After a mostly dismal series of openings last week — Miss Atomic Bomb and NotMoses both got one-star pans from me, and Jane Horrocks’ If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me was not far behind, with a one-star pan from The Times — at least there was The Truth at the Menier, which makes it into my Top Ten below. And this week there’s the transfer of the already-acclaimed People, Places and Things from the National to Wyndham’s on Wednesday (March 23) to look forward to seeing again!
MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THIS WEEK
1) 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 (which this week posted record attendances for last year that saw it account for some 12% of the capital’s total playgoing audience in 2015) 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/
2) 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/
3) 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
4) 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 am seeing it again this week on Tuesday. See my review here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/
5) 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
6) The Father. French playwright Florian Zeller has gone from unkown to soon having three plays running simultaneously in London — The Truth opened officially at the Menier last week (see next entry), while The Mother, with Gina McKee, ended its run at the Tricycle earlier this month. 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 where this is the final week of its run prior to a national tour, that has initiated 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/
7) The Truth. The Menier, who track record on new plays has been patchy to say the least (let’s try to forget Dinner with Saddam, one of the worst new plays of last year, if not the worst), have come up with a hit at last: Florian Zeller’s gently disquieting, sharply observed new play about the nature of lies and truth. It revolves around a man (Alex Hanson, pictured above right with Frances O’Connor) who is cheating on his wife (Tanya Franks) and his best friend (Robert Portal) by having a six-month affair with the friend’s wife (Frances O’Connor), and is himself suddenly stunned, and bizarrely affronted, when he discovers that they’ve all been lying to him, too in turn. My review for The Stage is here. Website is here.
8) Guys and Dolls. I can’t wait to go back to see Guys and Dolls now that it has newly transferred from the Savoy Theatre to the Phoenix, with three of its four principals re-cast. I am especially looking forward to seeing Oliver Tompsett (pictured right), who is possessed of one of the best male voices in British musical theatre, inheriting the role of Sky Masterson from Jamie Parker, and Samantha Spiro as Miss Adelaide. Website: http://www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/
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) Mrs 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/