Friday Diary: COVID Passports for Wales, The Other Palace changes hands again, and Mum’s the word for a critic

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the dayLeave a Comment

COVID PASSPORTS FOR THEATRE TO BE INTRODUCED IN WALES FROM NOVEMBER 15… AND TACKLING THE CLIMATE CRISIS IN COVENT GARDEN
The Welsh government have just announced that Covid passes will be extended to cinemas, theatres and concert halls from November 15, in an effort to tackle the country’s high Covid rates, reported to the worst in the UK. 
At least theatres will now be OBLIGED to follow the law, rather than their own impulses, and UK Theatres, who have signally failed to provide leadership, can step aside from making ‘recommendations’ that few follow.
It’s about time that England follows suit, of course. My own, admittedly anecdotal, evidence is that where theatres have a will to request audience compliance, it actually happens. Yesterday afternoon I was at the Donmar Warehouse and audiences were explicitly asked to keep their masks on — and all but a handful did.

It’s the little things that can make all the difference. And sometimes, of course, the bigger things, too: the Donmar has continued to demonstrate that it is ahead of the curve in doing the right thing, announcing today that it is appointing associate Zoë Svendsen as Climate Dramaturg, a role in which she will undertake an 18 month collaborative action research project – Climate Conversations – to bring together artists and producers to reframe conversations around the climate crisis and the process of making theatre. The theatre’s Head of New Work Clare Slater commented, “At the Donmar, we want to make thrilling AND resource-conscious theatre. And we want to do so with care for the people who make it and see it, and for the planet. With Zoë’s significant track record in climate dramaturg, this research project should help us find change points in the theatre-making process that will help us achieve these goals.”).

Screenshot 2021-10-29 at 11.30.50.png

Meanwhile, on the stage of the Donmar itself, Cordelia Lynn’s LOVE AND OTHER ACTS OF VIOLENCE, a play commissioned by the theatre, is also wide-ranging and far-reaching in its concerns, unfolding from an anxious dystopian romance set in the near future, of a Jew and Gentile, each descended from opposite sides of the Polish wartime legacy, who pair up in the first part, which turns into a cautionary historical reminder in the second part as it visits a Jewish family in wartime hiding, to establish grim parallels between then and now that are equally haunting and harrowing.

While the Donmar became one of London’s most exciting theatres for celebrity sightings in the age of Sam Mendes, Michael Grandage and Josie Rourke as successive artistic directors, it may yet turn out that current leader Mike Longhurst is actually the one that will make the biggest difference, not just to the theatre, but to the world we live in.

THE OTHER PALACE CHANGES HANDS…. AGAIN

Victoria’s The Other Palace pair of studio theatres, originally built as a replacement for the Westminster Theatre that stood on this site and was razed to make way for luxury flats that contained these smaller theatres as part of their planning consent, has changed hands again. It was originally under the management of Robert Mackintosh, Cameron Mackintosh’s younger brother when it first opened its doors in 2012 (though the early development of it as a theatre building was undertaken by an earlier consortium that included director Gregory Thompson, but who were ousted by the property developer), working with director David Gilmore, former artistic director of Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre.

Screenshot 2021-10-29 at 11.36.19.png

Then in 2016 Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LW Theatres took over, and rebranded it The Other Palace — a reference to its proximity to Buckingham Palace, but also to the first West End theatre Lloyd Webber had owned — the Palace on Shaftesbury Avenue. The original intention stated was that it “will be a home and breeding ground for musicals at various stages of development”, with Lloyd Webber appointing producer Paul Taylor-Mills as its artistic director and commenting, “I very much hope that writers and producers will use The Other Palace as a space in the heart of London where they can try out and refine new material without the distraction of complicated sets and automation. I had a great experience trying out “School of Rock” at the Gramercy Theatre in New York in this way.  It was a joy to work on the material without computers getting in the way.   I hope my experience will be repeated by others in these exciting spaces.   We hope to offer audiences the opportunity to observe early developmental work through to finished productions and look forward to welcoming both artists and audiences to our new home in SW1.”
Lloyd Webber’s own current West End show Cinderella made its own workshop debut there (I attended an early run through in the downstairs studio, also attended by Joan Collins and David Walliams!), and I also saw an attempt at resurrecting his flop musical Stephen Ward.

Screenshot 2021-10-29 at 12.04.04.png

Taylor-Mills offered UK premieres to the American musicals Heathers (pictured above) and Be More Chill, both of which were transferred to the West End, in co-productions between Taylor-Mills and Bill Kenwright; Taylor-Mills subsequently departed the Other Palace to set up the Turbine in Battersea, where he has continued to champion new musicals.

Yesterday Kenwright was announced as the new owner of the Other Palace, commenting, “Anyone who knows me, and that includes all of the current London theatre owners, knows that owning a theatre in London has never been on my bucket list. Andrew has been a friend and collaborator for more than 40 years and when I heard that he was thinking of selling the Other Palace, that mindset altered.”

He also said: “The Other Palace is a theatrical hub for new and exciting work where Andrew and his team have achieved so much. I had not only produced there, but also seen other productions both on the main stage and in the studio and had always felt the big hug that the theatre itself seemed to deliver. After nearly two years of pandemic chaos, it felt exactly the right moment for a positive step and a commitment to the future.”
Today it has been announced that Heathers will return there to re-open the theatre, after two seasons at the Haymarket, for a run from November 25 to February 20.

But will the theatre be renamed the Other Turbine now?

MUM’S THE WORD — OR MAYBE IT SHOULD BE

Critics, of course, never write in a vacuum. They are always a product of whatever prejudices, allegiances and influences that they have arrived at the theatre with.

Of course, the best kind of theatre can radically change your perspective; but sometimes it merely entrenches them. And this week, a review of Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s new play Mum, newly transferred from Plymouth’s Drum Theatre to London’s Soho Theatre, became a lightning rod for broader grievances against one long-standing critic in particular, the Daily Telegraph’s chief theatre critic Dominic Cavendish.

Like his predecessor Charlie Spencer, Dom is nothing if not honest in exposing himself and his own prejudices openly, writing in his review, “As with Emilia, which saw actresses playing – and sending-up – Elizabethan men, the Bard included, this is a male-free zone, extending to the creative team, led by director Abigail Graham. I offer no hysteric objection to that. But as the piece moves into a place where the safety, well-being and even future of the baby boy comes into question, and the accusation of abuse arises, the absence of the other partner makes the drama, such as it is, seem one-sided to a fault.”

And he concluded, “I hope the demands of motherhood – Malcolm has two kids (now nine and six) – don’t preclude her from penning something more substantial next time. The fact that parental cares may indeed do so is of course eminently the point.”

Screenshot 2021-10-29 at 12.28.39.png

Twitter has responded with predictable fury. As someone who hasn’t seen the play, I can offer no comment on it, nor would I dare to (especially now). But as casting director Annelie Powell tweeted to him,

Screenshot 2021-10-29 at 12.25.53.png

“Maybe don’t come and see that play” stands out there. Sometimes it feels safer as a critic not to go — because then you don’t have to come up with a point of view. (Of course, even though I used to go to the theatre between seven and twelve times a week, my inability to see EVERYTHING was nonetheless held up against me by some parties who felt I wasn’t doing right by them by not seeing THEIR show; the overriding narcissism of some theatre makers that their own show is the most important thing in the world is overwhelming).

Just the other day I found myself writing a tweet — and then deleting it. I just didn’t want or need to deal with the possible fall-out of people who disagreed with me.

But sometimes igniting this kind of controversy provides exactly the oxygen of relevance that BOTH parties are seeking. It has certainly put the play on the radar — for better or worse — though it may not have done the critic any favours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *