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).
FRIDAY JUNE 2
Broadway playwright Joe diPietro, best known for his books for musicals like MEMPHIS and NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT and the upcoming SINATRA (set to be premiered at Birmingham Rep in September), first launched FUCKING MEN, his play about gay men and our seemingly insatiable appetite for sexual connections adapted from Schitzler’s La Ronde, in a fringe run at the tiny Finborough in London in 2008. It went on to become a fringe fixture at the King’s Head, and has returned regularly since: the title alone is its own provocation, plus the promise of (admittedly discreet) male nudity, always guarantees audiences.
For the revival at Waterloo East, it has been newly updated by its author in collaboration with director Steven Kunis, and parts of it also emerge newly resonant on the privacy rights of gay celebrities in the light of the current Philip Schofield saga. A 4-man cast doubles effectively to play 8 men in this frank exploration of carnality and connection, fidelity and desire.
I was touched to read in a programme note by the playwright that he first conceived the play in Provincetown: “Day by sunny day, I observed the roundelay that we gayi dudes do in pursuit of sex — on the beach or in the bars or simply strolling down the streets of a town preternaturally brimming with homosexuals. Many of us would hook-up — for better or for worse — with an abandon and a frequency that would cause my straight friends’ jaws to drop when I’d tell them about it.”
For the last fifteen years, barring the two pandemic years when we were banned from travelling to the US, my husband and I would make annual pilgrimages to PTown — not, I hasten to add, for the sexual opportunities, but to be amongst our people, in a majority. It’s the free-est I’ve ever felt. (One year we took an older straight friend, who queries our need for a space like this; a few days in, he told us he was feeling uncomfortable being in the minority. We replied he’d just answered his earlier question: that’s just how we feel ALL the time anywhere else!)
But this year we are skipping PTown for the first time in all the time we’ve been together. The rising costs of being there have finally defeated us: we worked out we could get to Australia instead for the same price.
SATURDAY JUNE 3
Charing Cross Theatre, tucked snugly under the arches below Charing Cross Station, is an odd hybrid of a theatre: geographically in the West End, but not a West End theatre, it is independently owned and operated, it has roughly the same number of seats as the Donmar (265, against the Donmar’s 251). It can be configured as an end-on space, or a traverse stage (I prefer the latter now).
Shows sometimes struggle to find an audience here, but I’ve seen some great shows here (and some, frankly, less great ones): TITANIC, now back out on tour, first transferred here from Southwark Playhouse, and PIPPIN a couple of years ago was such a wonderful revival I revisited it again and again.
But newer shows without a prior track record have trouble marketing themselves here, though the recent run of ALLEGIANCE with George Takei at least had his name value to try to entice them. Currently, GLORY RIDE– which I caught today — is an earnest but likeable new musical based on the true story of a WW2 Italian resistance hero, whom Josh St Clair endows with charm, presence and a terrific voice (as well as the best cyclist’s legs in town).
SUNDAY JUNE 4
Today I was due to head to the Mill at Sonning for their new production of GYPSY, but real life intervened and I had to pay a hospital visit to my mother-in-law in North London instead with my husband. However, we ended up getting some ‘us’ time after by heading to our nearest beach at Ferring, near Worthing, on our way back home at the end of the day.
MONDAY JUNE 5
Tonight I visited the still mind-blowing OKLAHOMA!, which even on a 5th viewing surprises and thrills, charms and alarms in equal measure. (Here’s my review of the West End transfer: https://playsinternational.org.uk/oklahoma-wyndhams-theatre/) Today I returned to see Sally Ann Triplett’’s Aunt Eller (pictured below: raw, earthy and authentic, like the show itself.
She joins the stunning original West End cast that includes holdovers from the original New York production Patrick Vaill (as Jud Fry) and James Patrick Davis (as Will Parker), plus original Young Vic cast lead Arthur Darvill as Curly. Seeing it on Monday, I had two understudies on: Finlay Paul as Ali Hakim, and Helen Wint as Laurey.
TUESDAY JUNE 6
Tonight saw the West End arrival of Peter Morgan’s gripping PATRIOTS, about Vladimir Putin’s rise from deputy mayor to President, and the intricate network of oligarchs that enabled it, in particular Boris Berezovsky, who was then discarded and exiled. As played by Tom Hollander (pictured below right), his tragedy is writ large. Will Keen’s Putin (below left) deservedly won the Supporting actor Olivier Award.
This thrilling production is staged with masterly propulsion by Rupert Goold, one of our very best directors, and originated at the Almeida that he runs as the single most exciting theatre in London. This year has also already seen the sell-out sensation of the transfer of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE to the West End.
Matthew Warchus’s Old Vic and David Byrne’s New Diorama (which this year brought both FOR COLORED BOYS… and OPERATION MINCEMEAT to the West End) are two more venues that currently make the National seem small fry.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 7
It was announced today that Tim Sheader, currently artistic director at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park (where he has been in post since 2007), is to take over from Michael Longhurst at the Donmar Warehouse: a bold and original choice, and a very good call by the board, given his current track record of running a similarly unfunded producing theatre (the Donmar lost its Arts Council funding in the last spending round).
Sheader also has a populist touch, but is unafraid to radically reassess the classics, like his 202D production of CAROUSEL that relocated it to the north of England. Several of his shows have gone on to lives elsewhere, including New York (where his production of INTO THE WOODS moved to Central Park’s Delacorte), and the Barbican (for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, in a production that is set to tour the UK again later this year).
The current merry-go-round of artistic directorships that are currently up for grabs therefore in turn now makes the Open Air Theatre newly available, as are ones at the Unicorn (whose current artistic director Justlin Audibert goes on to take over at Chichester Festival Theatre from Daniel Evans) and Kiln and Royal Court (where Indhu Rubasingham and Vicki Featherstone respectively recently announced they are stepping aside).
THURSDAY JUNE 8
It may just be that I’m currently living my own version of Groundhog Day — that sense of deja vu you get from re-living the same experience again and again — by simply seeing GROUNDHOG DAY, the musical version of it, again and again at the Old Vic, where it joyfully returned to open officially tonight six years after its 2016 premiere there.
I saw that original production three times then; and seven more times when it transferred, briefly, to New York in 2017 (including at the first night, where I am pictured with composer Tim Minchin above; three of the times were in its final week there. After seeing the Saturday matinee that week, we were due to fly home first thing the next morning, but at the end of the show my husband looked at me and said we had to be there for the final show the next afternoon. So we went to the box office and bought another pair; then went home and changed our flights to come home the next night).
My full review of the show’s return will be on Plays International’s website today.
But I have also become newly obsessed by another new British-originated musical: THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON that opened officially at Southwark Playhouse, in their new Elephant and Castle space, last night. Yesterday afternoon I saw it for the third time in the last eight days! (Yes, I know when I love a show, I truly love it).
Like GROUNDHOG DAY, it is a musical that plays with time — in this case, revolving around a character born old, and rewinding over the years to youth, set to a haunting and evocative folk score by composer Darren Clark, with book and direction by Jethro Compton. In between my second and third time seeing it last Saturday and yesterday, l heard bad news about my closest and oldest friend’s health, who I’ve known for 39 years and spoken to almost every day for every single one of those years.
So my tears flowed freely yesterday afternoon as I watched it yet again. This is a musical about life, love, loss and grief, and it spoke to me with profound sadness but also profound beauty yesterday.
SHOWS AHEAD IN LONDON, SELECTED REGIONAL THEATRES AND ON BROADWAY
My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-may-29-2023/
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: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)