Welcome to today’s bank holiday edition of ShentonSTAGE, which contains a preview of the week ahead, but also features reviews round-ups of the return of JERUSALEM to the West End and Daniel Craig starring as MACBETH on Broadway, which both opened on Thursday but for which reviews were “embargoed” until Friday (respectively midnight and 4pm US time). There’s also the shocking “breaking news” of a suddenly aborted West End run for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest show CINDERELLA that broke yesterday late afternoon — even though its new company, waiting in the wings to begin rehearsals, had not been informed yet.
BREAKING NEWS OF A BROKEN SHOW
There was “Breaking News” yesterday afternoon, when it was reported that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CINDERELLA is to shut at the West End’s Gillian Lynne Theatre on June 12, after what The Stage called a “disjointed run” (it had been put on hiatus from December to February, with the cast unsalaried, when the Omicron variant surged). And once again, it was also apparently the case that, despite a new cast being contracted, the social media announcement of this news was the first they’d heard of it. As Kayleight McKnight tweeted:
I re-tweeted the above, saying “Good point. Hope the new cast were told first…” and one of the incoming company confirmed they had not been informed:
Last night Summer Strallen — who was replacing Rebecca Trehearn — hosted an Instagram live, it attracted up over 600 viewers at times. Current leading lady Carire Hope Fletcher confirmed that she had not been in the building today, and had only heard second-hand herself. The full (lengthy!) video is here.
They all deserve better. And the industry needs to DO BETTER.
It’s hardly as if it must have been a last-minute decision. THE STAGE already had a full story to run the moment the current cast were informed after the matinee, and then sent out a “breaking news” e-mail to subscribers with a link to their story. It contained a press statement from Andrew Lloyd Webber — though the show’s own press agent, Storyhouse PR, hasn’t issued it themselves (they may well have been as much in the dark as incoming cast members are).
So the decision must have been made a good few days ago, and the information was clearly there; it just wasn’t shared appropriately. Of course, I realise that the industry is leaky — but those that need to know about something that is going to directly affect their livelihoods in the coming months ought to know first, not the readers of THE STAGE. Summer Strallen shared that when she told her agent, he checked his e-mail — and he’d had a notification that day. But on a bank holiday Sunday, not every agent would have been glued to their emails.
THIS WEEK (AND THE WEEKS AHEAD)
My regularly updated feature on upcoming shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here (including press contacts for each show):
The coming week sees new plays at the National (David Eldridge’s MIDDLE, opening in the Dorfman on Wednesday) and Bush (Beru Tessema’s HOUSE OF IFE, also opening Wednesday) and the arrival of Daniel Fish’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! (at the Young Vic on Thursday). I’ll be catching up with these later in the month, as I’m off to New York this Friday, from May 6-16, to catch up with (some of) the recent flood of openings there.
London also has a short run for Ivo van Hove’s Amsterdam production of AGE OF RAGE (running May 5-8 only at the Barbican; van Hove has already brought a run of his version of THE HUMAN VOICE to the West End this year, and still has an Edinburgh International run for another show of his in August, (A LITTLE LIFE, at the Festival Theatre from August 20-22).
Out of London, there’s a new Ayckbourn, premiering not at Scarborough but at the Lake District’s Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere (ALL LIES, from May 5-21).
MY OWN WEEK…..
Tomorrow sees the long-awaited SONDHEIM OLD FRIENDS gala, fielding an all-star company at the Sondheim Theatre that includes Broadway royalty like Bernadette Peters and UK Sondheim legends like Julia McKenzie`(one of the world’s greatest-ever Sondheim interpreters), Judi Dench, Siân Phillips, Imelda Staunton, Jenna Russell, Rosalie Craig, Janie Dee and Maria Friedman (who is also directing).
It sold out instantly, and I didn’t secure an (admittedly overpriced) ticket; there’s a live broadcast to another West End theatre, but I won’t be there, either (thought tickets are still available), as I’ve long had a ticket that night to see the Divine Comedy, one of my favourite pop artists, at the London Palladium.
On Wednesday, I’m catching up (at last) with Ralph Fiennes in David Hare’s STRAIGHT LINE CRAZY at the Bridge; there’s also a brief press preview late afternoon of the new production of Benjamin Scheuer’s THE LION, taking place at the Theatre Cafe, ahead of its opening later in May at Southwark Playhouse; then I go to the Other Palace — where in fact I first saw THE LION — to see Sam Harrison’s LOVE IS ONLY LOVE, in which he co-stars with David Seadon-Young, opening a run there to May 15.
REVIEWS ROUND-UP: JERUSALEM (Apollo Theatre), opened last Thursday
Jez Butterworth’s JERUSALEM returned to the Apollo, its original transfer
home in 2010 after it premiered at the Royal Court in 2009, with many of its original cast returning, including Mark Rylance as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron and Mackenzie Crook, in Ian Rickson’s production.
I reported on the production myself in my Friday newsletter — it wasn’t a review as such (reviews were embargoed to midnight that night), but a reflection on some impressions of the distance of time on the play’s events, and how Brexit may well have changed the way it is received now.
It’s a theme that other critics also picked up on in their more formal reviews. In The Guardian, Arifa Akbar admitted to an ambivalence for the original production in 2009: “Full disclosure: I did not love Jerusalem the first time around. Jez Butterworth’s play about myths and Englishness has itself been so mythologised since that original 2009 run – hailed as the play of the century and celebrated for its Shakespearean qualities – that it seems like heresy to speak of ambivalence in anything other than a whisper….” She itemised some of her concerns: ‘But what about the peculiarly flat, Little Britain-style humour of the first act? The peripheral female characters and queasy pejoratives of women? And its harking back to a bygone England – a “holy land” filled with ancient energies, druids and Stonehenge giants – that carries the discomforting idea that Englishness was a better, purer version of itself then?”
And seeing it again, she says, “it revives, for me, some of the same gripes. Its motley crew of “outcasts, leeches, undesirables [and] beggars” who meet around Rooster’s caravan in an illegally occupied spot of Wiltshire woodland to drink and snort coke still look like comic grotesques in its first act. Now, we wonder if they are Brexiters and populists in the making – the deplorables and left-behinds they might be labelled today. “I leave Wiltshire and my ears pop,” says one character who does not see the point of other countries. Maybe if this play had been revived before the EU referendum, the metropolitan masses would not have been as shocked by the result.”
For Quentin Letts — now in the Sunday Times Culture section, formerly of the Daily Mail, and a long avowed Brexiteer — the play is a wonderful thing: “Jez Butterworth’s 2009 play, revived with much of its original cast, has barely dated. In fact it feels more necessary now than a decade ago. Jerusalem, then, could be seen as an omen of the Brexit revolution. What does it say now, after lockdown and the illiberal onslaught of masks and social distancing? The play ends with Rooster issuing a gizzard-shrivelling curse. “Rise up!” he cries, beating a mystical drum. “Come . . . you drunken spirits, you fields of ghosts who walk these green plains still! Come, you giants!” The last thing we hear is a distant thumping, as if of mighty feet. Fee-fi-fo-fum…. One reason Jerusalem was and remains so remarkable is that it is so different from the boring compliance of most other new drama. Theatre practitioners no longer regard themselves as rebels or revellers. They have become enforcers. They are actually proud of this.”
In the daily Times, Dominic Maxwell considers the play’s outsize reputation, and feels that it still warrants it: “There is something magical going on in the Wiltshire woods as Jez Butterworth’s modern masterpiece returns in all its ragged glory. First seen in 2009, often fêted (including in The Times) as the play of the century, with a larger-than-life lead turn by Mark Rylance, its pricey, all-but-sold-out comeback begs to be cut down to size. No show can be that good, can it?Well, in its garrulous, unkempt, warm-blooded way, it can. A thousand playwrights try to write the sort of Chekhovian tragicomedy in which characters in one location chat over the course of a day — St George’s Day in the fictional village of Flintock in this instance — until, whoops-a-daisy, the story is done and everyone’s lives are changed for ever. Only Butterworth and his reunited team (the director Ian Rickson, the designer Ultz, and a fine cast, including an excellent Mackenzie Crook and some of the other original actors) has found a way to make that format vivid rather than meandering…. Written long before Brexit, Jerusalem nails an English bloody-mindedness, a need to be free. Rooster is too rich a character to be merely emblematic, though. He ends up hobbled, his situation hopeless, his desires undimmed. And Rylance is mesmerising. It’s not the neatest play you’ll ever see, but it is one of the best plays you’ll ever see.”
REVIEWS ROUND-UP: Macbeth (Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, opened last Thursday)
Sam Gold’s new Broadway revival of MACBETH — directed by Sam Gold, and co-starring Ruth Negga as Lady M — was the final show to open in the current Broadway season.
Broadway critics were, mostly, less than impressed (there’s a full round-up here via BroadwayWorld.com). For Time Out New York, Adam Feldman called it “the kind of passive-aggressive theater party that invites two big stars to attend—Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga as the regicidal title couple—and then makes a point of ignoring them. Short, eloquent, violent and packed with sensational business (murder! witches! madness! ghosts! a decapitated head!), Macbeth is usually one of Shakespeare’s most exciting plays. Not so here: Deliberately murky, this anemic modern-dress production creeps at a petty pace from scene to scene, to the last syllable of the tragedy’s verse and beyond into a wistful folk-song coda.”
The most favourable review (so far) is from Clive Davis, who was visiting from London last week for The Times (where he is chief critic): his review ends declaring, “Over the course of nearly two and a half hours there are bound to be some unwelcome distractions. [Director Sam] Gold — who worked with Craig in 2016 on an off-Broadway Othello in which the star played Iago — keeps the Porter scene in, and has him played by the recently murdered Duncan, who rises from his bed, removes his gore-stained fake belly and stands inside of the lowered stage curtain, chatting away like some ancient vaudevillean. The doubling of roles, especially in this stripped-down setting, is occasionally confusing too. But it doesn’t matter in the end: this is a sleepless realm where faces and illusions blur into one another. The play is no preening star vehicle. In that final group sequence we see Craig as a team player — a more famous face, perhaps, but a member of the company all the same. It’s his name that will attract the crowds, but he deserves praise for putting himself to the test in such a gifted group of players.”
SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY
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).