ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRIDAY JULY 7: The Week in Review(s)

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last seven days of theatre news and reviews (including my own).

But I need to begin today by paying a heartfelt — and heartbroken — tribute to my best and longest friend Dean Jones, who died last night, aged just 56, barely six months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

We met in 1984, in the first week of his first year at Cambridge (and my third).

We were at Corpus Christi College — he was reading natural sciences — and as I was a well-known gay there (one of only three out men at the time in a college that until Dean’s intake had been male only, but finally went mixed with his year), Dean remembers that he’d been specifically warned against me, but he refused to be discouraged!

I’m glad he wanted to be true to himself and claim his membership of our very intimate circle of out-and-proud gays. (We are pictured above on a London Pride march in 1986, on either side of Jim Reilly, who was in my year and had died within a few years of this picture being taken, one of the first men I knew personally to die of HIV/AIDS). 

it was a little lonely in those mid-eighties times to own who you were. But Dean was never less than authentically himself, and having met his first partner, a “townie” who lived in a council flat on the Arbury estate, he actually moved in with him in his second year and gave up his college accommodation. That was a powerful statement and a bold one: giving up the “privileges” of college life for a more real one.

After he graduated in 1986, he and that partner and I shared a flat together in Pimlico after they first moved to London. I helped him secure his first job after University — I was working at the West End theatrical ad agency Dewynters, and I suggested a few clients he could approach to offer to work for. One of them, Noel Gay Theatre (who produced the original production of ME AND MY GIRL), gave him a job as an assistant there; the company also had an agency and television division, and he soon moved to the TV one.

That became the launch pad of a highly successful career in television, one that ultimately led him to become the Director of Production for Thames, as well as in charge of Fremantle UK’s non-scripted programming, overseeing and producing shows from SUPERMARKET SWEEP (his first original show, with Dale WInton) to BLANKETY BLANK (with Lily Savage), PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT (with Bruce Forsyth) and Simon Cowell’s BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT and THE X-FACTOR, as well as the reality TV casting shows with Andrew Lloyd Webber for the West End musicals THE SOUND OF MUSIC, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, OLIVER! and THE WIZARD OF OZ. 

I occasionally attended public recordings of these shows as his guest, and he was in my thoughts last night as I sat in the London Palladium, a few rows behind Lloyd Webber, for the return of THE WIZARD OF OZ in an all-new production — not cast by reality TV — but at a theatre where Dean had often worked.

He actually died just after the curtain came down on last night’s first night, and as he has gone off to his own Emerald City now, my thoughts and prayers are with his loving husband Graham (pictured here with him and me at my former home in Borough SE1), his parents and sister. He was the kindest and most beautiful person I knew; Graham told me that when Dean had to lay people off, he was so thoughtful they would thank him afterwards. I was blessed to have known him for so long, and will miss him and our daily chats beyond measure.

The rest of the week dwindles into insignificance next to this news for me, obviously, but life must go on and I count my blessings daily. It was a week big on musicals, from the London premiere of last year’s Broadway Tony winner and a 1990s remake of a 30s Broadway title, to a 2011 version of a 1939 film classic and a brand-new British musicalisation of another (non-musical) Hollywood classic from a decade later.

I also revisited what I believe may yet turn into a classic — THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON— on its last night (for now) at Southwark Playhouse, and the utterly brilliant update of the 1970 political farce ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST, now transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after I saw it earlier tin the year at the Lyric Hammersmith. 


Last night saw the official arrival of the London premiere of A STRANGE LOOP, Michael R Jackson’s Pulizer and Tony winning autobiographical meta-musical about his own attempts to write it, even as he is assailed by negative voices in his head.

I’d seen it in its original off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons in 2019, and then twice more after it finally transferred to Broadway, post-pandemic. My review of my fourth viewing in London for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here:


Today I saw two new British musicals, about a mile apart in Southwark SE1, with one a substantial hit, the other a big miss.

I’ve already written about THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON when it first opened last month here, and seeing it again on lts last night (for now) tonight, I was in floods of tears — particularly as the show itself deals with mortality and living life well; I thought of my friend Dean throughout. 

I also caught up belatedly with THE THIRD MAN at the Menier Chocolate Factory — it opened the night before I last went to New York, and the show’s press agent had been unable to accommodate me for that press night, so I had to delay seeing it for two weeks. Here’s my full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL:


My newsletter today got an appreciative response — at the first night of CRAZY FOR YOU tonight, theatre owner and producer Nica Burns was in my row and told me she’s always appreciated and defended the necessity of theatre criticism. And I got this e-mail from one subscriber:


I have long thought everything you say.

We have a running joke at home ‘ ‘it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen’ . Coming from someone who’s seen fuck all and knows even less,

Also the meaningless banality of the star system.

I, too, miss Michael Billington.

Thank god for you Mark x

But the PR industry is now addicted to the easy hits of undiluted praise that they can easily win from the army of bloggers that are now a fixture at opening nights. And last week a quote from one of them appeared above the canopy of a West End play I’ve not seen, THE PILLOWMAN — and now I won’t. If this is the best quote they can muster, I’d sooner believe even Quentin Letts in the Sunday Times, who gave it a one-star pan.


Last night saw the West End return of CRAZY FOR YOU, the 1990s rewrite of the 30s Gershwin musical GIRL CRAZY, in a production that originated last summer at Chichester Festival Theatre.

My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here:

Tonight I revisited the revival of Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s 1970 Italian political farce ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF ANARCHIST, in Tom Basden’s vibrant and topical updating to the modern Metropolitan Police in Britain, that I previously wrote about here when it played at the Lyric Hammersmith in April.

It has now deservedly transferred to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket (where it is booking to September 9) and is absolutely not to be missed. It is one of the funniest — and most topical — plays in London, with a stunningly physical performance from Daniel Rigby. There are times I literally cried with laughter, but it’s also a howl of despair about the state of the Metropolitan Police. What a dazzling, disturbing evening.


The producers of the West End revival of ASPECTS OF LOVE are not taking their negative reviews lying down: they’re contrasting them with the more favourable four star raves they’ve also received — in an ad that appears on The Stage website, where the damning one-star review appeared!


Tonight, as I’ve already mentioned above, I was at the London Palladium for a new production of the 2011 stage version of the 1939 film classic THE WIZARD OF OZ that was also originally premiered there with additional songs by Andrew Lloyd Webberr and Tim Rice, that are effectively integrated with the original Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg ones.

Nikolai Foster’s staging was first seen at Leicester Curve (where he is artistic director) last Christmas, and is brisk, confident and beautifully cast, with Palladium panto stalwarts Gary WIlmott, Ashley Banjo and  Louis Gaunt joined by a show-stealing Dianne Pilkington as the Wicked Witch (swapping out from Glinda that she has played in the update of the same story WICKED), and Christina Bianco as Glinda.

My full review will appear on PLAYS INTERNATIONAL.


My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here:

New entries this week include two world premiere plays in the commercial West End in October: Sonia Friedman will present Penelope Skinner’s LYONESSE at the Pinter, with a cast led by Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, while the Michael Grandage Company offers Marcelo Dos Santos’ BACKSTAGE BILLY at the Duke of York’s, with a cast that includes Penelope Wilton and Luke Evans.

See you here on Monday

I will be here on Monday.  If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: (though not as regularly on weekends)