Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
With so much disintegrating in the UK’s public sphere right now in the wake of Prime Minister Liz Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s proposed tax cuts that have totally tanked the pound against the dollar, caused banks to withdraw their mortgage products and seen the Bank of England have to intervene to prevent total economy collapse, all in the last couple of days, it’s difficult not to feel a sense of impending doom.
So I am grateful to the theatre and live entertainment for still providing me with respite, pleasure and a sense of purpose; even if the theatre will not be immune to the aftershocks of all of this when people can’t afford to actually go. I’m also grateful to be living in Amberley, a beautiful village on the South Downs in West Sussex, so I can escape the insanity of it all.
While counting my blessings, I can also say how greatl it is to have, as my local theatre, the wonderful Chichester Festival Theatre, just a twenty minute drive from my front door; and last night I was there for the opening of a new production of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1985 play WOMAN IN MIND in the main house Festival Theatre (there are still two openings to come in the studio Minerva: THE FAMOUS FIVE and LOCAL HERO, both of them new British sourced musicals).
Jenna Russell, who stars in the title role of Susan, a woman trapped in a sexless and under-appreciated marriage (pictured above, with Marc Elliott as her fantasy lover), is in brilliant, wounding form as she loses her sense of herself; as a vicar’s wife, she is having a crisis of faith, in every sense.
Musical theatre fans already know her to be a a consummate performer, but she’s also one terrific actor, too, instinctively and warmly human, yet fragile and heartbreakingly vulnerable. This may be her greatest acting role to date.
Ayckbourn’s play was previously a vehicle for other singing actors to cross over, from Julia McKenzie (in the play’s West End premiere at the Vaudeville in 1986, pictured above left with Martin Jarvis) and Janie Dee (in a revival at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph in 2008 before transferring, again to the Vaudeville, pictured above top right), and Stockard Channing (in the play’s off-Broadway premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1988, pictured above bottom right). I saw two of those three (I missed Channing); but Russell earns her place in their hallowed company. This devastatingly poignant and intense psychological portrait of a woman disintegrating in front of us is discomforting to be sure, but it is also intensely moving.
The other characters — whether real-life presences in Susan’s life or conjured in her imagination — are more sketchily drawn in Ayckbourn’s play, but the company of Anna Mackmin’s warm-hearted production bring them to fully-inhabited life, especially Matthew Cottle as a clumsy local doctor, Stephanie Jacob as Susan’s stern-faced sister-in-law and Nigel Lindsay as an uncomprehending vicar husband.
THE NATIONAL’S CANCELLED PRESS NIGHTS
To lose one press night may be a misfortune; to lose two in the space of a few days starts to look like carelessness. The National Theatre drew consternation from critics when, following the loss of a single preview of THE CRUCIBLE on the day of the Queen’s funeral last week, it announced that it was moving the press opening to a week later than originally scheduled (on a new date that crashed into a long-scheduled Royal Court opening, too).
As the Evening Standard’s chief theatre critic Nick Curtis tweeted:
Then on the afternoon of this week’s planned opening on Tuesday for BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY, Rufus Norris e-mailed critics due to attend it to inform them that it was cancelled: “Samira Wiley is recovering from bronchitis and unfortunately will be unable to perform as planned. I appreciate that this news is coming very late in the day, Samira was determined to perform this evening and every effort has been made, however it has become apparent in the last hour that this will not be possible.” That evening’s performance went ahead with the understudy, but the press night has been postponed to October 4. As Nick Curtis, again, tweeted;
Meanwhile, a long-awaited press night has finally been announced for Rufus Norris’s production of HEX, which was twice postponed during its original run last Christmas before being cancelled entirely; it is now returning to the Olivier from November 26 to January 14, with a press night planned (at the moment) for December 6 (barring any last minute ‘incidents’ like state funerals or indisposed actors). I saw its penultimate preview in January, and wrote about it here.
All of these, and other opening night dates in London theatres, selected regional theatres and on Broadway, are updated in my regular feature of future openings; you can find the current list here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-september-26/
SEE YOU ON MONDAY
I’ll be back here on Monday. 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)