ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 8: 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 week of theatre news and reviews (including my own).


My ShentonSTAGE Daily newsletter today is my week in review(s) column of the last 7 days:


THE MIRROR at the Almeida has truly divided the critics, with reviews adopting mostly two star or four star positions, without any middle ground. Strong flavours in the theatre are definitely there to be savoured; not everyone may like the taste, but you have to try it for yourself.

So I did today, catching up with Sam Holcroft’s dense, intense Pirandellian drama on theatre censorship in a totalitarian state, full of complex and playful layers, but ultimately (at least on initial reflection) not quite as surprising as I wanted it to be.

That may have partly been a function of reading some of the reviews: I was bracing myself for more. But Jeremy Herrin’s production is still a twisting, churning revelation — and it is always great to see Geoffrey Streatfeild (pictured above), one of our very best but most underrated and chameleon actors, onstage. Though many in the audience are there to see the return of Jonny Lee MIller to the London stage for the first time in a decade (and back at the Almeida for the first time since FESTEN in 2004), it is Streatfeild that I was thrilled to see.


As the calendar moves into autumn — but with a late heatwave on the way for the UK, particularly in the south, this week — it’s time to start looking forward to what’s ahead in the theatre. 

My regularly updated feature of major future openings (see below for link) provides an ongoing guide, but I’m particularly looking forward to revisiting some past shows, like James Graham’s QUIZ (launching a UK tour at Chichester’s Minerva) and the transfer of his hit play DEAR ENGLAND (to the Prince Edward), the delightful FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS (previously seen at both Sheffield and Chichester, and now revived in a new production starring Jenna Russell at Riverside Studios, and another look at the stage version of Neil Gaiman’s THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE (transferring to the Noel Coward after a national tour). 

There’s also that rare sighting — not one but two brand-new plays opening cold in the West End, Penelope Skinner’s LYONESSE (starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, pictured above) and BACKSTAIRS BILLY (with Penelope Wilton and Luke Evans). And Kenneth Branagh stars as KING LEAR in a West End season at Wyndham’s, while David Tennant will play MACBETH at the Donmar Warehouse.

The NT has a brand-new Christmas musical THE WITCHES (based on Roadl Dahl), while the Donmar offers a new take on Sondheim’s PACIFIC OVERTURES (soon after his final musical HERE WE ARE receives its posthumous premiere at New York’s The Shed and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG returns to Broadway), and Cameron Mackintosh offers a revue celebration of the composer’s work in Sondheim’s OLD FRIENDS in the West End. 

The Menier has a new musical celebrating 60s fashion icon Twiggy, CLOSE-UP, who herself became a Broadway star in the 80s when she starred in MY ONE AND ONLY with Tommy Tune. And Nicole Scherzinger returns to the London stage to star as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD.


My ShentonSTAGE Daily newsletter today is on the first preview of THE BIG LITTLE THINGS, and director Matthew Dunster’s twitter declaration “Fuck the critics and their precious bullshit”, on the reception that had greeted his revival of THE PILLOWMAN that closed at the Duke of York’s on the weekend.

The latter was an interesting declaration of war, and I responded in kind that I was “even more relieved I missed it now. Thanks for confirming.”

This led to his lead actor Lily Allen entering the fray, and all twitter hell breaking loose — our twitter spat even got reported (accurately) by Metro, in which she accused me of being “a fucking idiot” and guilty of “snobbish, outdated, elitist, gatekeeping views” that concluded: “Get in the bin.”

She clearly feels the same contempt for critics (or at least this one) that her director does.

At its heart is utter outrage that I chose NOT to see the play in question — there seems to be a narcissistic assumption on the part of some actors that it is our duty to see EVERYTHING. 

But I choose how to spend my time, and the use of quotes from less credible outlets combined with less than good reviews from sources I trust more made me give it a wide berth. That seems to have given the ultimate offence: that I wasn’t even giving the show the time of day. But the producers and the people they pay to promote their show helped me make that choice. And the director confirmed it after the event with his aggressive tweet against critics.

On the bulletin board, populated by unequal parts of grievance merchants and theatre enthusiasts, one correspondent suggested, “Isn’t it the work of a theatre critic to review every show opening in theatreland? I mean, not every press night or press preview would fit in your schedule, but for a major West End show like The Pillowman, your job is to publish your review, regardless whether or not you like the cast or the creatives or the story.”

Another more sanely replied, “A critic is not obliged to see every show possible. And given that Shenton writes for his own blog, he gets to choose what he covers.”

Exactly so. It is one of the rewards of being my own boss that I don’t have to see everything anymore. And I can’t help thinking that had I gone — and not liked it — I’d have been asked why did I go see it at all? I actually couldn’t win with this one.

I’m not denying the pleasure of those who did see and enjoy it. Art is always subjective, and the joy of it is that people bring their own experiences and frame of reference to what they see. For those who’ve never seen it before, it may undoubtedly be the play of the year (even with the rest of the year still to run).

But I’m also entitled to take such declarations with a heavy pinch of salt.

In other news today, a sad farewell to veteran theatre producer and theatre manager Peter Wilson, who has died, aged 72. He was CEO of Norwich Theatre Royal from 1992 to 2016 and also the producer of the long-running West End hit THE WOMAN IN BLACK,

As Stephen Fry remarked after his passing,

“You could call him the crown prince of regional theatre. Peter exemplified everything that is good about arts at the local and neighbourhood level, enlivening cultural institutions by attracting the best talent from outside. He also nurtured new talent from within, elevating the status and enhancing the reputation of local communities. All those careers he helped make, all those friendships he forged – he will be so very sorely missed. Perhaps most especially in Norwich and Norfolk, where he made his home in the last decades of his life, where he helped create such wonderful theatrical memories for us all.”


In the wake of the RAAC crisis engulfing schools, hospitals and other public buildings that used reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in their construction, resulting in the danger of then failing and causing the buildings to collapse, two theatres so far have already closed with immediate effect.

Yesterday Northampton’s Royal and Derngate (pictured above) and today Dartford’s Orchard Theatre announced the suspension of all performances for the rest of this month.

The National Theatre has also confirmed the presence of RAAC in “a small number of select backstage areas” but has, in the words of The Stage report,”insisted that the venue remains safe.”


Chichester Festival Theatre’s season is always one of the treats of the summer, and the final season programmed by Daniel Evans ahead of his departure to the RSC has been terrific — not least the stunning revival and reinvention of ASSASSINS (directed by Polly Findlay), which I hope will yet have a further life. 

Last night saw the world premiere of Deborah Francis-White’s  lacerating debut comedy NEVER HAVE I EVER, a play about friendship, white privilege, infidelity and money amongst two couples who met at University, played with seductive power in Emma Butler’s razor-sharp production.

But it’s interesting that two reviewers mention the unusually boisterous first night audience. In a review for Sussex Express, Phil Hewitt writes, “Arguably, if anything let them all down on press night it was the audience, packed with people – presumably close to the production – determined to show how utterly hilarious they found the whole thing. Lines which were merely amusing had them squealing and squawking. Which was a shame – an irritating distraction from a play which was not just funny (though not quite that funny) but also challenging and provocative.”

Reviewing it for her theatreCat blog, Libby Purves writes: “The four of them get drunk, hideously so in a series of crashing vignettes of wild dancing, coke-sniffing, shots,  and shrieky opinions, a period which director Emma Butler allows to go on for rather longer than necessary. Between that, and a raucously young first- night audience shrieking with laughter at every other line, a sort of weariness descended towards the interval. Why hang out with a load of irritating  kidults fighting over who is the most oppressed?… I will look forward to finding out what, after a crowing, shrieking youthful first night audience, Chichester’s senior regulars make of this.”


I was in London today, but didn’t see a play but a theatre-adjacent film comedy: the truly wonderful THEATER CAMP. This mockumentary celebration of the activities of a kids theatre camp called AdirondACTS in upstate New York is full of heart about the redemptive powers of theatre for the various misfit and outsider kids who spend their summers there — as the staff who play out their mostly failed aspirations of theatre careers by working there. 

It’s full of knowing humour, of course, but also joyfully reveals just how much this place means to them all. 

Christopher Guest’s 1996 mockumentary WAITING FOR GUFFMAN about the comparable joys of amateur or community theatre is still my favourite film of this genre, but this is a hugely welcome update for the age of WICKED that didn’t exist when Guffman was first released.


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

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:, as well as Threads and Instagram with the same handle (@ShentonStage).