; but when restored as classily as Mathias has done with DIAL ‘M’ for MURDER, they reveal real theatrical potency. Much as Stephen Daldry did for JB Priestley’s AN INSPECTOR CALLS — which has hardly stopped touring since it was revived at the National in 1992 — this production makes a powerful case for the play’s enduring relevance.

Though the News of the World is no more, the Daily Mail still loves stories like this one about husbands and wives plotting to undo each other (it makes a change, in the Mail’s case, from plotting to undo the country, a feat they’ve almost succeeded in after 12 years of Mail-enabled rule by incompetent and self-serving Conservative PMs, which the imminent elevation of the entirely unsuitable Liz Truss is less than likely to change).

In the circumstances, we need theatre more than ever to take our minds off this stuff.

SHOWS AHEAD

My regular updated list of future shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-august-29/

This week, I’m looking forward to being at my “home” theatre, Chichester’s Minerva, to see the premiere of a new play by Christopher Shinn called THE NARCISSIST, opening on Wednesday (and I’ll be back there next Sunday, too, for the final performance of their hit production of CRAZY FOR YOU), then in London on Thursday to catch A DIFFERENT STAGE WITH GARY BARLOW, opening at the Duke of York’s and on Friday for another solo show, DIVA at the Turbine.

SEE YOU ON THURSDAY

I’ll be back here on Thursday. 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)

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