Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
The West End and Broadway stage has already plundered great swathes of the back catalogue of film titles to convert to stage properties; TV is less often used, though this year we’ve already had THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF musicalised. In November, a new stage play based on the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS (which has now completed four seasons) will take to the stage at the Phoenix Theatre, co-produced by Sonia Friedman.
But first at the same address, comedy promoter behemoth Avalon have recycled and updated the 80s puppet satirical news revue Spitting Image for the stage in a show called IDIOTS ASSEMBLE: SPITTING IMAGE THE MUSICAL, and even if the near life-size puppets are impressive caricatures of their huge gallery of subjects, they are defeated both by the requirement to knit a series of sketches and punchlines into a cohesive plot, and a script that just isn’t funny.
But then British politics and the parade of misfits, chancers and opportunists that populate our public spaces — from Boris and Carrie Johnson (pictured above) to Jacob Rees-Mogg, Liz Truss and Suella Braverman — are really no laughing matter. If satire in the theatre is what closes on Saturday night, as George S. Kaufman famously said after his play Strike Up the Band closed in Philadelphia before it could ever make it to Broadway, this show should have closed on opening night.
But in terms of celebrity puppets, you certainly get bang for your buck, with everyone from Tom Cruise putting in a starring performance and James Corden a fleeting supporting one. The brutal fact, though, is that Marina Hyde’s twice-weekly columns for The Guardian are much more entertaining and incisive, as well as much more up-to-date.
A far more modest, but far more engaging and original new British musical, is to be found at Southwark Playhouse, where Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyns (currently playing the title role of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in the West End) have joined forces to co-write THEN, NEXT AND NOW, currently being premiered at Southwark Playhouse.
It is smartly directed by Julie Atherton, who on Friday I saw doing gallant double-duty standing in for the show’s indisposed star Alice Fearn (pictured above at the curtain calls). As a performer, Atherton
has long been one of British musical theatre’s primary champions of new musicals, and has a rare quality of total authenticity as an actor that she now brings to directing, too.
She is joined by a crack cast of performers, Peter Hannah, Joaquin Pedro Valdes, Tori Allen-Martin and Justin Brett. I’d love to see Alice Fearn do it too, but Atherton is something special in a really tender, special musical.
‘MOULDY STRAIGHT ENGLISHMAN’ CRITIC FAILS AGAIN…..
I seem to write a lot about Quentin Letts here, the so-called theatre “critic” of the Sunday Times; and I’m doing so once again today, for the second week running Reviewing A STRANGE LOOP at the Barbican yesterday in the Culture supplement, he claims “the plot is so niche (Manhattan black gospel gay scene) as to be incomprehensible to a mouldy straight Englishman such as your critic.”
He then charges full-steam ahead into outraged territory, writing,
“The show opens with a cheery announcement that the evening will include “butt-f***ing” and stuff about Usher’s “shitty butthole”. Sorry about this language, but I merely report what is being staged at a venue that last year accepted £18 million in taxpayers’ subsidies. Usher, told to have more sex by his doctor, struggles to find love. Six multitasking actors play characters called Thought One, Thought Two, etc. My only thoughts were: “When will this end?” And: “How come this rubbish was nominated for 11 Tony awards?”
I don’t know how much he is accepting of Murdoch’s moolah to write this rubbish, but whatever he is being paid, it is too much. But theatre itself is being failed by paper that doesn’t have a critic who actually respects what it is trying to achieve.
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-july-10-2023/
Tomorrow (Tuesday) Mark Rylance transfers from Bristol Old Vic to the Harold Pinter in DR SEMELWEIS (which I’m not seeing until Saturday as the press agent can’t accommodate me at the opening), and on Wednesday and Thursday I’m out of town catching the openings of IN DREAMS at Leeds on Wednesday and MISS SAIGON at Sheffield on Thursday.
See you here on Friday
I will be here on Friday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ and Threads with the same handle (@ShentonStage).