ShentonSTAGE newsletter for FEBRUARY 26

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Welcome to my weekly theatre newsletter — or at least one that is intended to appear fortnightly. Once again I was missing in (in)action last Monday (the last newsletter was published on February 12 here), owing to my ongoing struggle with another serious bout of depression. 

I was due to travel to New York today — my favourite place on the planet — but I cancelled a few weeks ago, as I don’t feel up to travelling at the moment. But if I regularly want to cry, ”Stop the World — I want to get off” (to borrow the title of a British musical written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, and premiered in 1961 — the year before I was born), it keeps turning relentlessly, but sometimes I need to get off the treadmill myself for a bit. 

Yes, I’m missing some things I’d like to see in both New York and London, but stepping away from the sense of both obligation and obsession is actually healthy.  No one is FORCING me to put myself under this sort of pressure, except myself. In the past, when I had more prominent outlets, I did have some PRs and personalities who tried to pressure me to cover their work, but it was ultimately up to me whether or not I yielded to it or not. The expectations were sometimes crazy: one actor, a friend at the time, unfriended me on Facebook after I didn’t travel to see her in a show she was doing in Belfast,  while another PR whose show I couldn’t see was angry that I was in New York instead! I guess it’s the ultimate narcissism; as their worlds revolved around what they were doing or representing, their expectation was that so should mine.


Another benefit of my new life is that I only need to see things I want to see now, not things I’m obligated to. My theatregoing last week, which I’ve not written about as I didn’t publish a column last week, is representative of this. I will cover last week’s shows as well as this below.

Last Monday I went to the opening night of the return of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 lavish production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE — one of only two Miller shows remaining in their repertory (the other, of course, is THE MIKADO), which I was seeing for the first time myself; this is one of the great features of opera and ballet houses, that it is still possible to encounter some of the great productions of the past, in this case nearly 40 years after it was first seen. Plays and musicals are usually given a complete make-over when they’re revived, adjusted for contemporary eyes, tastes and sensibilities.  

ENO is currently beleaguered as it plans a new future headquartered in Manchester; it’s lovely to see a packed London audience rallying to support it now, even if ENO’s management are not always doing the right or most sensitive things; later last week, management issued redundancy notices to their orchestra and chorus before and during Thursday evening’s performance of THE HANDMAID’S TALE. as Slipped Disc reported here (and followed up with this,stating that “the distribution of redundancy notices to musicians before and during their performance of an opera is one of the most callous acts seen in an opera house in living memory”. ENO’ subsequent apology also struck a raw nerve, both for the hapless timing and the knots they tied themselves up with.  As Norman Lebrecht states, “Even as a damage-limitation exercise it exposes deep levels of company incompetence.”


Last Tuesday I caught Stuart Matthew Price and TImothy Knapman’s lovely chamber musical BEFORE/AFTER about a relationship being given a second chance after one of the parties to it suffers a complete memory loss. First seen in a live lockdown online-only stream from Southwark Playhouse in 2020 in the midst of the COVID lockdowns with the stellar casting of real-life husband and wife team Hadley Fraser and Rosalie Craig, it is now revived there in gleaming rather than streaming 3D life with the lesser known but no less touching Grace Mouat and Jacob Fowler (pictured below). I seriously loved this charmer of a show, and their enchanting performances.

Price’s songs have the intricacy and conversational intimacy of the great Jason Robert Brown, and the show has structural cleverness of presenting different timelines at the same time mirrors Brown’s THE LAST 5 YEARS (but is easier to follow); Price, of course, first came to my attention as an actor when he appeared in the original London premiere of Brown’s PARADE in 2007, singing a rousing version of the opening number ‘The Old Red Hills of Home’. In 2017, Price branched into theatre production, co-producing the UK premiere of THE ADDAMS FAMILY for a UK tour; last Tuesday that production — now without Price, but produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, John Stalker and others, brought that production to the London Palladium for a showcase extended concert presentation. 

With a star cast led by Ramin Karimloo and Michelle Visage as Gomez and Morticia Addams (pictured above), both new to the show, it set a new and high bar for concert performances of musicals in London not just for featuring a full set (Diego Pitarch is the designer), but also the fact that the entire cast were off-book, too. The show itself is a little tiresome, but the cast are tireless in their efforts to keep it buoyant and fun.


Last Wednesday saw the opening of a revival of Dodie Smith’s 1938 play DEAR OCTOPUS at the National Theatre, and I caught it at today’s matinee. This beautifully textured family drama, premiered in the shadow of the Second World War (and which saw its original run interrupted by it), is given a production of poignance and dept by director Emily Burns, and is captivatingly acted by a cast that includes Lindsay Duncan, Malcolm Sinclair, Kate Fahy and Bessie Carter.

This is precisely what the National is here for, or at least one reason it exists: to offer such a stunning opportunity to revisit a long-neglected British classic.

Another is to provide a development centre for new work, sometimes working with other commercial partners. In 2018, that saw the NT become a staging post in the journey of Anaïs Mitchell’s musical HADESTOWN to Broadway, which it reached in 2019 to Tony winning glory, and where it is still running now (after the interruption of the pandemic). Tonight the show returned to London, finally opening at the West End’s Lyric Theatre. My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here.


Last Thursday saw the West End first night of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in an extraordinary coup d’theatre multi-media treatment of the Oscar Wilde story, with the mercurial and dazzling Sarah Snook embodying multiple characters, sometimes simultaneously.

Transferred from Sydney Theatre Company, where it premiered with a different star — Eryn Jean Norvill — in 2020, director Kip Williams pulls off a bold conceptual trick that’s much more than a tricksy fusion of stage and live camera action, but adds yet more layers to a layered story. I’s a singular triumph — or rather a 26-character triumph — for Sarah Snook, but also for a large team of stage hands and camera operators who help her bring it to such startling and sterling theatrical life.

A week later, this afternoon I’m at Hampstead Theatre to catch a theatrical portrait of two pairs of film collaborators. John Logan’s slightly clunky new play DOUBLE FEATURE revolves around the abuse of power between a senior director (Alfred Hitchcock) and his muse (Tippi Hedren), pictured above, contrasted with a different tension between a junior director (Michael Reeves) & his veteran star (Vincent Price). The play contains some thoughtful stuff on mismatched power dynamics and artistic processes, and is well acted by a quartet of actors that features Joanna Fanderham, Ian MacNeice. Rowan Polonski and Jonathan Hyde respectively. But it doesn’t really catch fire, despite the provocations.

And tonight I’m at the return of THE BIG LIFE to Stratford East, where it originally premiered in 2004 before transferring to the West End in 2005. My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here


Another of the joys of seeing less theatre is that I have more time for television, which I would hardly ever watch in the past. And now with all the streaming services that are available, you can re-watch so many of the classics of the past, as well as things that have recently been broadcast that you may have missed. Right now we’re re-watching both SEINFELD and that show’s co-creator Larry David’s wonderful spin-off, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.


nd we’ve just finished watching the absolutely wonderful ONE DAY, a truly beautiful series about love and loss, growing up and apart, then together. It features sublime performances by Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod as we follow them across 20 years.

The overwhelming sadness of the final episode just destroyed me. I thought of my oldest and best friend who died last year (though we were never romantically involved), aged 56, and all the experiences we shared from the time we met at University, too, and whose passing I wrote about here at the time.

Woodall and Mod are both destined for stardom after this show. I’ve not fallen in love with two actors falling in love quite so truthfully and heartbreakingly as devastatingly as I did watching this.


Another new departure for me is dipping my toes into the world of comedy performance more. Last weekend I went to Soho Theatre, one of the prime venues for solo performers to showcase their work at, two nights running. 

Last Friday, I caught the extraordinary Julia Masli, a one-woman force of healing Eastern European energy. She premiered her show ha ha ha ha ha ha ha in a (very) late night slot at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where she became an instant sensation. She offers instant solutions to individual life problems her audience presents her with. But there’s real empathy and concern with the laughter. A true tonic!

Then on Saturday I saw Dina Martina, a drag persona I’d seen many times before in Provincetown.  This clown-like force of nature is like no other drag queen you’ve ever seen or heard: not at all threatening, but genuinely subversive in her mangled use of language, she’s like a divine comic cross between Liza Minnelli and Moira Rose.


My weekends used to be filled devouring the Saturday and Sunday newspapers. I’d routinely buy three or four of each. But I’ve stopped buying any now — and although I know that as a result I’m contributing directly to the demise of print journalism, I’m able to read most of what I need to online. It’s become a relief not to have to deal with piles and piles of paper.

And nowadays, of course, some of the best commentary comes far away from the papers anyway, like this piece on the current crippling price of theatre tickets in London — a subject I’ve often been exercised on — by my old friend Carl Woodward. As his headline asks, “Are we f***ed?” And he goes on to say,

Who are the people other than billionaire theatre owners, paid publicists, lapdoggy influencers and ATG staff defending premium prices? Literally nobody.

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)