Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
Is awarding three stars a cop out — or a true reflection that most things are only average?
On the home page of the theatre section of The Guardian yesterday, five current reviews were featured of shows from Clwyd, Chichester and Liverpool, to London’s Royal Court and Bridge Theatre, and all of them boasted three star reviews (two were from chief theatre critic Arifa Akbar, the others from three different contributors). I’ve seen two of them — WOMAN IN MIND at Chichester, which I wrote about about here and JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN (see below), and will definitely see THE FAMOUS FIVE when it transfers to Chichester after its current run at Theatr Clwyd.
Of course, star ratings are — like the reviews they’re intended to reflect — a subjective call, but in this attention-deficit culture, they carry a disproportionate effect: readers don’t necessarily get beyond the star rating to find out how the critic reached that conclusion.
As a reader, three star ratings disincentive me from wanting to read the rest of the review: if the review is merely ‘meh’, I’m not drawn to spend any more time on reading about it. Whereas ratings on either side make me want to read them: what’s good and what’s bad about the show in question — and how did they swerve the one star pan or miss the five star rave?
A second review for JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN appeared on The Guardian website yesterday — this time, of course, it was in Susannah Clapp’s weekly review column for The Observer, which was also three stars. Given my own conviction that Clapp is the best critic writing in Britain on theatre today, I’d hesitate before declaring her ‘wrong’. But I saw it on Saturday afternoon, and catching this play for the first time since the 1996 National Theatre revival with the (seriously) heavyweight casting of Paul Scofield, Vanessa Redgrave and Eileen Atkins, I’d say that Simon Russell Beale, Lia Williams and Clare Higgins are their equal. This trio are as good as actors get.
And so is Nick Hytner’s revival of Ibsen’s late play, which is a riveting study in a narcissist who is brought down but refuses to believe his own responsibility for it. Enabled by his wife (Clare Higgins) and her sister (Lia Williams) whom he has had an affair with, it’s finally time for a reckoning with the past. This bracing new contemporary version of the play has a ferocious leading performance from Russell Beale (pictured above, by Manuel Harlan), pacing around like a seriously wounded animal. It’s like Lear on the Heath (a role he has also played magnificently). What an actor!
ONLY AN OCTAVE APART and TOSCA
On Saturday evening I saw ONLY AN OCTAVE APART, a stunning cabaret import from New York of two astonishing queer artists:ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO and JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND, that’s partly a celebration of their own friendship, but also of queer culture itself that they have both been at the visible forefront of. Bond was once part of the legendary cabaret duo KIKI & HERB that played Broadway and Carnegie Hall; Costanzo is a counter-tenor opera star who has appeared at the Met and ENO.
Joining forces here is inspired and inspiring, and they make a show that is tender, surprising and at times deeply moving, too. A stirring juxtaposition of the pop hit Walk Like An Egyptian (Bond) and Philip Glass’s Aknaten (Costanzo) is sheer musical magic. Elsewhere, there’s Purcell and Mozart, Neil Diamond and Sylvester’s Stars. It’s both wild and weird at times — and a perfect fit for at Wilton’s, a place where high art and low art have often co-existed. I’m already dying to return to see it again.
The night before, I was at the opening of the 2022/3 season at ENO, who have imported Christof Lay’s stirring production of TOSCA from Finnish Opera to the Coliseum stage, featuring Irish soprano Sinéad Campbell-Wallace in the title role and Adam Smith as Cavaradoss.
It’s a special privilege to have access to productions as big and bold as this one night and then as intimate and ravishing as ONLY AN OCTAVE APART the very next evening.
THIS WEEK’S OPENINGS
My regularly updated list of upcoming openings at theatres in London, selected regional venues and on Broadway is here; https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-october-3/
This week sees the following London openings:
- Tuesday October 4
Blues for an Alabama Sky (National’s Lyttelton Theatre). September 20-November 5, press night October 4 Delayed from September 27, when the illness of star Samira Wiley caused that night’s press opening of Lynette Linton’s production to be postponed.ress contact: Louisa Terry, email@example.com; Website: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/blues-for-an-alabama-sky
I’m told that a new touring production of STRICTLY BALLROOM THE MUSICAL is holding a press performance at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre tonight (October 4), but despite four emails to press agent Neil Reading PR, I have received no response.
- Wednesday October 5
LONDON: The Boy with Two Hearts (National’s Dorfman Theatre) October 1-November 12; press night October 5. Previously seen at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, Phil Porter’s stage version of the book of the same name by Hamed and Hessam Amiri transfers to the National. Press contact: Louise Terry at National Theatre, firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-boy-with-two-hearts
- Thursday October 6
LONDON: The Band’s Visit (Donmar Warehouse) September 24-December 3, press night October 6. David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’s 2017 Tony winning musical, based on the 2007 Oscar-winning film of the same name, comes to London, in a new production that will be directed by the Donmar’s artistic director Michael Longhurst. . Press contact: Kate Morley, email@example.com. Website: https://booking.donmarwarehouse.com/events/1647527967
There are also three openings on Broadway this week:
- The Cost of Living (Samuel J Friedman Theatre) Martyna Majok’s play, which won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for drama, transfers to Broadway after originally premiering at Manhattan Theatre Club’s off-Broadway space at City Center in 2017, opening on Monday (October 3), Press contacts: Chris Boneau, Amy Kass, Michelle Farabaugh, Kenya Williams at Boneau/Bryan-Brown. Website: https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/shows/2022-23-season/cost-of-living/
- 1776 (American Airlines Theatre) Revival of Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s musical, co-directed by Jeffrey L Page and Diane Paulus, transfers to Broadway in a co-production with American Repertory Theatre. The cast includes multiple representations of race, ethnicity, and gender; they identify as female, transgender and nonbinary., openng on Thursday (October 6). Press contacts: Polk & Co, Matt Polk, Jessica Johnson, Jeffrey Fauver, Alana Karpoff, Chaliece Dillon. Website: https://www.roundabouttheatre.org
- Death of a Salesman (Hudson Theatre) Wendell Pierce and Sharon D Clarke reprise their performances as Willy and Linda Loman that they first performed in Arthur Miller’s classic play at the Young Vic in 2019, before it transferred to the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre. opening on SundaY (October 9).Press contacts: Rick Miramontez / Pete Sanders / Ellie Detweiler a O&M/DKC, firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: https://www.salesmanonbroadway.com/
My own diary this week sees me catching up with Martin Sherman’s ROSE, revived at the Park with Maureen Lipman in the role originated by Olympia Dukakis at the National; the UK premiere of THE BAND’S VISIT at the Donmar that I saw both off and on Broadway in its original production in New York, and a press preview for the transfer of the Almeida’s THE DOCTOR at the Duke of York’s, ahead of its official opening next Monday. I’m also going to an advance screening of Michael Grandage’s new film MY POLICEMAN (ahead of its public premiere as part of this year’s London Film Festival, starring Harry Styles, pictured above). I will be reporting on these and more in subsequent newsletters.
SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY
I’ll be back here on Wednesday. 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)