The big announcement of the week was of the National Theatre’s 2019 season. Among the headlines: James McArdle (Angels in America) returns to star in a new production of Peer Gynt (co-produced with the Edinburgh International Festival and directed by Jonathan Kent); Roger Allam to star in Rutherford and Son; Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan in a new play Hansard by Simon Woods; Annie Baker to return with The Antipodes and Lenny Henry writes and stars in Richard Pryor on Fire; Bruce Norris’s new play Downstate will be directed by Broadway director Pam MacKinnon; and new productions of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (directed by Lyndsey Turner) and Three Sisters (directed by Nadia Fall).
The previously announced Martin Crimp/Katie Mitchell/Cate Blanchett (right) collaboration, We Have Have Sufficient Tortured Each Other, is adding to the torture by making tickets available by ballot only, from Nov 22. It previews from January 16, opens January 23, and runs to March 2. Approximately 10,000 pairs of tickets will be available.
It was also revealed that the end of Travelex’s sponsorship of the annual cheap tickets scheme is nigh, running since Hytner/Starr introduced it in their first season in 2003. Rufus Norris reported that the scheme had inspired a ‘really profound’ impact on theatre culture, with three million people accessing tickets to more than 70 productions. Here’s hoping a new sponsor is found; Norris also stated, “All I can say is that this is a huge priority for us and many other things will go before we give up on this… In one way or another we will maintain this. Quite how we manage that remains to be seen…. We’ve got to find the right partner for this and try to improve on the offer, not just replace it.”
LONDON OPENINGS OF THE WEEK
* Pack of Lies – Menier Chocolate Factory, opening October 1: Hugh Whitemore’s 1983 play about a British spying campaign on Russian informers in suburban Ruislip, may have gained new topical resonance after the recent events of poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury. The Menier’s new revival of the play also achieved a lot of resonance by starring Judi Dench’s actress daughter Finty Williams in a role that Dench originated. The company also features more offspring of well-known actors: Chris Larkin (son of Maggie Smith), Jasper Britton (son of Tony) and Macy Nyman (daughter of Andy).
Comparisons were inevitably made in reviews, but Williams [pictured right with Tracy-Ann Oberman) emerged in credit. In the Mail on Sunday, Robert Gore-Langton writes “She is fabulous….In Williams’s detailed performance you can see her conscience cracking in two.” In The Guardian, Michael Billington concurs, “She acquits herself excellently,” saving his doubts for the play itself (“I still feel that Whitemore overstates his case about the defencelessness of the individual against the overweening power of the state…. It’s a quietly intriguing play but one whose argument about intrusive state power is never decisively clinched.”
People Like Us – Union Theatre, opening October 2:
This pro-Brexit ‘comedy’ by Julie Burchill and Jane Robins opened to scathing reviews. In a one-star review for The Stage, Fergus Morgan wrote, “As a play, it’s just so utterly delusional; it’s tough to tell whether it’s worse when it thinks it’s being clever or when it thinks it’s being funny. When it thinks it’s being clever, it has its characters spit out quote after obvious, ubiquitous quote, then peacock around as if they’d just spouted some Noel Coward humdinger. When it thinks it’s being funny, it has them spiral into angry, excruciatingly overwritten tirades about sore losers, remoaners and bureaucratic Brussels…. Pointlessly unhelpful. Painfully partisan. Uniquely awful. Waffle so reductive it might have been spluttered out by Boris Johnson. It would be infuriating if it wasn’t so hilariously bad.”
In a two-star review for The Times, Ann Treneman wrote: “Yawn. This is the TV series Friends but for bores…. The characters may be cartoon but they are (often) witty. ‘What would Oscar say?’ asks Frances at one point, before we hear a Wildean witticism. Actually I can imagine what Oscar would say about this and it’s not pretty.”
NEW YORK OPENING OF THE WEEK
Girl from the North Country – Public Theatre, opening October 1:
The Old Vic originated Conor McPherson-directed and written play with songs by Bob Dylan transferred to New York’s Public Theatre. In a rave review for the New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote, “It seemed like a bizarre conjunction, that of a Gaelic dramatist and an American balladeer. But in plays like Shining City and The Night Alive, Mr. McPherson has shown a mystical appreciation of music as an expression of the numinous in life. That respect for the ineffable has been translated into the most imaginative and inspired use to date of a popular composer’s songbook in this blighted era of the jukebox musical. In unfolding his portrait of the desperate tenants of a boardinghouse in Duluth, Minn. (Mr. Dylan’s birthplace), in late 1934, Mr. McPherson never uses songs as a substitute for or extension of dialogue, à la Mamma Mia!”
The production, which has sold out its entire downtown run at the Public, is said to be eyeing a Broadway transfer now, but writing in the New York Post, Michael Riedel has cautioned: “The trouble is, depressing shows about ‘blighted’ lives don’t get much traction in the commercial theater.”
LONDON THEATRE NEWS OF THE WEEK: SHOWS AND CASTING
* The 2017 Tony winning best musical Dear Evan Hansen has confirmed its West End arrival: it will open in the autumn of 2019 at the Noel Coward Theatre, joining other forthcoming arrivals from New York that also include Come from Away and Waitress (to the Phoenix and Adelphi, both in February). In a press statement, producer Stacey Mindich said: “We are so excited to bring our show to London, especially to Cameron Mackintosh’s jewel box of a theatre, the Noel Coward. Our show is very much about connection and we are all looking forward to connecting London audiences to the music and story of Dear Evan Hansen.” Casting is still to be announced, though the US creative team will reprise their duties here.
* Foxfinder, the new West End production of a play that was acclaimed in its original production at the Finborough in 2011 but less so in a new production that opened at the West End’s Ambassadors Theatre on September 13 (as I reported here, http://shentonstage.com/the-week-in-brief-we-september-16/), is to shut early, closing October 20. It was originally booking to January 5. It will be replaced by a transfer of Eugenius!, a new British musical currently playing its second season at the Other Palace to October 21, re-opening at the Ambassadors for a run from October 27 to January 5. This will therefore be running at the same time as an earlier transfer from the Other Palace of Heathers, currently at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
* The British pop musical Six, which will end its current run at the Arts Theatre on October 14, is set to return there, after a short UK tour to Kingston, Southampton, Salford and Glasgow, from January 16 for an open-ended run.
* Alun Armstrong, Maggie Steed and Nicola Walker (pictured right) will star in the world premier of Mark Ravenhill’s The Cane at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, from December 6 prior to opening on December 12, under the direction of Vicky Featherstone, the theatre’s artistic director.
* Happy Birthday, Harold, a gala performance to mark Harold Pinter’s 88th birthday, that will take place at the Harold Pinter Theatre on October 10, will feature a cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kit Harington, Simon Russell Beale, Felicity Kendal, and Samuel West. It will raise funds for Amnesty International and Chance to Shine.
LONDON THEATRE NEWS: BEHIND-THE-SCENES
* Henny Finch (right) is to take up the post of Executive Director at the Donmar Warehouse from January 7, joining incoming artistic director Michael Longhurst, and succeeding Kate Pakenham. Currently executive director of Hofesh Shechter Company and previously at Headlong for a decade, she has commented, “I am a long-time admirer of Mike’s bold and beautiful work, and I can’t wait to join him at the Donmar as this small but mighty theatre embarks on its next adventure. I am very grateful to the wonderful Kate Pakenham for leaving the theatre in such great shape and with an exceptional team, and I’m very much looking forward to getting to know the staff, the supporters, the audiences and the artists over the next few months.”
* Spending a penny: The West End’s Queens Theatre, currently home of Les Miserables, is to more than double its toilet provision, receiving planning permission to install up to 33 additional cubicles. It currently has 24. According to a report in The Stage, “The main aim of the plan is to provide more toilets for female patrons. They will be created by developing a light well in the theatre that does not currently have a function. Using the space, the theatre will be able to add toilets at every level, including the stalls and dress circle.” These improvements will be made when the theatre is closed for refurbishment in 2019, when Les Miserables is expected to transfer to another venue.
THEATRE NEWS BEYOND LONDON
* Rachel Tackley (right) is to step down as executive director at Chichester Festival Theatre, after just two seasons in the post. In a statement she stated, “I have loved being part of Chichester Festival Theatre, and it has been thrilling to drive the theatre forward to its next chapter. However, despite our achievements over the last two years, Daniel and I agree that our differing leadership styles are not the right combination for the theatre at this point. I have therefore decided that the time is right for me to step down.”
* The UK Theatre Awards, Britain’s only awards ceremony recognising theatre on a national basis and not just in the capital, take place next Sunday (October 14). But two awards have already been announced: Maxine Peake will receive the outstanding contribution to British theatre prize and Richard Eyre will receive the Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts.
Peake has already commented of her prize, “As a huge fanatic of regional theatre, especially in the north, I see this award as a great platform to make some noise about the value of British theatre in all its forms, especially outside of the capital, and of the importance of keeping it alive and thriving. I wouldn’t be where I am today without early involvement in wonderful theatres like the Bolton Octagon, Leeds Playhouse and obviously, the Royal Exchange Manchester. We need to make sure young people, wherever they reside in the UK, can still gain access to these theatres and the vital opportunities they provide.”
Eyre, a former artistic director of the National, will be presented with the award by Ian McKellen.
* The Stage revealed this week that three board members of the Actors Touring Company resigned “in protest and frustration” at the events that led to the departure of artistic director Ramin Gray from the company, following the issuing of a formal warning to him after a disciplinary hearing. In a joint statement, they said: “The independent investigator recommended that any sanction for the four instances of inappropriate verbal conduct that she found should take some form of warning, and not dismissal. She was clear there were no instances of sexual harassment, verbal or physical. The ATC board could have allowed Ramin to resume his work. Instead a slim majority pursued him on unrelated grounds for ‘disobeying management instructions’ and ‘breach of contract’. These accusations made his position untenable and led to his resignation. This led, in turn, to our resignation.”
As Stage editor Alistair Smith wrote in an editorial, “As more emerges regarding Ramin Gray’s departure from Actors Touring Company, the less clear things become…. Gray has been found guilty of something that those with access to all the information believed did not merit dismissal, yet he has ended up out of a job. Should a similar situation arise again, it is crucial that a process is found to allow for someone to be disciplined for an offence and be able to return to their job, learning from their previous mistakes. As we attempt the crucial process of improving the atmosphere of theatre workplaces and rooting out historic and current offences, there must also be space for rehabilitation and, when earned, forgiveness.”
* The 50th anniversary revival of Hair, first presented at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre in 2016 before transferring to London’s The Vaults, is set to tour now, opening at the New Wimbledon Theatre on March 22, with a press night on March 28. It will then visit locations including Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Brighton
NEW YORK NEWS
* Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, currently running at the West End’s Aldwych Theatre, has announced that it will transfer to Broadway in the autumn of 2019. No theatre or specific dates were announced. In a press statement, Turner herself stated, “Bringing this musical to life on stage and working with this team has meant so much to me, I feel that it is in many ways a culmination of my career. London audiences have been and continue to be extraordinary. Now, the bright lights of Broadway are calling, and I’m very excited to share this beautiful show with New York audiences next year.”
* Laurie Metcalf will return to Broadway in the world premiere of Lucas Hnath’s Hillary & Clinton, opposite John Lithgow, in Joe Mantello’s production. It will begin previews from March 6 and has set an opening night of April 18, 2019 at a Broadway theatre still to be announced. Metcalf has already won Tony Awards two years running: in 2017 for A Doll’s House, Part 2 (also written by Hnath and directed by Mantello) and in 2018 for Three Tall Women. Could she make it three for three this season?
Earlier this summer Joe Dziemianowicz was laid off as the paper’s long-time theatre critic, as part of big cuts to the paper’s editorial team. Now the paper, owned by Tronc, will punish reviews by Chris Jones from the Chicago paper it also runs, the Chicago Tribune, who also regularly covers the Broadway beat for it.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Playwright Anthony Neilson, speaking on a panel on censorship in theatre held at the Royal Court that was reported by The Stage, said that the “capacity to be misunderstood has grown exponentially” because of media such as Twitter, and it has become easy to “weaponise social media to deliberately misunderstand a person”. He went on to amplify, “The whole idea that you have a medium that is based on rapid response, and yet has lack of nuance built into its form, is very difficult, and is leading to a very binary culture, which I think makes it difficult to be truthful in art. I think that for a writer, you have to be constantly aware of how unbinary and complex every issue is, so the loss of nuance generally I think is quite dangerous.”
I have teamed up with Sunday Showtunes for a new fortnightly podcast on Musical Theatre, entitled Life Upon the Wicked Stage. You can listen to the first episode here: https://audioboom.com/posts/7032092-life-upon-the-wicked-stage-episode-1