Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which we return to normal after a long weekend celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee.
I’ve already reported here on two shows I saw at Southwark Playhouse last week, LIFT and THE LION.
Last week I also finally caught up with BONNIE & CLYDE, Frank Wildhorn and Don Black’s Broadway musical version of the story of the famous outlaws, which was a short-lived, fast and flat flop in New York in 2011, but has now become more of a success in a pared-down version at the Arts Theatre, where Nick Winston has directed and choreographed a production that turns it into an energised spectacle.
It still feels uncomfortably like an NRA/ Republican Party wet dream, as my guest last Wednesday afternoon called it, not least after the latest gun massacre in Texas; and the score still tends towards the generic, with a country twang underscoring standard issue ballads, but the beautiful physical production — sets and costumes by Philip Witcomb, lit by Zoe Spurr and video by Nina Dunn — goes a long way towards keeping the attention.
And a cast led by Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage in the title roles, with George Macguire and Natalie McQueen as Clyde’s brother and the latter’s wife, sing it with ferocious commitment and attack that as so often with Wildhorn’s shows, turns it into a guilty pleasure.
At the National’s Dorfman, David Eldridge’s MIDDLE is an utterly beautiful, tander, truthful and hurtful account of a long-term couple facing a marital reckoning. This wrenchingly intimate study of them suddenly hitting a serious bump in the marital road is played by two stunning actors Daniel Ryan and Claire Rushbrook so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel like acting at all.
Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship and wondered whether this is all there is will recognise themselves in this play. Gay or straight, this is a universal experience.
Last week’s biggest West End opening was a new production of Tennessee Williams’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE, which opened at the Duke of York’s last Tuesday — just five years after the last London revival of the play ran at the same address with New York stage royalty Cherry Jones starring as Amanda Wingfield.
Now, as the inaugural production of director James Herrin’s new independent company Second Half Productions, the major draw, of course, is six-times Oscar nominee Amy Adams making her London stage debut as Amanda Wingfield (and only her second-ever major stage credit). She’s fine, if a little too young-seeming.
The major innovation, or directorial intervention, is to divide the role of the narrator, Tom — Tennessee Williams’s alter ego — into two, a younger-self (Tom Glynn-Carney) and an older one (the ever-wonderful Paul Hilton). The best thing — and the best scene in the production — is between Lizzie Annis as daughter Laura (whom the programme states has cerebral palsy, and is making her professional stage debut here) and Victor Alli as the gentleman caller Jim. It is worth seeing for them alone.
Herrin, of course, is just the latest director to leave behind a funded company (in his case, Headlong) to branch out at the helm of his own independent company, co-founded with Alan Stacey, formerly executive director of Headlong (and before that, the Young Vic). Dominic Cooke has just announced new dates for his delayed revival of CP Taylor’s GOOD for his own new company, Fictionhouse (co-founded with Kate Horton, whom he worked with at the Royal Court), that will come to the Harold PInter in October starring David Tennant and Elliot Levey.
Both directors follow in the footsteps of a pathway long ago trailed by Peter Hall after he left the National in the 80s, with the Peter Hall Company, and since also adopted by Michael Grandage. Jonathan Church and Marianne Elliott, amongst others, in setting up companies in their own names after they respectively left the Donmar Warehouse, Chichester Festival Theatre and National Theatre (where the first two were artistic directors and the latter was a regular directorial presence). In addition, Hytner and his former executive director Nick Starr both went on to found the London Theatre Company in 2017, operators of the Bridge Theatre.
The shape and structure of the commercial theatre looks like it is going to be radically changed in the coming years with the emergence of new operators like these drawn from the subsidised world, and not dependent on existing commercial producers to develop projects for.
The Week Ahead
The weekend before last I was at the King’s Head in Islington for Mark Ravenhill’s new four-person heavily abbreviated production of LA BOHEME, and tonight I’m back there (tube strike permitting) for the premiere of his new play, THE HAUNTING OF SUSAN A, in which he himself appears.
On Wednesday, I’m at another world premiere — Steve Brown and Harry Hill’s TONY [THE TONY BLAIR ROCK OPERA] at the Park; and on Saturday afternoon, at THE CAR MAN at the Royal Albert Hall (which opens the night before, pictured below).
This weekend I’m also seeing Michael Ball in concert at the London Palladium on Saturday evening, and Barry Humphries’s solo autobiographical show THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK at the Gielgud on Sunday evening.
All that and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CINDERELLA, too, which ends its run at the Gillian Lynne this weekend, so I’m going to catch it one last time on Wednesday afternoon.
For full details on all the opening shows and upcoming openings in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway, visit
SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY
I’ll be back here on Wednesday. Meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends).