ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRIDAY NOVEMBER 18

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.

Incredulous readers of reviews will sometimes say, “Did they see the same show that I did?” Of course, the answer is no, they didn’t, unless they were physically at the same performance; the chemistry of theatrical performances does, after all, vary from night to night.

So, no, I wasn’t at the same SEX PARTY that my colleagues attended at the re-opened Menier Chocolate Factory on Tuesday (closed for the last seven months, apparently for refurbishment, though none are visible — even if the venue pocketed nearly £1m in Cultural Recovery Funds to weather COVID closures).

With the notable exception of Dominic Cavendish for the Daily Telegraph, the headline of whose four-star review declared “Terry Johnson is back on top with this risqué comedy about trans issues”,  the rest of the reviews were all one or two stars. In The Stage’s round-up of those reviews, Fergus Morgan comments: “There is no disguising it with double-entendres: this is one of the worst reviewed shows of the year.”

It may be that I went into the Menier with low expectations, having already sampled some of those reviews, when I saw it the next night. But the show got a rise out of me, and not in the double -entendres sense that Morgan alludes to. It is superbly cast with a fine set of actors, including Hollywood Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (from 40 years ago, who was (and still is) the youngest-ever male actor to receive one for best supporting actor, theatrical wildfire Lisa Dwan, funny man Will Barton and the  equally hilarious Amanda Ryan.

This is a sex farce in which sex actually happens, for once  — albeit offstage — and the cast rise to the occasion, so to speak, as they are each plausibly sexy — not least John Hopkins, above left (with Lisa Dwan and Molly Osborne) — and likeable too. I wished I was there. And so I wasn’t sorry to be watching them!

It has some funny jokes; and even a few pertinent and thoughtful things to say as Johnson throws a provocative bomb into the already-fraught arena of gender identity politics when a trans woman — who is yet to surgically transition — joins an Islington sex party, and causes the male attendees a lot of anxiety, as the play may well do, too. With Iranian-American Pooya Mohseni, whom the programme describes as a “trangender activist'”, playing that role, the production has at least avoided the dangers of inappropriate casting.

It may be inappropriate to mention it, but I also wonder just how many of my colleagues have been to sex parties themselves. As someone who attended one many Christmas Days ago, and became the turkey stuffed by the other seven men there, I have some of my own direct experiences of them (and have since joined a sex addiction fellowship that changed my life, not just in terms of my relationship with sex but also life itself). So this surprisingly mature portrait of some of those issues struck frequent chords.

From Here to Eternity (Charing Cross Theatre)

I wasn’t in the Second World War myself, so can’t draw on personal experience in commenting on From Here to Eternity, a revised version of Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson’s 2013 flop West End musical version of the James Jones wartime novel best known for the 1953 film made of it.

Last weekend The Lion King celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Broadway premiere, where it is still going strong, to which Tim RIce also contributed lyrics; his own producing entity Heartaches Limited is co-producer of this production (with Katiy LIpson’s Aria Entertainment and Bill Kenwright), in a version that was first seen in 2016 in Auburn, NY, where director Brett Smock is artistic director.

The show is still earnest and rather humourless, but it is now more rousing in the close quarters of Charing Cross’s traverse stage. A young (and notably buff) cast give it big voices and muscle, in every sense; the material is still not without structural problems. As it dips in and out of song, it is difficult to care about these characters, or find focus for whose stories it wishes to tell; but it has some stirring songs and Cressida Carre’s choreography is athletically performed. Stage veteran Eve Polycarpou stands out from the kids in a performance of silvery dignity.

Charing Cross Theatre will incidentally follow this show with another second World War musical flop, this time from Broadway, in the UK premiere of the short-lived 2015 musical ALLEGIANCE, inspired by George Takei’s personal experience and in which he stars, too.

FUTURE SHOWS IN LONDON AND BEYOND

My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-november-14/ Newly added this week is the West End transfer of MRS DOUBTFIRE, another Broadway flop, after a Manchester try-out at the end of the summer.

The PR campaign for the show included sending selected bloggers and so-called influencers pies and dressing gowns in an effort, presumably, to conscript their favourable disposition to the show (and trail the announcement itself, which they duly did). But it backfired badly, when some also sought to distance themselves from the show after online accusations that it didn’t respect trans issues.

In the same week that a genuine trans actor is starring in London in a genuine trans role (see above), it seems weird that that celebratory fact is being overshadowed by a show not about trans characters at all but a desperate father who decides to dress up as a Scottish nanny to get access to his children. 

See you here on Monday…

If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)

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