March 28: That Was the Week That Was….

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Today I’m launching a new weekly feature: a column that will digest the last seven days of news, columns and features (and reviews, when we get back to writing them), in tweets, press releases and announcements.

Today’s column asks why, in the 35 years Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera played in the West End before the pandemic put a halt on it, the title role is yet to be played by an actor of colour: it is, after all, a fictional character, who spends most of the show fully cloaked and his face half-masked. But actor Cedric Neal’s audition experience may provide a chastening answer.

As he tells it in a series of tweets,

I sang one phrase of “Music Of The Night” and the Res. Director at the time stopped me and said, “Your sound is very COLOURED!” Trevor Jackson quickly jumped in and tried to fix it by saying, “He means it’s very COLOURFUL!”

Mind you, I had Coaching lessons with Simon Lee (original MD for “Phantom,”) so that I went in the room with the appropriate tone and timbre for the show. After singing the material, the same Res. Director looks at my CV and says, “I see you’ve been on the DARKER side of MT.”

I grabbed my book from the piano, thanked Trevor Jackson and walked out of the room. That was my first impression of how things would go for me over here. I WAS offered a role in “Les Mis,” but it conflicted with “Back to the Future”.

  • Live stream show of the day: Jackie Hoffman appeared on The Seth Concert Series live tonight.

Today’s column is on where a theatre critic’s true interests lie, and what they reveal in their reviews about themselves. Does it sometimes involve catching up on having a good kip?

In a column in the Sunday Times the day before, Quentin Letts had revealed what he’s most looking forward to after we come out of lockdown — and even though he is that paper’s chief theatre critic, it didn’t involve going to the theatre but singing hymns again. He also revealed how he’s spent some of the time away from the theatre, catching up on some of Anthony Trollope’s 47 novels.

So as I wrote,

“Now we know what Quentin’s preferred bedtime reading is, that’s also helpful when working out what keeps him awake in the theatre (though back in the day, when he used to be theatre critic of the Daily Mail, he once itemised exactly when he grabbed a few winks: reviewing a production of The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other at the National in 2008, he mentioned the appearance of a circus band – and added, “woke me up at 7.51pm – thank you”). 

  • Lambert Jackson Productions began an online streamed run of their filmed production of the 2004 Broadway musical Brooklyn, which is available on up to April 4, featuring a stunning cast, as I tweeted as I watched it:
  • News and announcements of the day:
  • Review of the day:
  • Theatre birthdays of the day:


  • Theatre baby of the day:
  • Theatre picture of the day:

Today’s column is about the challenges of creating space for new voices and talents, and preferably younger and more diverse voices, whether as writers, directors, producers, designers, actors or even theatre critics.

I quoted designer Grace Smart who suggested,

“The only people and institutions who can truly help – whether that means missing a go, teaming up, or flipping the board completely – are those who already have a monopoly on the industry.”

And I asked: does that stepping aside and letting others have a go stretch to critics, for example?

  • Today was the first anniversary of the first national lockdown. MyTheatreMates marked it with this tweet:
  • Bad news of the day:

I saw this version of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE three times in NYC — once at New York City Center, and twice more when it transferred to Broadway! It will be worth the wait to see again!

VIDEO: Jake Gyllenhaal performing “Finishing the Hat”

  • London fringe theatre announcement of the day:
  • Podcast of the day:

Today’s column is on the roadmap to the end of lockdown, and the implications for the theatre industry. As wrote:

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the first lockdown.

And we’re still in another one now — the third national lockdown — that have followed.

But Boris Johnson recently pledged a no-going-back exit strategy out of lockdown, which given his government’s propensity for last minute changes of plan and strategy, can only mean one thing: we’ll be U-turning again on that commitment imminently.

All the signs are here again, as many countries in Europe have back into their own lockdowns over the last week.

  • Press conference of the day: Last year, of course, the Globe’s annual summer season was halted just as it was about to kick off, with shows already playing in the indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse suspended and then shut down, while others were in rehearsal for the main stage.

Today, sitting on the Globe’s stage, but with the press present only through Zoom, artistic director Michelle Terry and executive director Neil Constable held a press conference to announce the return of the Globe to full production this year.

The season will kick off from May 19 with the return of the 2019 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the same company in Twelfh Night from July 29. Dream will be presented initially to socially distanced audiences (including a seated one, for the first time, in the Yard, as required by current safety guidelines, instead of standing as usual), but it is hoped will be possible will expand to a capacity crowd from June or early July. Equally, Constable cautioned that the theatre was prepared for the possibility of another shutdown being required, should a circuit breaker be required to halt a resurgence of the virus.

Another new production of Romeo and Juliet, which was in rehearsal in 2020 when the theatre shut down, will be staged from June 26, with many of the same company returning including Alfred Enoch and Rebekah Murrell in the title roles, while in the Sam Wanamaker indoor theatre a new play Metamorphoses, inspired by Ovid’s Myths that has been created by the theatre’s writers-in-residence, will be staged at the end of September.

Evening performances will begin at 7pm, to allow audiences to get away earlier than usual, and running times will be slightly shorter as there will be no intervals, either.

  • Concert announcement of the day: Lee Mead turns 40 and stages a London Palladium concert:

How did this even happen? Lee Mead, the mop haired star who won Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Any Dream Will Do television contest to play the title character in Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat — the second in Lloyd Webber’s tv casting shows, after Connie Fisher was found to star in The Sound of Music — is turning 40. But then it was 15 years ago already.

I’ll never forget the first night, where the set jammed part way through the first act, necessitating a temporary pause in the proceedings. Some of the theatre’s backstage crew were in dispute with the management at the time, and a suggestion of sabotage was bandied about. But in fact it was just one of those things.

  • Regional theatre announcement of the day:
    A Chorus Line at Curve

Its scheduling drew this remark from one theatrical tweeter:

The show is truly, to use one of its song titles, One Singular Sensation; but more than any I know, it is also indivisibly connected to its original production, directed and co-choreographed by the late Michael Bennett. So I will be intrigued — and a little nervous — to see a different creative team tackling it.

  • London theatre re-opening announcement of the day:

Three playwrights whose work has been all been seen at the NT and other major theatres around the country join forces for a triple bill of new short solo plays at Lyric Hammersmith, all of them rooted in West London and exploring race, identity and our sense of place and purpose. Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock received its premiere at Hammersmith. Williams was represented at NT twice in last year, Death of England and Death of England: Delroy, co-written with Clint Dyer, and performed respectively by Rafe Spall and Michael Balogun.

  • More news and announcements of the day:
  • AND:
  • Broadway news of the day

This will be the 7th new production with a Black writer announced for Broadway when it reopens. The others are MJ, Trouble in Mind, Lackawanna Blues, Skeleton Crew, Thoughts of a Colored Man and a new Lynn Nottage play.

My column is on the plight of freelance theatre workers as Freelancers Make Theatre Work publish a new report on the last year, and advocate for systemic changes. I write how this also impacts freelance theatre critics, describing some of my experiences on The Stage, my principal editorial home for some 17 years.

“In short, I was subject to exactly the same power imbalance that this report identifies for other freelancers within the industry. I had a voice — that is, after all, what I was selling — but I wasn’t always heard; not least when the publication itself turned on me, and published a piece that was heavily critical of another of my endeavours, entirely independent of it. I was effectively told to man up and take it on the chin; that I needed to show how robust I was to criticism.

But the publication’s full-time staff were not given the same message. When, at one point, I publicly pointed out that the news editor had published an incorrect story — as the director of the show concerned had already publicly refuted its facts — he complained to the editor immediately, and it led directly to my dismissal a few days later.”

  • News and announcements of the day:



My column is my weekly companion piece to my ShenTens podcast, this week counting down my favourite rising stars of West End musicals — the next generation of performers who are already making their mark in London. (I’ll get to Broadway when it returns to business itself).

The column includes an embedded version of the podcast, as well as video clips of my choices in action.

  • News and announcements of the day
  • AND:
  • Appointment of the day

This is tremendous news; he’s a working practitioner as a director of musicals — including two at ArtsEd itself, so he’s worked with the students there before — with a hugely promising career ahead of him, instead of behind him.

I’ve been a massive admirer of his work, with shows like Pippin (that I saw at Manchester’s Hope Mill before it transferred to Southwark Playhouse, where I saw it twice more) and The Last Five Years, again at Southwark Playhouse last year, which was also filmed for online streaming. Yet he’s challenging himself to divert from the insecure path of freelance directing — which of course has been in negligible supply over the last 12 months — into the more secure world of full-time education.

I also have a personal interest in his appointment — I’ve been teaching the first year students there since 2012, doing a course in musical theatre history that contextualises the industry that the students will be entering, in their first and third terms. I have seen six sets of students now graduate during this time, and have been able to follow them as they’ve entered the profession, seeing them in shows from the West End to even Broadway, as well as major UK regional theatres and television. I swell with pride when I see them, knowing that I played a tiny part in their time at ArtsEd.

Of course, this past year for the first time I’ve had to teach this course over Zoom; and in fact, in some ways it has worked really well, as I’ve been able to share videos as well as sound files of the shows I’m taking about, by sharing screens.

But I’m also dying to be back in Room 21 at ArtsEd’s HQ in Chiswick, meeting the new first year students face-to-face again, this autumn. When I can, I bring in industry guests as well to meet them, too: in the past, these have included composers Howard Goodall and Scott Alan, and performers like Killian Donnelly, Hadley Fraser and Rebecca Caine (the original Cosette in Les Miserables, who happens to live just down the street).

Today is World Theatre Day:

Apart from that, I took a day off from thinking about theatre — or writing about it — as my husband and I go on a property search in the countryside. It’s been on the cards for a while now — we first started looking three years ago, pre-pandemic; the plan then was to base ourselves in the country, with a London studio we could return to for three nights a week, so I could still go to the theatre from Monday to Thursday, returning to our main home after the evening performance that night.

We found a place between Folkestone and Dover, but we didn’t act fast enough and the sales market in London slowed down so much over the battle over Brexit that we couldn’t find a buyer for our London home; then lost the place we’d found in the country. Then last year, with the arrival of the pandemic, we tried again: now there was less point to be in London than ever. We could base ourselves in the country for as long as we needed to, and with theatres not likely to be back in full force for a while, we needn’t even think about the London studio yet.

This time we found a buyer; but then entered the even murkier waters of the post-Grenfell housing cladding crisis, and discovered that our London building was awaiting certification of its fire safety. Meanwhile, a waking-watch was installed, driving up service charges (as leaseholders had to pay for it).

Now we’ve decided not to put our lives on hold any longer: we can’t sell, but we can rent out our London flat, and put the proceeds towards a rental in the country. So today we began that process, heading to Frinton-on-Sea — home of the oldest surviving ‘weekly’ Summer Repertory Theatre company in England, producing a season of eight productions each year during July and August. 

We viewed a farmhouse cottage about five minutes from the town, but the staircase to the upper floor defeated me — after my serious spinal surgery last September, I’m still too unsteady to consider being able to do it safely. So the search will continue.

And what will I do about theatre? My plans now are not to return to London for a three night stay anymore every week, but a one-night stay mid-week — either on Tuesday or Wednesday, then seeing two shows on the first day, two on the second, before returning to the country — with a possible day return trip on a Saturday or Sunday as necessary for other social activities (including an occasional matinee or one-off charity gala).

This pandemic has wrought many changes on life’s priorities, and the changes I’m proposing to make here are part of them.

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