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Welcome to the return of ShentonSTAGE Daily. I took a hiatus while on holiday in Barbados — though I came back twice for the openings of FROZEN and BACK TO THE FUTURE, reporting on the reviews of both; I’ll be catching up with Frozen myself on Wednesday (so will post a review here on Thursday).

As for BACK TO THE FUTURE, having gone ahead with the press night last Monday despite the absence of star Roger Bart, who had tested positive for COVID, it has not been able to give another performance all of last week, owing to extensive cast illness.

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Performances continue to be lost all over town: could this be the new normal? (After the Royal Court’s IS GOD IS opened last Thursday, it lost Saturday’s evening performance).

Cast illness, of course, does happen — it is not always COVID related — but COVID has brought a new dimension to the uncertainty of whether the performances audiences have booked and travelled to will actually happen.

And yet the West End appears to be in a continued sense of denial around the risks posed to audiences and companies alike since “Freedom Day” when all social distancing in theatres was allowed to be dropped — and with it mask-wearing mandates too, too.

SOLT’s “encouragement” that people continue to wear masks is now being honoured more in the breach than the observance all around town. The government, despite suggesting that COVID passports would be introduced for unspecified large-scale gatherings, failed to do so; so now the theatre has more or less returned to a pre-COVID world.

That may be, as Julian Bird, SOLT CEO, referred to as a “lifeline” for the industry; but I wonder how long theatres will remain open for as winter approaches and a new COVID surge arrives.

Last week The Guardian reported this:

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Cases, hospitalisations and deaths, it reported, are all higher than a year ago despite the success of the vaccination programme.
“Speaking alongside Johnson at a Downing Street press conference, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, also said experience of battling the virus showed “you have to go earlier than you think you want to, you have to go harder than you think you want to”. He said the UK was now at a “pivot point” where, if the situation worsens, it could do so rapidly. Modellers on the Sage committee expect cases to rise in the coming months after almost all restrictions were lifted this summer, documents show. Daily hospitalisations could plausibly peak at 7,000 in England next month, far surpassing the winter peak, which reached 4,500 UK-wide, according to the updated modelling. Currently about 1,000 people with Covid are being admitted to UK hospital wards each day.”

As for casts, though they are subjected to frequent testing, there is no mandate from Equity UK to require, as Actors’ Equity in America does, for performers to be fully vaccinated. This will inevitably lead to more absences from West End companies in the coming months; and although this weekend’s West End Live showcase in Trafalgar Square was of course outdoors, it was dispiriting to see a known unvaccinated company member of a returning West End musical mingling mask-free and posing for photographs with young fans. 

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My regularly updated list of new and returning productions in the West End and beyond will be published later today on ShentonStage here.

Here are this week’s openings:


Tuesday September 20

  • Blithe Spirit (Harold Pinter Theatre) September 16-November 6, press night September 21. After its original West End transfer from Bath’s Theatre Royal to the Duke of York’s was curtailed after 12 performances in March 2020, following the arrival of the first lockdown, Richard Eyre’s production of the Noel Coward play returns with Jennifer Saunders reprising her role as the preposterous clairvoyant Madame Arcati. But it has swapped St Martin’s Lane (the Duke of York’s) for Panton Street (the Pinter). Press contact: Lewis Jenkins at Storyhouse PR.
  • Search Party (Donmar Warehouse) September 21-25. Poet, playwright and performer Innua Ellams (best known theatrically for his play Barber Shop Chronicles, seen at the National) launches the new Donmar season with his audience-led poetry event. Prompted by audience suggestions, he will search through his extensive archive of work and perform a reactive and spontaneous selection. Press contact: James Lever at Jo Allan PR,

Thursday September 23

  • The Last 5 Years (Garrick Theatre), September 17-October 13, press night September 23. Southwark Playhouse’s 2020 production, which played two runs there last March and September but was shut down on both occasions early by the arrival of lockdowns, moves to the West End, where it will now play the Garrick (instead of the originally announced Vaudeville) with Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson reprising their roles in Jonathan O’Doyle’s production. Press contact: Alexandra Buchanan at Amanda Malpass PR.
  • Shining City (Theatre Royal Stratford East) September 17-October 23, press night September 23. Nadia Fall directs the first London revival of Conor McPherson’s play since it was originally premiered at the Royal Court in 2004, now starring Brendan Coyle, Michelle Fox, Rory Keenan and Curtis-Lee Ashqar. Press contact: Hannah Stockton at Jo Allan PR.
  • Malindadzimu (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, September 17 to October 30, press night September 23) World premiere of Mufaro Makubika’s play, Press contact: Clare McCormack at Hampstead Theatre.

Friday September 24

  • & Juliet (Shaftesbury Theatre) Resuming performances from September 24. The new Shakespearean musical based on the back catalogue of pop hit maker Max Martin, including such iconic songs as ‘Baby One More Time’, ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’, ‘Love Me Like You Do’ and ‘Can’t Feel My Face scored three Olivier Award wins for cast members Miriam-Teak Lee (Best Actress in a Musical) as Juliet, with Cassidy Janson and David Bedella winning Best Actress and Actor in a Musical in a supporting role respectively.


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SEE YOU TOMORROW…See you in your inbox tomorrow morning. But if you can’t wait that long, you can find me on Twitter (though not as often on weekends as on weekdays):