Theatre openings and my Top Ten Choices of the Week (w/c March 14)

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MAIN THEATRE OPENINGS OF THE WEEK



This week I’ll be at the following:

  • miss-atomic-bomb Miss Atomic Bomb — new musical at the St James, with a cast led by Catherine Tate, Dean John-Wilson (soon to star in the West End in the title role of Disney’s Aladdin), Simon Lipkin and Daniel Boys in the world premiere of a musical inspirited by the bomb tests and beauty pageants that co-existed in 50s Vegas. Opening March 14.
  • If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me — Jane Horrocks has co-conceived this show with director/choreographer Aletta Collins (the choreographer behind Bend it Like Beckham), in which she appears with a live band and a company of dancers, opening on March 16 at the Young Vic.
  • The Painkiller — Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon bring their Belfast hit to the West End’s Garrick Theatre as part of the Branagh Theatre season, opening March 17.

MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THIS WEEK

akhnaten1) Akhnaten. Philip Glass’s 1984 opera is, now that Bend it Like Beckham has left town, my favourite musical evening in town — a glorious wallow in rapturously beautiful music, with an amazing, meditative staging by Phelim McDermott that is full of haunting imagery — and even juggling. It was seeing  the ENO’s original version in 1985 that made me a fully-fledged fan of Glass; now it’s wonderful to see it again in a brand-new production, running in rep at the London Coliseum, to March 18. I have just shelled out over £100 to buy a ticket to see it again this Thursday. Yes, it’s that good! Website: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/akhnaten/

nell-gwynn2) Nell Gwynn. A ravishing, rambunctious and hilarious new play by Jessica Swale that’s about a love affair both in and of the theatre, revolving around the true story of the 17th century actress who ended up as mistress to KIng Charles II. First seen at Shakespeare’s Globe for a run of just 11 performances last summer, it now gets a West End transfer the Apollo, starring the wonderful Gemma Arterton in the title role of Chris Luscombe’s production.  Shakespeare’s Globe previously also transferred Twelfth Night and Richard III with Mark Rylance to the same theatre. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://nellgwynn.co.uk/

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3) Motown. Not everyone loved this one — critical opinion was, to say the least, mixed. But even though I thought it was a bit of a cruise ship revue when I first saw it on Broadway, seeing it again in London, with a really fine mostly British cast pumping out the hits, warmed me to this show’s infectious and multiple pleasures. There simply hasn’t been a songstack quite like it in a jukebox musical ever — sure, it’s a pity some of the songs get cut off in their prime and the book makes Rock of Ages seem deep, but I still loved it! See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://motownthemusical.co.uk/

ma_rainey-bw4) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The National revisit August Wilson’s early play in his ten-play cycle of American black experience across the last century that they previously presented the UK premiere of back in 1989 to offer a stunning new production in the Lyttelton, starring Sharon D Clarke in the title role (pictured above). Lucian Msamati, just announced last week to play Salieri in the NT’s new forthcoming production of Amadeus, is extraordinary, too, amongst a superb ensemble that also features Clint Dyer and Giles Terrera. See my review for The Stage here. Website:  http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/ma-raineys-black-bottom

bedella5) In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony winning Broadway musical returns to London in the exhilarating production first seen at Southwark Playhouse last year, and now at King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to October. It has just been Olivier nominated for Best Musical, with David Bedella (pictured right) also nominated for Best Supporting Performance. I can’t wait to see it again — and will be doing so next week!  See my review here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/

uncle-vanya-paul-rhys6) Uncle Vanya. There isn’t a more up-and-coming director in town than Robert Icke, associate at the Almeida, who last year directed the award-winning Oresteia there that transferred to the West End. Now he does equally revelatory work on Chekhov’s enduring masterpiece, bringing it into the here and now with startling immediacy, and with an astonishing lead performance from Paul Rhys in the title role (actually re-named Uncle Johnny in this version, pictured above). My review for londontheatre.co.uk is here. Website: http://www.almeida.co.uk/whats-on/uncle-vanya/5-feb-2016-26-mar-2016

7) The Father. French playwright Florian Zeller has gone from unkown to soon having three plays running simultaneously in London — The Truth opens officially at the Menier this week (see above), while The Mother, with Gina McKee, ended its run at the Tricycle last week. But it is is James Macdonald’s bleak but beautiful production of The Father, now back in the West End at the Duke of York’s until March 26 prior to a national tour, that has initiat this flurry of interest. Kenneth Cranham, who won the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best Actor, is newly joined now by Amanda Drew as his daughter. See my reivew for The Stage here; Website: http://sfentertainment.co.uk/projects/the-father/

Bad-Jews8) Bad Jews. Return run to the West End for Joshua Harmon’s brilliant, exorciating study of a family of young Jewish people and their claims and counter-claims for assimilation… or not. A ferocious, lacerating family comedy that’s like a gladiatorial contest, it was first seen at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, then transferred to the St James before moving to the Arts and now the Haymarket, where it runs to March 20, prior to a national tour. Even the poster ignited controversy, getting banned by London Underground. But the show demands to be seen. Website: http://www.trh.co.uk/whatson/bad-jews/

9) Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Rare sighting of a still rarer Jean Anouilh play is updated to the late 50s by playwright Anthony Weigh, and turned into a strange, funny and stylish evening. See my review for The Stage here; Website: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2016/welcome-home-captain-fox

10) Emma-Williams-stage-interviewMrs Henderson Presents. Transfer from Bath Theatre Royal of this touching, terrific new musical version of the 2005 British film set backstage and frontstage at the Windmill Theatre, which offered audiences live, nude (but completely immobile) women. The cast includes Emma Willimas (pictured above) as one of the showgirls, plus Tracie Bennett in the title role, originally played by Judi Dench in the film. My review of the original production at Bath last summer for The Stage is here, and my review of last week’s opening of the transfer is here. Website: http://www.mrshenderson.co.uk/