August 6: Friday Diary

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The age of uncertainty in theatregoing; Broadway’s return this week; and a magical afternoon in the theatre

Theatre’s current uncertainty
I was in London for three days of theatregoing this week, and last night had planned to catch up on Wise Children’s new show Bagdad Cafe at the Old Vic (which I’d bought a ticket for, having missed the press night owing to a clash with the delayed gala night of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium), but yesterday morning I received this email:

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I’ll (hopefully!) be able to re-schedule, but meanwhile I ‘lost’ a night in my planned mini-marathon of six shows across a two-night, three-day stay (this was a bit like the old days, when I’d think nothing of cramming in between seven and twelve shows a week). Of course, I didn’t waste last night: I revisited Pippin, one of my all-time favourite musicals currently in a wonderfully astute and compact revival at Charing Cross Theatre, for the fourth time (and it won’t be the last, either)

Meanwhile, Jersey Boys is still in previews at the Trafalgar Theatre (where it due to open officially next Tuesday, August 10), but it, too, was forced to cancel last night:

This is no doubt going to be the new ‘normal’, but it adds yet another deterrent to audiences, who will be unable to plan anything with certainty. I feel their pain now as never before: now that I no longer live in London but have to plan my theatregoing around dedicated trips back to the capital, there’s an added expense when shows are summarily cancelled, too. A few weeks ago I arrived in London for a press performance of Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne, and had already checked into my Air BnB hotel room when I got the notification that the performance was cancelled. So I threw away £50 on an unnecessary overnight stay.

Broadway’s belated return
While the West End has staged several start-stop returns across the last 16 months of COVID, finally returning without the need for audiences to socially distance (or even wear masks) since “Freedom Day” on July 19, Broadway this week on Wednesday saw it reopen its doors with its first brand-new play since the shut-down took effect in March 2020. (It has already seen the return of Bruce Springsteen to the St James, but that’s a returning show and very much a special event).

The play is Pass Over, one of an unprecedented slew of some seven black-written new plays that are coming to Broadway this season (the cast are pictured outside the theatre above by Bruce Glikas). It was previously premiered in Chicago in 2017 and produced by Lincoln Center Theatre in 2018.

According to a report in the New York Post, “Guests were required to show proof of vaccination as well as keep on their masks in the theater, except while eating and drinking in designated areas.

As Michael Paulson also reported for the New York Times,

“The night was significant, not only as Broadway seeks to rebound from a shutdown of historic length, but also as it seeks to respond to renewed concerns about racial equity that have been raised over the last year. Pass Over is one of seven plays by Black writers slated to be staged on Broadway this season, and, like many of them, it grapples directly with issues of race and racism.”

At the street party held outside the theatre afterwards, playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu addressed the crowd from a balcony above the theatre marquee, saying she felt like “Black Evita!”, according to the New York Times.

And she commented, “Do you know how crazy it is to write a play about a plague and then live through a plague?”.. and also adding, “Thank you all so much for being vaccinated, and thank you for celebrating Black joy.”

The most magical thing about magic show Wonderville…
During my theatre trip back to town, I also caught Wonderville (after its official press night was twice delayed, it finally opened on Monday this week) at yesterday’s matinee.

And I witnessed the most magical thing of all happening: the rows in front of me were occupied by a party of small kids in high-vis jackets, brought in on a school party; but sitting alongside one group was an older man, unconnected to them, who when they interval came, asked their guardian how many of them there were — then bought and paid for 19 ice-creams!

Ice-creams, as we know, don’t come cheap at the theatre — I was astonished at the Barbican the night before to shell out £3.80 for one, whereas Nimax (who own the Palace) “only” charge £3.50 each; so that would have set him back some £66.50. But it would have contributed massively to the kids’ enjoyment of their afternoon.

And it reminds me of one of the saddest stories of an early theatre trip made my husband long before he knew me, when he was a tiny tot himself. He went on a school trip to see The Wind in the Willows at the Old Vic, and had asked if he needed to take any money; he was told no. At the interval, the other kids bought themselves ice-creams; but they didn’t have any over to buy him one. He was entirely left out. If only that man had been at the theatre that afternoon….

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