We are in the midst of Awards season — on the weekend we had the Grammy’s (with a theatre win for Dear Evan Hansen named Best Musical Theatre album to add to the Tony it received last summer for Best Musical); and on the UK theatre scene, last Friday saw the presentation of The Stage Awards (https://www.thestage.co.uk/awards/) and tomorrow sees this year’s Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards (http://criticscircletheatreawards.com/) being presented at the Prince of Wales Theatre — an event I host as chairman of the drama section of the circle. Still to come: the Oliviers (this year returning to the Royal Albert Hall on April 8).
THIS WEEK’S MAJOR OPENINGS
Tuesday January 30:
- Julius Caesar opens at the Bridge Theatre: Nick Hytner and Nick Starr’s new company, formed after the departed the National Theatre, opens its second production at its award-winning South Bank home (it was named Theatre Building of the Year in The Stage Awards). It’s all-star cast includes Ben Whishaw as Brutus, David Morrissey as Mark Antony, Michel Fairley as Cassius and David Calder as Julius Caesar.
Thursday February 1:
- Dry Powder opens at Hampstead Theatre: Originally premiered at Off-Broadway’s Public Theatre in 2016, with a cast that featured Claire Danes, Sarah Burgess’s high finance drama now makes its UK debut, starring Hayley Attwell in her first stage role for five years. In an interview with The Guardian, in which she was asked what prompted her return to the theatre, she replied, “Partly being inspired by seeing a lot of great British theatre, particularly the work of Rob Icke. I saw his Hamlet three times. One day I’d love to tackle the classics, particularly male roles in Shakespeare, which are far more interesting than most of the female ones. But first I fancied a juicy part that wasn’t your typical crowd-pleaser. Not the sexy one, not the wife or the mother, but one that debunks female stereotypes.”
Also opening Thursday;
- Satyagraha opens at the London Coliseum: English National Opera revive Phelim McDermott’s hypnotic 2007 production of Philip Glass’s opera about Gandhi’s early years in South Africa. It will run in rep for seven performances to February 27.
THIS WEEK: CLOSING
- Glengarry Glen Ross, the West End revival of the David Mamet play that stars Christian Slater (pictured right with the wonderful Daniel Ryan), Robert Glenister, Don Warrington and Stanley Townsend, closes at the Playhouse on February 3. In my review for londontheatre.co.uk, I dubbed it “a lean, mean rollercoaster peek behind the scenes of a set of real-estate salesman chasing the best leads and trying to close deals with their sometimes reluctant prey.”
- Also closing: La Soiree, the wonderful alternative circus cabaret that has played many London seasons but is in a conventional theatre for the first time (but used unconventionally), ends its run at the Aldwych. In my review for londontheatre.co.uk, I wrote that the move is “a complete masterstroke, and it is pulled off brilliantly to retain the show’s close-up intimacy. The front stalls have been cleared away and cabaret seating arranged around the usual tiny circular platform that is the main playing area. More seating extends onto what is usually the stage, but the forestage is also used for the show’s most impressive set piece this year, The Chilly Brothers, who need an elaborate rigging for their astonishing balancing and trapeze-like act which involves one swinging and somersaulting out of the arms of the other and being caught again. It is gobsmacking. But so is the entire, superbly structured show which combines light and shade, music and movement in constantly changing colours and textures.”
- Also closing: Belleville, the Donmar Warehouse’s UK premiere for Amy Herzog’s 2011 Off-Broadway play about a young, newly married American couple whose relationship unravels in Paris where they are living, closes on February 3. It stars TV heart-throb James Norton and Imogen Poots, who I called “quietly stunning” in my review for londontheatre.co.uk.
- Also closing: Strangers In Between, the belated transfer of the 2016 King’s Head production of Tommy Murphy’s 2005 Australian coming of age (and coming out) play ends on February 3. In my review for londontheatre.co.uk, I called it “a moving, charming portrait of a boy finding his own place in the world.”
TOP THREE PLAYS
1) The Birthday Party — Pinter at the Pinter Theatre is always appropriate, of course, and this meticulous revival of his second full-length play from 1958 by Pinter expert Ian Rickson is fantastically cast to prove another winner. In my review for londontheatre.co.uk, I wrote that Rickson “orchestrates a finely-tuned cast in the minute rhythms of comedy and threat that pulse through the play.” They include Zoe Wanamaker and Toby Jones (pictured above), Peter Wight and Stephen Mangan.
2) Beginning — David Eldridge’s unusual and captivating modern love story originally premiered at the National’s Dorfman Theatre last October, and has now transferred to the Ambassadors. In my original review of the production at the National for londontheatre.co.uk, “I wrote that it is acted with utter conviction and emotional truth by the gorgeously tentative Sam, Troughton and a needy, vulnerable Justine Mitchell.” I also interviewed director Polly Findlay for londontheatre.co.uk, in which she told me, “”There seems to be something about the play that speaks very directly to audiences.’
3) The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk — Another two-hander love story, Emma Rice gorgeous, life-affirming Kneehigh production of a play about artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella is playing at London’s most atmospheric and eerily beautiful music hall, Wilton’s. It’s spellbindingly beautiful and made with love about love. It runs here to February 10, then tours the UK.
TOP THREE MUSICAL
1) The Grinning Man — First seen at Bristol Old Vic in 2016, this is one of a slew of new British musicals that have made their way to the West End recently, as I wrote in The Stage recently. Now playing at the Trafalgar Studios, co-producer David Adkin told me, “It’s probably the riskiest thing in the West End – but sometimes you have to take a risk, otherwise the dynamic of the West End becomes quite dull.” You can watch an exclusive preview of David Bedella singing Labyrinth from the show here (though he’s not in the cast!): https://youtu.be/BqHytho0aiE
2) Girl from the North Country — Written and directed by Conor McPherson, this is a jukebox show with a difference, embedding a play set in 1930s Depression-era America with a soundtrack of wonderfully performed Bob Dylan songs. Originally premiered at the Old Vic last summer, I wrote in my review of its transfer now to the Noel Coward Theatre in my review for londontheatre.co.uk that “it feels like a bona fide gem in a world of costume jewellery. Conor McPherson provides an intricate and precise yet impressionistic account of these lives unfolding, with big and small dramas playing out there. Not since Once — the stage version of the Irish indie film — have I felt a show move with such organic vitality; the songs emerge from the action as a swirling, fluid commentary on it, though not specifically to further the dramatic action.”
3) The Woman in White — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2004 West End musical, based on a mystery novel by Wilkie Collins, is beautifully restored in a new intimate chamber musical, running at the Charing Crosss Theatre to February 10. In my review for londontheatre.co.uk, I wrote, “The score, which begins full of Benjamin Britten-esque echoes, eventually dissolves into a gorgeous run of lovely tunes, all of them fantastically well sung here – it’s worth going just for the voices.” They include Ashley Stillburn, Carolyn Maitland, Anna O’Bryne and Chris Peluso.