Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily. Apologies for radio silence yesterday, but I travelled up to London for a two-show day (details below) and didn’t manage to publish beforehand.
CATCH UP, A REPEAT, AND A NEW MUSICAL
I’ve made two trips to London this week (so far); and will make another on Saturday (to catch the return of Matthew Bourne’s THE CAR MAN in its new expanded incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall).
On Monday I was due to see THE HAUNTING OF SUSAN A, Mark Ravenhill’s new play for the King’s Head where he is now co-artistic director, but thanks to the tube strike, I decided not to chance trying to get across London but decided to stick closer to where my train had arrived south of the river. This meant checking the National Theatre website of course, where alas I have not seen everything (as I once used to do religiously), and I found a single £20 front stalls ticket for that night’s performance of THE CORN IS GREEN.
It closes this weekend, so I had previously written it off as one that would have to pass me by; but I’m glad I didn’t let that happen, after all. Director Dominic Cooke is one of our very best contemporary directors, along with Michaael Grandage and Ian Rickson, in being able to illuminate classic plays as well as brand new ones, with forensic intelligence as well as rare heart.
Both qualities shine here, as Cooke and his luminous star Nicole Walker (above left) plays an educator in a Welsh mining village who turns a young miner (Iwan Davies, above right) into an Oxbridge candidate. She’s practical, no-nonsense and driven, with a passion to make a difference. The play is old-fashioned but still effective; and Cooke brings it to searing life, introducing the authorial voice playwright Emlyn Williams himself (Gareth David-Lloyd) as a narrator figure, which turns it into a meta-theatre event.
This weekend also sees the end of the run for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CINDERELLA, less than a year after its fraught COVID opening in August 2021. I reviewed it here, less than favourably; but having not returned since, I decided to see it one more time, and managed to secure a cheap side stalls seat.
I’m glad I did: knowing its flaws, I was able to enjoy it as a “guilty pleasure”. Yes, it’s a bit of a mess structurally, and it can’t decide on its tone. But when it goes for sheer camp value, it delivers. And the spirited cast are having fun, led by the ferociously voiced Carrie Hope Fletcher in the title role; her Prince Charming yesterday was the wonderful cover Mike Hamway (pictured below).
It was good, too, to see the show’s sole Olivier nominee, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, in her scene-stealing turn as the evil stepmother again (pictured below). I also enjoyed hearing the score again; Lloyd Webber and David Zippel’s work is melodically and lyrically zippy. and the Act Two opening waltz is gorgeous. But it’s still not a patch on Rodgers and Hamerstein’s version, originally written for a live television broadcast in 1957; a revised 2013 Broadway stage version is finally receiving its UK premiere at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre in November, and as Lloyd Webber will be a distant memory by then, I’m looking forward to seeing it again then.
Last night saw the world premiere of Harry Hill and Steve Brown’s new musical TONY! – The Tony Blair Rock Opera at North London’s Park Theatre 200. At least they’ve scaled back their ambition from I CAN’T SING! (which emptied the London Palladium in 2014) to this 200-seater; but this scrappy little show is not much better.
This lame satirical effort replays the major events of its subject’s political rise (and fall) in jaunty songs and sketches, but though mostly good natured, it’s pretty flat and obvious from a comedy point of view. The songs don’t add much either.
As it is, it is left to a determined cast, led by stand-up comic Charlie Baker in the title role (pictured above), to give it some likeable energy, even if the people they are playing are less than likeable. After a week when Boris Johnson has been finally rumbled, if not quite rousted from No 10, TONY! is a reminder of an earlier era of the crashing of ideals, after a blizzard of lies about weapons of mass destruction. Neither are a cause for much laughter, to be honest. Sad to say, Blair was no better, in the end, than Boris.
As ever, you can find an updated list to upcoming shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway in my feature here:
SEE YOU ON MONDAY
I’ll be back here on Monday. Meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends).