Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last seven days of theatre news and reviews (including my own).
MONDAY OCTOBER 16
My week in review(s) column of news and reviews (including my own) across the last week (from October 9-15) is here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-newsletter-the-week-in-reviews-october-9-15/
In the ‘old days’, the biggest power brokers in the theatre were theatre producers, individuals of passion and acumen who found the product and brought it to the stage, ponying up their own money and or raising investment from other individuals to do so.
But as people like Cameron Mackintosh proved that there were big returns possible, the corporate world looked on and sought to engage with this potential source of limitless profits. Other successful producers like Andrew Lloyd Webber took their operations public, and shares in his Really Useful Group became traded publicly. (Lloyd Webber would subsequently vacillate between models, buying back control of his properties when it no longer suited him to have others in charge, but as he was the primary creative engine of the company, it was unusually reliant on his output).
Although there are still many independent sole trading producers around, the producing model has largely shifted to one dominated by a corporate business model, and there is no bigger entity now in world theatre than Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), originally founded by independent producers Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire (who are now creating a second mega-chain of theatre-related interests, Trafalgar Entertainment), and now the biggest theatre owner in Britain, with a major footprint on Broadway as well and also in Australia.
Today came the bombshell news that Mark Cornell (pictured above), who has served as CEO of ATG for the last seven years, is to step down with immediate effect, to be replaced by Ted Simpson, who joins after being CEO of Go City, an attractions marketing operation (Cornell is to take up a post as a senior adviser to Providence, the current private equity owners of ATG).
The corporate world, of course, is ruthless, as it chases relentless profit to provide maximum shareholder return. Creativity is second to growth here, though in the theatre it is creativity, of course, that provides the major engine to growth, So we shall watch developments with keen interest.
TUESDAY OCTOBER 17
A few months ago there were several stories of serious disruption at West End and regional theatres caused by audiences erupting into fights, with performances stopped and police called, as some members of the audience impeded the enjoyment of others there, by doing things like singing along.
But is it any surprise that audiences misunderstand their role at some jukebox shows, when ticketing agency and provider TIcketmaster provide these kinds of marketing invitations?
They think it’s a singalong because they’re TOLD it is!
Sometimes, of course, singing along is actually invited — there are times during THE BARRICADE BOYS concert show that I finally caught tonight in a showcase one nighter at the Adelphi, where this happens. The quartet — which comprises joint founders Scott Garnham and Simon Schofield, plus Kieran Brown and Craig Mather, have all appeared in Les Miserables, hence their name, but also collectively have numerous other West End credits to their name. They’re like a musical theatre version of JERSEY BOYS, with (for the sake of completeness) a section where they also perform songs from that show, too.
It’s an accomplished and likeable evening from a cast who’ve earned their dues.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 18
Tonight saw a celebration of the 10th anniversary party for Musical Theatre Review, a website devoted to all things musical founded by editor Lisa Martland (pictured below), after she took over a title originally launched and run for many years as a print publication by Linda Trapnell.
I am proud to have contributed to the site myself, though I wasn’t able to make the party, It’s a genuine passion project, and a genuinely knowledgeable one. (A stark contrast to the commercial new monthly Musicals magazine whose list of regular contributors doesn’t fully inspire confidence).
THURSDAY OCTOBER 19: FIRST NIGHT
Tonight I saw the opening night of the transfer of James Graham’s DEAR ENGLAND from the National’s Olivier Theatre to the West End’s Prince Edward — the first play I’ve ever seen in over 45 years of going there! That’s historic in itself; but the play is as epic as any musical., in its powerful study of the role of leadership, passion and compassion in English football, as it tracks the reign of Gareth Southgate as the national team’s leader.
I saw the play at the National, too –and as someone who has never been to a football match in my life, I was still utterly engrossed and thrilled by its study of why the game means so much to this country. This is a state of the nation play right now, and it’s a stunner.
It’s also a compelling portrait of one remarkable man, remarkably played by Joseph Fiennes (pictured above).
Director Rupert Goold’s epic production is surely his calling card to take over the National Theatre from Rufus Norris; yes, it means another white and Oxbridge man, but he’s the best director AND producer working on the British stage today.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 20
Sad news today of the passing of actor Haydn Gwynne, at just the age of 66, following a cancer diagnosis that forced her to withdraw from the company of Sondheim’s OLD FRIENDS at the Gielgud Theatre, in which she was due to reprise ‘The Ladies who Lunch’ that she’d performed in the original gala in 2021.
An instinctively warm and generous actor, I saw what would be her final stage appearance in WHEN WINSTON WON THE WAR at the Donmar Warehouse in June, which I wrote about here at the time. A few months earlier she’d also starred in THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF THE MUSICAL at the Noel Coward, and was equally brilliant playing a barely-disguised version of Prue Leith. She will be much missed.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 21
Earlier this week, American Pulitzer prize winning playwright Lynne Nottage, whose new play CLYDE’S began previews this week at London’s Donmar Warehouse after being premiered on Broadway in 2021, was interviewed in The Guardian, and made this interesting point about the very high price points for the forthcoming import of another Broadway hit:
“The audience that wants to see PLAZA SUITE are going to be a more privileged audience and they’re going to be willing to pay the price. If THE WIZ came to the West End and those tickets were £400, I’d be 100% up in arms … This doesn’t surprise me because I don’t think they’re really interested in inviting diversity into their audience. Their goal is purely to provide a certain kind of entertainment to a wealthy audience. What they’re saying in their ticket prices is that they’re not worried at all about being inclusive.”
SUNDAY OCTOBER 22
The West End has long followed Broadway into the obligatory response of the automatic standing ovation at the end of every show, but last week matters reached a head with regular standing ovations throughout the opening night performance of SUNSET BOULEVARD at the Savoy Theatre.
As Fiona Mountford noted in a column for the I newspaper,
“Not only did the audience leap to their feet at the end of the show, as is now wearingly common, but up they got at the end of each of Scherzinger’s songs. At one point I, resolutely sitting down, feared that the show would still be going on come breakfast the next day. ….This causes me to wonder who it is that spectators are really applauding. I am by no means convinced that it’s always the performers. I suspect that they might well be validating themselves and their choice to spend hard-earned cash (not to mention travel, food and babysitting money) on this specific piece of entertainment. If we stand up and clap ferociously, the thinking seems to go, it must have been worth it. Like many dubious cultural trends, this one has travelled from across the Atlantic, where large-scale communal emoting has long been the norm.”
Noticing this trend, The Guardian published a “pass notes’ column on the subject this week, and said this:
“We live in an age where the most enthusiastic positive reaction at our disposal is to click a small picture of a thumb or heart on the internet. Isn’t it freeing to be able to literally stand and cheer for something extraordinary?”
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-october-23-2023/
See you here next Monday
I will be here again next Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/, as well as Instagram with the same handle (@ShentonStage).