ShentonStage Newsletteer for MONDAY MARCH 18

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Welcome to my theatre newsletter — with apologies for the radio silence over the last three weeks, as I’ve continued to grapple with a return bout of depression that has had me seriously down but not fully out.  I am what is known as a functioning depressive — I can still motivate myself to get out of bed, showered and dressed, and even get up to London to go to the theatre, though it’s much harder than I’d like or choose it to be.

But at least it is enabling me to make different choices now to the ones I used to make in an attempt to overcome it. One of these is not putting myself under too much pressure to force a different outcome. So I’m taking the foot off the pedal that used to drive my theatre obsession, and the compulsive need I used to have to try to see everything (always an impossibility anyway, so a particularly self-defeating imposition on myself).  

Another related change is to cut myself some slack on my self-imposed deadlines, like with this newsletter. I do them because I enjoy writing them, and some of you tell me you enjoy reading them, but when I can’t manage to send them, as I’ve been unable to recently, that’s fine, too. I’ve not been able to get myself to New York, either, this year yet — I don’t feel well enough to travel – and that’s okay. Yes, I’m missing stuff I’d like to have seen, but again I can’t see everything at home as it is, let alone there.

But I’m glad to be back today with this attempt to share something about what I’ve been up to in the last seven days, both in and out of the theatre.


Last night saw the London Palladium — which the UK’s most prolific theatre producer Bill Kenwright always used to call his favourite venue in London — given over to a one-night celebration SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM WITH BILL KENWRIGHT of his incredible theatrical career and legacy, following his passing last October.

I wrote about his own impact on me personally here when he died; I also wrote of the memorial service, held in his native Liverpool Cathedral, in December here. The latter event touched on his theatrical output (one of the tribute speeches was by Rufus Norris) but given that it was in the hometown of Kenwright’s beloved Everton football club, much of it was about that; but at the Palladium, it was rightly and joyfully all about his theatrical contributions, which extended to over 500 productions, featuring appearances by some of the luminaries that had graced them, including Dames Judi Dench, Maureen Lipman, Vanessa Redgrave, Sir Ian McKellen (pictured below) and Martin Shaw.

There were, of course, songs from some of the many musicals he produced, too, including JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND and of course the long-running pair of touring and West End staples with which he made his name and money — JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (pictured below, featuring Lee Mead) and BLOOD BROTHERS.

Bill would have loved the show — and no doubt immediately sought to transfer it to a full West End run. As it is, it was a joyful occasion but also a sad one: we are unlikely to see his like ever again.


Last night I was back at GUYS AND DOLLS at the Bridge Theatre yet again, invited to see the (mostly) new cast — only Celinde Schoenmaker remains of the original principal cast as Sister Sarah Brown. Though she was shamefully overlooked in the nominations announced today for this year’s Olivier Awards, she’s still a sparkling jewel at the heart of Nick Hytner’s vivacious and thrilling production. 

I originally reviewed it for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL here when it opened last March; I called it the “unquestionably the best theatrical party in town”, and it remains so now, immaculately re-cast and still as fresh and funny as before. Jonathan Andrew Hume’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson is a happy improvement on his predecessor; George Ionnides is a strikingly handsome delight as Sky (though his predecessor Andrew Richardson was hardly chopped liver, either, and can now coincidentally be found playing Astrov in Trevor Nunn’s production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD at Richmond’s Orange Tree); and Niall Buggy’s Arvide is total charm.

It could easily run another year; one of the most wonderful things is to watch a mostly youthful crowd of promenaders enjoying it so palpably.  The great shows never get tired, and I never tire of seeing what remains my favourite-ever musical


Tonight I attended the first night of HARRY CLARKE, a solo vehicle for American stage and screen actor BIlly Crudup, that has transferred to the West End’s Ambassadors Theatre seven years after its 2017 off-Broadway premiere.

My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here:


Yesterday afternoon I belatedly caught up with Tim Price’s NYE, a biographical play about Nye Bevan at the National Theatre, and this afternoon I saw Lucy Kirkwood’s marvellous new play THE HUMAN BODY, a fictional drama that covers some of the same territory about the founding of the NHS by Bevan in 1948.

Kirkwood probably has the advantage of having more dramatic licence than Price does, who has to stick to the facts in his recreation of Bevan’s landmark initiative, but her play is also more dramatically galvanising. Rather than being a by-numbers biographical drama, it is staged as an intriguing live replay of BRIEF ENCOUNTER, as it observes a middle-class marriage of two doctors imploding when one of them starts having an affair.

This tender, yearning love story also reminded me of one of my favourite-ever plays, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, as a couple dance around their illicit, socially disapproved desire for each other. The Donmar’s soon-to-depart artistic director Michael Longhurst, co-directing with Ann Yee, provides a production (pictured above) that uses close-up camera work to amplify the cinematic connections to the period portrayed; at the National, another soon-to-depart artistic director Rufus Norris helms a more unevenly dramatised play that lacks drive and imagination.


Billie Piper, one of our very best stage and screen actors, has — until now — been silent on her former husband Laurence Fox’s frequent social media outrages, but has finally spoken up about the high cost to herself and the children (now aged 11 and 15) that they co-parent.

Speaking to British Vogue, she says, “I’ve had to make some choices and a divorce speaks for itself. Or at least it should!” She goes on to say, “What is paramount for me is the privacy and anonymity of my children. They deserve not to be extensions of the parents and to forge their own identities…..” She tells friends and acquaintances not to tell her what is being said. “I try to keep people from telling me stuff but it’s really, really hard. I don’t read it but everyone wants to talk about it. Sometimes I have to say to people: ‘Please don’t bring this to me, now or ever.’”

But if she inevitably had to learn to be self-protective, she’s also learnt this: “I’ve had to learn the hard way that you can only control yourself and how you react to things. It’s really fucking hard. I hate that.”

That’s also a lesson I’ve had to embrace as I deal with depression and the constant chatter in your head; it’s even worse when the chatter is outside your head, I’m sure, but in real-life, too. Big kudos to Piper for expressing the pain so articulately.


This afternoon I was at Southwark Playhouse’s Elephant and Castle theatre to see the latest run of POLICE COPS, which I previously saw at their Borough home last September (when I wrote about it here). It’s lovely to see this silly, scrappy but undeniably tuneful and accomplished comedy musical growing and flourishing. 

Southwark is fast becoming the try-out home of choice for new musicals, with OPERATION MINCEMEAT now at the West End’s Fortune Theatre after two runs here. One of my favourite musicals of last year, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, has also had two try-out runs there (the first pre-pandemic), and I hope will return for a West End run in due course.

But meanwhile tonight also saw the final performance (for now) of CABLE STREET, another new British musical being premiered at their Borough address, he entire run of which had sold out before the first performance.

When it opened last month, it received the sort of glowing reviews a producer might dream of, with WhatsOnStage’s Alun Hood declaring, “The bar for original British musicals for 2024 has, as of now, been set very high indeed. Keep trying for returns, you won’t regret it”, while Mark Lawson’s four-star review for The Guardian is headlined, “dazzling musical portrait of a community against fascism”.

My own review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is more guarded: I wrote, “I hope that, like Operation Mincemeat that transferred to the West End last year after two development runs at Southwark, this show’s creators use the time and reviews to iron out some of the clumsy and jarring changes of earnest tone that their show too often succumbs to.”

Of course I’d like nothing more than a fully-formed new musical ready to charge straight into the West End, but this isn’t one, yet, and I hope the reviews it is getting don’t mislead the producers into thinking they have one.


Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Boris Johson’s announcement that people should avoid that “

pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.” I wrote about this on its first anniversary here. I was on my way to a preview for CITY OF ANGELS that night when the show tweeted this:

Alas, that production never performed again; happily I had seen it at the Donmar, but it remains my biggest COVID-era regret that I never got to see it again. Much worse things, of course, happened as a consequence, including countless unnecessary deaths, so I need to keep a sense of proper perspective, but it’s still a pity.

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:, as well as Instagram with the same handle (@ShentonStage)