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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, which finally (!) come to you back from the UK, after my eventful trip to the US saw me testing COVID positive after a brief (5 day) Christmas cruise to the Caribbean and Bahamas, and left me temporarily trapped in Hollywood, FL after we docked in Miami as I was forced to self-isolate there, unable to obtain a then-necessary fitness to fly negative Covid test to return.

Then the rules changed last week and a negative test was no longer required (though I was, by now, testing negative anyway), which was a relief as I was virtually unable to move, thanks to a serious recurrence of spinal issues while at sea. Trying to get it treated in the US once I was back on dry land involved a trip to an emergency room that cost $2,200 for a simple X-ray, though it at least provided the reassurance that there had been no hip dislocation, which I’ve had once and the pain reminded me of. (Though travel insurance are — touch wood —  covering this cost, watch out for if/when the NHS is privatised, and this becomes a norm here…..)

OMICRON LAYS WASTE TO THE WEST ENDOn Monday it was announced that producer David Pugh was bringing the previously open-ended run of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (SORT OF), that opened to mainly rave reviews in November at the Criterion, to an early close on February 6.

In a tweet,producer David Pugh on Tuesday morning specifically attributed this to the government’s introduction of Plan B:

The show is not dead, though: Pugh also announced he is to launch a 60-week national tour at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre in September, “before returning to London’s West End.”

Also closing: BRING IT ON, currently at the South Bank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall to January 22, has cancelled the national tour that was due to follow that run.
In a tweet issued on Monday, Selladoor announced:

Meanwhile, other long-runners in the West End are recalibrating their runs, with two productions co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh — The Phantom of the Opera, with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful and Mary Poppins, with Disney — reducing their current weekly performances from eight to six a weeks that will see the shows go dark on Monday evenings and Thursday matinee from this week to February 10, and invoking a union agreement struck with the unions at the start of the pandemic to reduce salaries for cast and musicians on a pro-rota basis. 

As The Stage reported on Monday,

“the West End agreement – which was announced in October 2020 – was initially intended to help producers remount shows following closures, and union Equity has expressed dismay that the contract is still having to be used.”

As actor Nick Holder — an original company member of Mackntosh’s Miss Saigon who has since gone on to become a leading player at the National (in such shows as London Road, The Threepenny Opera, LOVE and Faith, Hope and Charity) — tweeted,

Meanwhile, on Broadway a case of theatrical musical chairs is seeing the closure of Girl from the North Country at the Belasco (on January 23), though it is actively seeking to return in the spring to a different venue:

It is making way at the Belasco for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, currently at the Shubert Ipictured below), where it is taking a hiatus after this weekend (closing January 16), before resuming on the other side of 7th Avenue on June 1, in the process downsizing from 1500 seats to 1000, and freeing up the Shubert for a more potentially lucrative new show that could fill those extra seats.

There’s nothing unusual about these sorts of real estate moves on Broadway, where shows routinely juggle between homes — the current revival of Chicago, for instance, moved in turn from the 46th Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers, where it originally debuted in 1996) to the Shubert in 1997 and now the Ambassadors (where it has been running since 2003), while The Lion King, now at the Minskoff since 2006, originally opened at the New Amsterdam in 1997.

But this time it feels different: both Girl from the North Country and To Kill a Mockingbird are negotiating for their future lives in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. 

Boris Johnson’s shitshow in the House of Commons

Meanwnile, Boris Johnson has been providing the country’s most riveting but ill-written drama, with his theatre of the absurd in the House of Commons where his appearance at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday precipated the memorable d(r)ubbing of his current predicament by Labour MP Chris Bryant as a “shower of shenanigans“.

Claiming that the BYOB Christmas party that he attended during lockdown, against the specific rules his government had in fact set, was a work event produced this articulate twitter reply, featuring Patti LuPone in her current guise as Joanne in Broadway’s Company:

A nation that — but for outliers like Boris Johnson’s own personal adviser Dominic Cummings with his notorious eye-sight checking trip to Barnard Castle and now it turns out Johnson himself — abided by lockdown rules that included not being able to attend family members dying or attend their funerals is rightly furious.

And this sense of outrage is stunningly conveyed by actor Rory Kinnear in a piece in yesterday’s Guardian about his own disabled sister’s funeral on the self-same day that Johnson was at that party:

As he wrote of a lonely walk through his neighbourhood that evening, after his mother and surviving sister had gathered at her grave to bid her farewell,

A Celebratory moment

Finally, a moment to celebrate: yesterday the Theatre Cafe yesterday celebrated its 7th birthday. Originally located on a storefront location on Shaftesbury Avenue, diagonally opposite the Sondheim Theatre, it now occupies the former site of a Starbucks branch on St Martin’s Lane, near to the Duke of York’s Theatre. 

This oasis of theatricality is the closest we have to a “community space” to call our own, without the crazy exclusivity (and pricing) of the Ivy/Ivy Club/Sheekey’s or Delaunay where producers, agents and richer actors routinely hang out.

I’ve always preferred the bustling informality and democracy of coffee shops over private members clubs anyway: though I used to have a free membership to Covent Garden’s now shuttered Hospital Club, which positioned itself as an  hub for creative people in the arts (and was a judge for several years for their annual H:Club Awards that sought to encourage emerging artists), I hardly ever used it, going instead to Starbucks, Caffe Nero or (best of all) the Theatre Cafe.

It is a place to call home.

So is this column, which I will now be filling again on a more regular basis.
Welcome to 2022!