ShentonSTAGE Daily for MONDAY OCTOBER 17

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.

Supporting new musicals: from Stockwell to Chester, I’ve been putting in the miles

As regular readers will know, I champion and support new musicals as much as I can. Last week this took me from a church hall in Stockwell in South East London to Chester to see two new musicals at very different stages in their development.

On Friday afternoon, I attended a “development workshop” of THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY, a musical adapted by Susannah Pearse from a novel by Thornton WIlder, with music and lyrics by Tim Connor; and while it is in no way appropriate to offer critical notes on a show so early in its progress towards the stage, I can say how thrilled I was to hear a new score that was so deeply felt. It was also wonderful to see such heavy-hitting talent as Sally Dexter, Alex Young, Celinde Schoenmaker, Hayden Oakley and Graham Bickley lending their talents to showcasing it.

I should perhaps add a personal note: I’ve known Tim since he was a teenager, and have watched his progress to the serious talent he has become. But here’s a clue how he has achieved it: he is an inveterate collector of cast albums of shows, and knows just about every show there is. Those influences feed into his own lush and melodic sound.

And on Saturday, I travelled to Chester to catch the last matinee of a short run of a new musical THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE,  based on Audrey Niffenegger’s novel of the same name, receiving its world premiere at Storyhouse. It was a six hour journey door-to-door in both directions for me to get there from West Sussex, so I spent some twelve hours on trains, and in cabs, to complete the journey.

Though I wished I could be a time-traveller myself to avoid the travel time, it was definitely worth the effort. This tender, surprising show was given a beautifully staged, and splendidly cast, production by director Bill Buckhurst, featuring David Hunter as the time-traveller and Joanna Woodward as his wife (pictured above)

It was great to see such a confident, clever and thoughtful new British originated musical, with a brand-new pop driven score by Dave Stewart and Joss Stone, full of powerful melodies. Stewart previously scored the West End musical adaptation of the film Ghost (with Glen Ballard), which was also produced by Colin Ingram.

It’s intriguing that Ingram, currently also behind the time-travelling West End hit BACK TO THE FUTURE, is also behind this; that makes three shows that concern themselves with revisiting and repairing the past. This one is sure to have a future, as well.

What was bad about Chris Goode

In the quick-fix of our attention-deficit age, Twitter is the perfect medium of communication, giving bite-sized bits of information (and misinformation, too, by the shedload), opinion and especially grievance in a constant stream of 280 character entries.

No wonder we still need long-form journalism to provide more context and weight — and to rise above the noise. Unfortunately, there is less of it about , as it costs money to generate (most journalists aren’t paid for their twitter feeds, by contrast, which are factored into their lives as self-promotion)

Last week The Stage published a massively important investigative ‘Long Read’ feature by Associate Editor Lyn Gardner on the influential late director Chris Goode’s serial abuses of actors in his theatre companies, which he disbanded before his suicide that followed the finding of child porn images on his computer. In it, Gardner spoke to some of his victims, and examined the lack of safeguarding practices that would have either prevented the abuse from happening or coming to light sooner.

The biggest irony, of course, is that he was partly protected by his critical reputation — one that Gardner herself had done more than most to promote. As a critic, she had been a long-time champion of Goode’s work; she regularly featured him in her weekly columns for The Guardian from 2009 onwards. In a 2018 feature, published by Exeunt when Gardner was let go from The Guardian, Andy Field wrote of her: “Lyn is a rare and precious conduit between what the artist Chris Goode might describe as the ‘upstream’ and the ‘mainstream’. And this means that Lyn is often not only the first person to write about a particular artist in the ‘mainstream media’, but is also, to a greater or lesser extent, involved in enabling those artists to achieve their full potential.”

That was certainly the case with Goode himself — and disturbingly, of course, her endorsement provided him with cover, too. So Gardner’s feature calling out the truth on him now is perhaps a kind of reparation.

It is certainly true that Maddy Costa, who became an ’embedded critic’ and therefore an in-house chronicler of his work, has held herself accountable for the part she herself played: as she has recently written, “In the five years since November 2017, but particularly since his death in June 2021, I’ve learned so much about the man Chris was, and all of it has been devastating. A bully who assaulted people. An abuser who coerced and manipulated people, particularly young men; who used his collaborators as shields, armour, to hide behind, even as he rallied people to drop their own armour. A paedophile who actively sought out images of children being sexually abused. This is the man I worked with for seven years, summer 2011 to autumn 2018, for much of that time romanticising his work and narrating a politics of resistance and care around it that would have encouraged other people to work with him too. In the five years since November 2017, I’ve devoted days and weeks to dialogue, silent reflection, and writing, in an attempt to understand how I could have been so beguiled by him, how I could have missed so many warning signs, and why I carry such intense feelings of shame and guilt for the harms he inflicted on others.”

Disturbing accounts of his working practices have emerged everywhere, up to and including possibly his biggest collaboration, when he directed a stage version of Derek Jarman’s JUBILEE at Manchester’s Royal Exchange (where Lyn Gardner gave it a 4 star review), and subsequently at Lyric Hammersmith. It is the only show of Goode’s that I think I ever caught myself, and it was not something I want to remember. I actually found myself on the street in the interval, planning to leave; I rang my husband to say I was on my way home, and he urged me to see it out, because only then would I be qualified to write about it.

Later that evening, I tweeted:

Lyn Gardner replied that night:

The work was clearly polarising. As one reader comment put it, “This play wouldn’t be anywhere near as fantastic as it is, if it didn’t attract as much distaste and criticism as it has. While obviously your opinion is valid, I can’t help but feel you’ve fallen right into the liberal sneering trap the play has set for you. I for one, if perhaps only for fear of embarrassing myself, find it difficult to fault at all.”

As I wrote in a column for The Stage afterwards, “If Jubilee is a show that was deliberately designed to alienate, then that was mission accomplished. It’s an intriguing strategy: the show wins either way. If people love it, it can bask in the glow; if they leave, it can rejoice in alienating them.”

But at least I only suffered a wasted evening thanks to the few hours I spent at Lyric Hammersmith. Others have had their lives far more adversely affected by Goode’s actions and abuses; I’m glad they were finally exposed.

OPENINGS IN LONDON, ON BROADWAY AND BEYOND

My regularly updated feature of openings in London, on Broadway and selected regional theatres is here:  http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-october-17/

This week’s major openings include MARVELLOUS, the first public showing at @sohoplace, the West End’s newest theatre space, that I previously previewed here; I will be catching that next week. But I am going to the openings tonight of LOCAL HERO, a new musical by another pop writer Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits), at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre; and to the Barbican tomorrow for The RSC’s new stage version of MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO. There’s also a new play by Peter Gill at Jermyn Street Theatre, that I’m catching a matinee of, and a short West End season for Rob Madge’s Edinburgh hit MY SON’S A QUEER BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO?, that I saw the original run at the Turbine of last year, and again in Edinburgh this past summer, when I wrote about it here. 

SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY

I’ll be back here 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)

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