Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last week of theatre news and reviews (including my own).
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 8
My ShentonSTAGE Daily newsletter today is my week in review(s) column of the last 7 days: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-friday-september-8-the-week-in-reviews/
Tonight I travelled to Putney Arts Theatre, a community venue in a church off Putney Bridge, to see an amateur production of the Broadway musical LITTLE WOMEN — THE MUSICAL that premiered on Broadway in 2005, but is yet to make a professional appearance on a UK stage.
I’m not entirely surprised — the show is a hokey bit of American aspirational nonsense about the four daughters of an unseen father who has gone away to fight the Civil War and their struggle to make their own ways in the world, particularly for the eldest sister Jo who wants to be a writer. But it has some quietly gorgeous songs by composer Jason Howland and lyricist Mindi Dickstein that has made the cast album a favourite, not least since it features the luminous Sutton Foster as Jo and the stunning cabaret vocalist Maureen McGovern as Marmee.
I went mainly because an old friend was in it. But watching it, I kept thinking how great the actor playing the lead sister Jo is — and that she could easily be professional. Her name is Heidi Delve, and after the show, she came up to me and reminded me that I’d taught her at ArtsEd back in 2012 (the first year I did it, kicking off nearly a decade there which remains one of my favourite jobs ever). So she has indeed been professionally trained, but like so many, she gave it up for a more secure life. She now fulfills her desire to perform by doing amateur dramatic shows.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 9
Andrew Scott is about to do an experimental solo version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in the West End, simply called VANYA (set to run at the Harold Pinter Theatre from next Friday, September 15 to October 21). In a preview interview, he preempts worries that it might not be to everyone’s tastes, by actively welcoming that it could be divisive. “It could go wrong,” he says. “But we need a bit more of people not liking things.”
And if there’s no standing ovation, or only a partial one, he’d welcome that, too: “My concern is that everything becomes meaningless. I think it’s unfortunate that if someone decides not to stand up, it’s perceived that they hated it. That’s not necessarily true. Maybe I thought it was very good, but I didn’t feel like rising to my feet. My producers are going to hate me for saying this, but I strongly believe that if people don’t feel like standing up, they shouldn’t. People feel lonely, having to stand when they don’t want to. Equally, it’s kind of moving when most people are not standing up, and three people are.”
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 10
In an interview with theatre owner and producer Cameron Mackintosh in today’s Sunday Times Culture, he is somewhat bitchily described as “genial and gossipy, a pot-bellied pasha.”
He also looks back on his one-time productivity with amazement. “When I look at mu diaries now, how I managed to produce in eight years CATS, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, LES MIS, PHANTOM, FOLLIES, SONG & DANCE and MISS SAIGON is beyond logic. And not just once; within three years of LES MIS opening, I had 15 companies around the world doing that one show. Thank God it was the era of Concorde. Without it, even if I’d got the shows on, I’m not sure I would have lived to see them.”
In one anecdote, he manages to reveal both his entitlement and privilege. I was there for some of those years, working at Dewynters at the time, so I had a front-row seat to some of the openings: I was there for both FOLLIES and MISS SAIGON. I very much admired both (though FOLLIES, somewhat revised from its original Broadway version, was somewhat glamorised and softened; its sharper edges were happily restored in the National’s 2017 revival, which restored cut songs like ‘Lucy and Jessie’).
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 11
Today was the 22nd anniversary of 9/11, and I posted a tweet that inadvertently produced the arrival of a pitchfork mob accusing me of making a global tragedy all about me. I appreciate that a tweet lacks context and nuance, and perhaps I didn’t explain myself well, but it was typical of twitter that some parties immediately took a bad faith interpretation of my words.
But then I also accept that I only have myself to blame sometimes: I have allowed people unfettered access to my private thoughts and life, which are then weaponized against me by those with an agenda of their own.
No doubt the same may happen again with these words.
But fortunately not everyone sees the world as some of the grievance merchants on Twitter do. So I’m grateful for the support of others, including a PR who I don’t actually know but who wrote to say: “I saw the point that a lot of people missed, that out of tragedy came a moment in life where you had the option to steer in a different direction, take the lemons of a horrific life hanging incident and make lemons. I think it’s fair to say your work in theatre journalism has always had ebbs and flows of criticism and controversy, but I think people have exaggerated greatly and projecting their thoughts on you as a person rather than trying to understand the point you were trying to make.”
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 12
Today is my birthday, and although for me a treat is often a night OFF from the theatre, I travelled to Windsor for the regional premiere of a new touring production of CALENDAR GIRLS – THE MUSICAL, a revised version of Tim Firth’s play (based on his own screenplay to the 2003 film) that Firth had musicalised with Gary Barlow in 2017, and it was a warm-hearted treat to enjoy on my birthday.
I’d loved that 2017 iteration at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre, but it hadn’t landed, commercially speaking. But now refocused under the direction of Jonathan O’Boyle, it has been streamlined to a unit set locating the action primarily in a Yorkshire WI meeting hall that gives the show clarity and vitality.
But the real triumph is the authenticity of the casting, which includes five women who’ve previously played Mrs Johnstone in BLOOD BROTHERS, including two beloved veterans Lyn Paul and Maureen Nolan. It was producer Bill Kenwright who brought BLOOD BROTHERS back, after its original modest 1983 run, to become a long-standing West End hit that ran from 1989 to 2012. Now Kenwright may well have found his next BLOOD BROTHERS.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 13
Another regional touring production came to the West End tonight, by way of Bath Theatre Royal. It was a new production of Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES, the second outing for this play this year alone after the spring showing at the Donmar in April.
And even if this production is altogether more conventional than the Donmar version, it has its many pleasures, as I outline in my review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/private-lives-donmar-warehouse/
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 14\
A two-show day of musical theatre heaven today: in the afternoon, I revisited — for the third-and-a-half time — the current Open Air revival of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (the half was when the official press night got rained off), and in the evening, the official opening of THE LITTLE BIG THINGS at @sohoplace, which I’d also seen previously at the first preview, which I reported on here.
I’ve already reviewed LA CAGE for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL here, but returned today to see Peter Forbes, effortlessly slipping in to take over from an indisposed John Owen Jones (who has had to withdraw) as the arch-bigot politician Edward Dindon (pictured above), and what a joy it was to see it again.
And in the evening, I attended the West End opening of THE LITTLE BIG THINGS at @sohoplace, which I wrote about here after seeing the first preview.
I will be reviewing it more fully on PLAYS INTERNATIONAL, but suffice to say that this big-hearted, joyful hug of a show really delivers the warmest and most delightful tale of human resilience in musical form since EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE. Nica Burns was the lead producer who brought the latter from Sheffield’s Crucible to the West End; she is now lead co-producer, with Michael Harrison, of this show. And both shows share an essential DNA in being built out of real-life autobiographical stories.
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-september-11-2023/
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/, as well as Threads and Instagram with the same handle (@ShentonStage).