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). This now appears every Monday instead of Friday.
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 25
My week in review(s) column of news and reviews (including my own) across the last ten days is here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-monday-september-25/
Simon Hattenstone, one of The Guardian’s best celebrity interviewers, today interviewed Dame Joan Collins, and she turned the tables on him, asking him who he has, and hasn’t, enjoyed meeting.
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 26
This afternoon I returned to Southwark Playhouse to see all of POLICE COPS — I’d gone a couple of Saturdays ago, but had to leave at the interval, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but in order to take a train to Brighton on time.
I’m very glad I’ve now seen the entirety of this irresistibly daft (and deft) satire, performed with complete commitment to its spirit of silliness but also skill by its cast of seven, three of who are also the show’s c-writers and co-directors, Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson and Tom Roe. It’s like a (very) low-budget THE BOOK OF MORMON — even the big song “Maybe I’m an American, maybe I’m an Ameri-can’t” resembles it.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 27
Last night saw the official opening for the London transfer of FRANK AND PERCY from its summer run at the Theatre Royal, Windsor to the Other Palace, with Ian McKellen and Roger Allam reprising their masterful performances as a couple of older friends finding themselves tentatively moving towards something closer.
My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/frank-and-percy-at-the-other-palace/
Its surprising that a play with such star power should not have transferred to a bigger theatre like the Theatre Royal, Haymarket (which is instead about to house yet another return for Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF), but it’s also a particular privilege to be able to watch two such splendid actors at really close quarters.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 28
In 2017, I reviewed the original production of James Graham’s QUIZ at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre for The Stage; now it has returned to Chichester, but this time to the main house as the launching pad for a big national tour.
The play is a multi-layered and provocative examination of shifting perspectives on an event that we think we’ve made our minds up on, and how evidence can be manipulated to cast doubts on that.
Part courtroom mystery drama, part psychological drama about the motivations of quizzers and trial by media, it demonstrates that nothing is quite as clear cut as it seems.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 29
Tonight I revisited REBECCA at Charing Cross Theatre, because I was hosting a post-show Q&A with four of the cast.
Left to right above, they were Kara Lane (Mrs Danvers), Alex Ward (Jack Favell), Lauren Jones (Mrs de Winter) and Richard Carson (Maxim de Winter), each of whom provided some fascinating insights into the process of bringing this Euro-pop opera to the English-speaking stage for the first time.
The production has not been without its problems, but it sounds glorious, with a 19-piece orchestra and great voices amongst a large ensemble as well as the fine principals. I’m glad I got to see (and especially hear) it again.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 30
This afternoon, I revisited — for the fourth time so far — NEXT TO NORMAL at the Donmar Warehouse (and will be seeing it a fifth time next Saturday at its final performance there).
Part of me feels a little guilty that I’m seeing it so much when tickets are like gold-dust, and others won’t have managed to see it once; but today I was able to share the second ticket I had to West End performer Liam Tamne, who’d been unable to get one, so he was able to do so. He’s pictured above second from the left, with cast members Trevor Dion Nicholas, Caissie Levy (with whom Liam had appeared in a West End run of HAIR) and Jack Wolfe.
But I have to say that except for the one occasion when I got press tickets, I bought the rest of my tickets; I’d just pre-planned to do so, so I didn’t call in any special favours.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 1
Last night I caught a press performance of the new Sondheim revue OLD FRIENDS at the Gielgud, ahead of its official opening on Tuesday; my full review will appear on PLAYS INTERNATIONAL.
It was a particular pleasure to see it at a ‘regular’ Saturday night performance, away from the clamour of a first night, and therefore to be able to spend a good ten minutes before curtain rose talking to theatre legend Julia McKenzie, part of the original company of SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM, Cameron Mackintosh’s first West End revue devoted to the composer; she also directed his sequel revue PUTTING IT TOGETHER, first at Oxford’s Old FIre Station, then at Off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club. Direction and musical staging for OLD FRIENDS is credited to Matthew Bourne, with an additional credit, “Side by Side with Julia McKenzie”.
In her day, she was the pre-eminent performer of Sondheim’s work in the UK — she also starred in the London premiere of FOLLIES also produced by Mackintosh, in which she pictured above with co-star Diana Rigg at the Shaftesbury, and was the original Witch in the West End premiere of INTO THE WOODS, and a truly remarkable Mrs Lovett in the National’s revival of SWEENEY TODD.
Last night, she told me that she’d heard what I’ve been saying about her — that she is the greatest musical theatre performer the West End has produced in my lifetime. She said it made her cry — and as she said it, cried again.
In the show, she duly gets a wonderful mention when Bernadette Peters performs a slowed-down interpretation of “Broadway Baby” from FOLLIES — and instructs the musical director to adopt the tempos of the Julia McKenzie version!
SHOWS AHEAD IN LONDON, SELECTED REGIONAL THEATRES AND ON BROADWeY
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-2-2023/
See you here on Friday
I will be here next on Friday. 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).