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A HAMMER BLOW FOR THE INDUSTRY?
When “Freedom Day” arrived back in June, and theatres were allowed to return at full capacity, SOLT and UK Theatre chief executive Julian Bird described it as “a lifeline for the industry.” But given the lack of safety that has resulted — with wildly inconsistent policies between venues as to whether to request proof of vaccines or even requesting mask wearing — it may yet prove to be the death knell of it, as theatregoers understandably resist returning.
And yesterday former SOLT President Kenny Wax — who oversees Six and the Mischief franchise in the West End and on tour (with The Play That Goes Wrong and Magic Goes Wrong both in London) — declared another “hammer blow” for the industry: speaking to the Evening Standard, namely the return of a ‘working from home’ mandate.
Both Bird and Wax are, of course, putting the theatre’s economic interests way ahead of public safety. Despite vaccines, the immense threat posed by COVID has not gone away; after 263 deaths were reported on Tuesday, another 207 were reported yesterday, bringing the total in the last 7 days to 1,010.
Given the fact that the West End has steadfastly refused to entertain more radical measures, freely embraced on Broadway, to ensure that every member of the audience is vaccinated and agrees to wear a mask throughout a performance, I’m afraid I can only shed crocodile tears for its predicament.
My American theatre friends are looking on incredulously at this grim state of affairs in London. Tourism is a big part of the theatrical economy, and they are hardly going to book London theatre trips with such a massive failing of leadership at its heart.
One tweeted this encouragement to return to Broadway:
If only the West End could say the same thing….. But no, it can’t. Not everyone is masked. Not everyone is vaccinated. (Not even the actors, in some cases).
A REGIONAL THEATRE TREAT
Yesterday I paid my first visit to Southampton’s MAST — Mayflower Studios, which was (all too briefly) the spanking new city centre home for Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NTS) but which went into administration last May, after reporting a £507,000 loss in 2018/19, and ACE subsequently withdrawing all its funding.
Now under the management of the Mayflower Theatre Trust, who operate the large commercial theatre in the city, it is the perfect complement, offering a more intimate playhouse where it can offer plays while the bigger house brings in the standard touring product like Chicago, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the Book of Mormon, Les Miserables, Beautiful, the Palladium’s recent Joseph, Waitress, Six and Singin’ in the Rain between now and next June.
Even if the matinee I attended for English Touring Theatre’s new co-production (with Leicester’s Curve and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse of Tennessee Williams’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF was sparsely attended, it was a revelatory modern production of this enduring classic.
It’s not just because director Anthony Almeida has that Islington theatre in his own name that made me think of that venue; this is the sort of Tennessee Williams make-over that they established with SUMMER & SMOKE. It feels utterly contemporary yet, mostly, entirely faithful (albeit with a few added “fucks”).
It is also acted with a ferocious intensity that’s also got human warmth: a rare combination. The relationship between Peter Forbes’s Big Daddy and Oliver Johnson’s Brick (pictured above) is deeply moving, tender and compassionate; so are their interactions with Teresa Banham’s Big Mama.
A quietly wonderful Sam Alexander as Gooper (pictured below) and Siena Kelly’s Maggie also provided acute studies in desperation.
This is a production that perfectly captures the brooding, desolate sense of isolation, loss and desperate estrangement of the characters from each other and themselves.
TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS
Theatre Birthdays (OCTOBER 28): Jane Alexander, 82; Mark Haddon, 59 (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time); Dame Cleo Laine, 94 (pic: album cover for COLETTE); Dame Joan Plowright, 92 (pic; in MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION at NT, 1985); Julia Roberts, 54; Matt Smith, 39