ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRI FEBUARY 18

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE.

Life is bad
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather, stormy weather
And I just can’t get my poor self together….

No, I’m not slipping into a depression (thank God), just reflecting today’s extreme weather forecast as well as the daily run of bad stories in the news, as our (so-called) leader lurches from one lousy decision to another.

The latest is the apparent plan to drop free lateral flow tests as Boris Johnson and his goons try to distract us from their breaches of their own COVID rules by claiming it is now time to live with COVID. In this Trumpian universe, I guess that if we do less testing, we’ll have fewer cases and therefore fewer disruptions.

Meanwhile last night saw the cancellation of yet another National Theatre first night — and the rest of this week’s performances — of OUR GENERATION:

There seems to be some kind of hex on the NT’s first nights at the moment, with the opening of HEX in December also initially postponed, then abandoned altogether, during that show’s recent run, with a promise instead that critics would be invited when the show returns in November. I attended its penultimate performance last month, and expressed my misgivings and doubts that it will even come back at all here.

The last-but-one show to actually open at the NT — Moira Buffini’s MANOR in November — probably wishes it hadn’t either, with reviews ranging from zero to one star, as I wrote here. I caught the one after that, Alice Childress’s TROUBLE IN MIND during its final week at the Dorfman, and was glad I had, but the National has become a less and less essential venue.

A double dose of indelity

While the NT has dropped off my list of venues whose work I will automatically see, Hampstead is back on it, and yesterday afternoon I saw its current world premiere of Parisian playwright Florence Zeller’s THE FOREST, a compellingly tangled, fractured and multi-layered play about (heterosexual) marital infidelity that struck me as the best in the genre since Pinter’s BETRAYAL and Peter Nichols’ PASSION PLAY.

Directed with the suspenseful mystery of a thriller by Jonathan Kent, it is acted with brittle poise and purpose by a stunning cast that includes Gina McKee and Toby Stephens in supreme form as an apparently married couple, but in which the walls may be closing in on the forest of lies and betrayals that are sustaining the husband’s affair . Both of them are incidentally veterans of PInter plays of infidelity (respectively revivals of THE LOVER at the Pinter Theatre and BETRAYAL at the Donmar Warehouse).

In just 80 minutes. Zeller keeps us on edge and constantly guessing, as he plays with different versions of how their story may play out. 

Also eighty minutes long, and also revolving around infidelity — in this case, amongst a long-settled gay couple — is Mark Gerrard’s STEVE, originally premiered off-Broadway in 2016 and now receiving its British premiere at the newly re-branded Seven Dials Playhouse (formerly the Tristan Bates, at the Actors Centre).

Both partners are called Steve. As someone who’s husband is also called Mark, I get the comedy value, but there’s another Steve who looms large here: the recently departed Stephen Sondheim, whose work is constantly referenced by the characters here (and whose melodies provide an underscoring throughout, played live onstage by pianist Ben Papworth).

This tenderly aching comedy about friendship and mortality is staged with fluid, heartfelt feeling by director Andrew Keates, with lovely, lively performances from David Ames and Joe Aaron Reid as the lead couple (pictured above), with Jenna Russell as the best friend of one of them who is dying.

Russell — herself a Tony Award nominee for a Sondheim revival on Broadway — is the sort of casting that the male characters in the play would have a fit over, but she’s also a really fine actor  who provides the dramatic anchor to this tale of love and loss (pictured below with Ames).

The play is a serious delight, with GIles Cooper and Michael Walters as another long-term gay couple experimenting with thrupledom, and Nico Conde as an Argentian waiter who keeps popping up to hilarious effect. 


West End leading man Nadim Naaman, who has played Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, is helping to break down barriers for actors like himself of Middle Eastern heritage; BROKEN WINGS, which he wrote and co-composed with Dana Al Fardan, is that rare thing, an original British-originated Middle Eastern musical that they previous tried out in a four-night run at the Haymarket in August 2018. (Last year, they presented a two-night sell-out run of another original show RUMI at the London Coliseum).

Producer Katy Lipson has now brought BROKEN WINGS to the Charing Cross Theatre for an extended run (to March 26). It has some soaring melodies —especially “Spirit of the Earth”, rousingly led by Soophia Foroughi — and is beautifully designed by Gregor Donnelly, but it stalls a bit in its earnest, plodding storytelling. But I want to hear the score again!

Finally, another new musical JUNGLE RUMBLE is getting a West End premiere at the Fortune for a brief half term run of daytime performances (running to Sunday) from kids theatre initiative Perform Productions. At just 45 minutes long, it doesn’t outstay its welcome for the pre-teen audience it is aimed at, and with book, music and lyrics by Platform’s co-founder Will Barnett, it is also the perfect introduction to the joys of theatre. The young girl sitting beside me was reading the programme before the show began, and asked: “What does a director do?”

It’s in moments like that when careers are born.


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