Thriller Live’s 7th Year

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Today I had a three show day — I started with Daniel Kitson’s Tree at the Old Vic at 11am, approved then went across the street to the Old Vic at 2.30pm for 1927’s Golem, and then went into town to see Once yet again at the Phoenix Theatre at 7.30pm (in order to see Ronan Keating’s brilliant understudy Jack Beale take over the role for the day). ??Yes, I’m quite clearly a theatre addict. But I squeezed in some personal time between each show by scheduling coffee meetings at 1pm and 4.15pm and then dinner at 5.30pm!

It felt very Edinburgh-like — or even Edinburgh-lite (where you — or at least I — can typically see five shows a day). That sense was amplified yesterday by the early start for Tree; one of the things I love about the parallel universe of Edinburgh is the fact that the Traverse gets packed houses for serious plays at 11 in the morning. ??I’m now wondering why more shows don’t try 11am matinees, and not just for kids shows.
After last year’s most eagerly anticipated announcement of who would take over from Nick Hytner as artistic director, recipe today has been the day for the year’s most eagerly anticipated announcement of Rufus Norris’s first season at the helm.

And my initial impressions are very good. His opening season definitely signals changes in the air, but also a welcome sense of continuity, too. Norris has appointed a new group of associates that brings Tom Morris back into the National fold (while he continues to run Bristol Old Vic) and also includes Dominic Cooke (returning to the theatre for the first time since he left the Royal Court), as well as includes Marianne Elliott, Ben Power, Lyndsey Turner and Paule Constable. The directorial roll call of those who also be directing at the National this year also includes Nadia Fall, Polly Findlay, Simon Godwin, Jeremy Herrin, Roger Michell, Ian Rickson, and Indhu Rubasinghma, all of whom have worked at the National before, and Sally Cookson.

It’s also good to have Patrick Marber back at the National, with his first original play in years as well as a separate version of an existing play that he will also direct. Norris himself reunites with composer Damon Albarn, with whom he collaborated on Doctor Dee that was seen at Manchester International Festival and at the London Coliseum (under the auspices of English National Opera), for a new musical wonder.land that will premiere at this year’s Manchester event and then come to the National.

I’m not quite sure we need another Our Country’s Good, so soon after its original director Max Stafford-Clark last brought it back to London’s St James Theatre in 2013.

The announcement was also notably short on big casting announcements: only Chiwetel Ejiofor, who will star in Norris’s own production of Everyman, and Anne-Marie Duff in a Manchester co-production of DH Lawrence’s trilogy of mining dramas condensed into one play, now called Husbands and Sons, seem to have stars attached to them already.

But no doubt more will be revealed in time. Watch this space.

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Thriller Live

When Thriller Live arrived at the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue exactly six years ago today, there I thought it felt very much like a filler that would be there for a few months but then move on. Instead, order of course, it was Michael Jackson who moved on himself to the great pop arena in the sky, and the show became a sort of living memorial to him. In the days following his death, the theatre became a shrine with fans coming there to post tributes. (There’s now a permanent one in the foyer).

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The opening night of Thriller Live on January 22, 2009 (left to right) Musical Director John Maher, creator Adrian Grant, Tito Jackson and Director/Choreographer Gary Lloyd

The show recently became the 20th longest running musical in the history of the West End, and is about to move more positions up: this coming Sunday (January 25), it overtakes Grease; and then in April, it will overtake the original 1960 production of Oliver! to take 18th position.

I don’t think it pays to be snobbish about shows like this — the West End should have room for all sorts of shows (yes, even Let It Be — about which I once wrote, “Let it Be? Let it Not”; but I draw the line at Rock of Ages, which I think is the anti-Christ of musicals). But I’m only saddened by the fact that it has taken one of Shaftesbury Avenue’s loveliest playhouses out of circulation for so long.

If only they could move it to the Trafalgar Studios, I’d never have to go there again….