Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
The long wait for The Doctor
No, I’m not talking about the difficulty of securing an appointment to see an NHS doctor right now but to the fact that Robert Icke’s extraordinary production of THE DOCTOR has finally arrived at the West End’s Duke of York’s, two and a half years after it was originally due to land there in 2020, with Juliet Stevenson reprising her ferocious, impassioned performance in the title role. The original dates to move it from the Almeida were scuppered, of course, by the arrival of COVID; but it has been worth the wait.
I’d missed it at the Almeida, where it premiered in 2019. so was counting on the transfer to catch it; and it’s yet more proof that no other theatre in London is more exciting than the Almeida in pushing boundaries in contemporary theatre; I’m looking forward to TAMMY FAYE, the new Elton John/Jake Shears/James Graham musical that begins previews there this Thursday (poster image below).
The Duke of York’s has lately become its de facto West End home, with other transfers here from Islington including — in 2018 alone — the consecutive runs of James Graham’s INK and MARY STUART, and (after another show in-between) Rebecca Frecknall’s revival of Tennessee Williams’s SUMMER AND SMOKE.
Juliet Stevenson was also in MARY STUART (with Lia Williams, currently also to be found on the London stage in Ibsen’s JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN, now at the Bridge); she also once starred on this same stage in St Martin’s Lane exactly thirty years ago, when DEATH AND THE MAIDEN transferred there from the Royal Court Upstairs in 1992. That was a career-making performance; this is a career re-making one.
Just as Robert Icke’s play is itself a re-make: based on a play Viennese writer Arthur Schnitlzer completed in 1912 about a Jewish doctor who denies a Catholic priest access to a dying patient, it propels the action into a modern-day age of social media grievance and cancellation, a startling story of hierarchy, philanthropy and principles and their easy unravelling. It’s like THE CRUCIBLE — itself currently being revived at the National — for today, as a witch hunt quickly takes over at an educational hospital where a young patient has died after a botched, self-induced abortion leads to sepsis.
Icke’s production — accompanied by the rattling percussion of an onstage drum player — has a fierce and churning dramatic propulsion that is both hypnotising and antagonising. As language is weaponized — and a career destroyed — you want to cry out in anger and revulsion at the utter injustice, just as I often feel as Twitter wars rage. And just as there, they have real-life consequences for those being attacked.
(Re)visiting The Band’s Visit
If it is a relief to finally be able to see THE DOCTOR In the West End, alas some other shows have been lost that were due to transfer: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, that was coming from Broadway to the Savoy with its original Broadway stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford due to reprise their New York roles, looks like it is no longer making the journey; an already long-delayed transfer for a 2015 revival CITY OF ANGELS that was seen at the Donmar, had actually begun previews at the Garrick when the pandemic shut it down, and is yet to return.
CITY OF ANGELS won the Tony for best musical in 1990; the 2018 winner in the same category THE BAND’S VISIT opened last Thursday, in a brand-new production at the Donmar, directed by artistic director Michael Longhurst.
This ‘mood musical’, scored by David Yazbek with a book by Itamar Moses, is a low-key show of quiet yearning, in which nothing much happens — an Egyptian band arrive in Israel to perform in a concert at a cultural centre, but due to a misunderstanding find themselves in the wrong city entirely — and yet, in its tender embrace of the kindness they encounter, it reminded me of the most beautiful musical Broadway has sent to London in many years, COME FROM AWAY.
Yazbek, a composer who has previously scored such light Broadway musical comedy hits as THE FULL MONTY and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, has earned the right to do something radically different here, and has duly written a tender and captivating show of real longing and surprising emotion, spellbindingly performed by a gorgeous ensemble company that includes some truly wonderful actor-musicians.
I saw it both off and on Broadway; this new take on it confirms it as one of the most delightful musicals of the last decade.
OPENINGS IN LONDON, ON BROADWAY AND BEYOND
The coming week sees the opening of a revival of CP Taylor’s GOOD (at the Harold Pinter Theatre on Wednesday, starring David Tennant), the return of CHOIR OF MAN to the Arts on Thursday, and a new production of August Wilson’s THE PIANO LESSON opening on Broadway on Sunday.
My regularly updated feature of openings in London, on Broadway and selected regional theatres is here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-october-10/
SEE YOU ON THURSDAY
I’ll be back here on Thursday. 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)