ShentonSTAGE Newsletter: MARCH 18-24

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the dayLeave a Comment

Welcome to my theatre newsletter, in which I offer notes and reflections on some of what I’ve been up to in the last seven days, both in and out of the theatre.

I feel that in recent months I’ve been offering something of a ‘Groundhog Day’ paragraph (or three) somewhere, in as much as I’ve been regularly reflecting on my ongoing bout of depression. 

That sense of days repeating themselves on an endless loop of listlessness and frustration is perfectly caught in the musical version made of GROUNDHOG DAY, which has made it one that affects me most deeply. Phil Connors, the clearly very depressed weather forecaster in that story, is unable to shift from that state of being, waking up to the same day again and again, until he starts making some changes: first learning to look outside of himself and help others; and second, taking up something creative (learning to play the piano). Then he finally wakes up to a new and different and finally happier day.

As I wait (and wait) for that day to arrive for myself, I am trying to make some shifts in my life, too, some major and others minor, to nudge me forward to be able to cross that line, too. Meanwhile, however, I hope that some are finding value in me sharing this experience — if my depression is to mean anything at all, it would be nice if the journey I’m on also helps others through theirs.

As Sonya puts it in her great concluding speech to Uncle Vanya:

“What can we do? We must live our lives.  Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us.”

She’s stating that redemption will at last come beyond the grave; but I know it’s in our power to find redemption and purpose in the here and now. So I, too, persevere — and take pleasures when and where I can, as I note below. One of them this week was in fact a new production of UNCLE VANYA itself at Richmond’s Orange Tree (see Thursday below). Theatre, as so often, provides the answers to the overwhelming sense of grief I’m feeling at the moment.


My newsletter, sent to subscribers last Monday, is online here: It covers what I saw last week and other newsworthy events, including attending a celebration of Bill Kenwright’s theatrical career at the London Palladium, and revisiting GUYS AND DOLLS at the Bridge Theatre.


Eavesdropping at my favourite seaside cafe in West Worthing, roughly a twenty-five minute drive from me, I overhear two women share news of their cancer treatments, I am humbled by their resilience and determination, even as my current state of depression wants to give up. And I don’t have their excuse either.

Sitting in the sunshine there is the best antidote I know to depression, too. It doesn’t fix it — but for a couple of hours I feel at peace.


Here’s the news I’ve been waiting for: today it was finally announced that THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, a musical I saw again and again at Southwark Playhouse last year, is to transfer to the West End, running at the Ambassadors from October 10.

Casting is still to be announced , but I’m pleased to note that the dates are such that Jamie Parker  could do both this and NEXT TO NORMAL that is also transferring (from the Donmar to Wyndham’s): the latter ends on September 21, and BENJAMIN BUTTON begins on October 11.

But more personally, it provides another reason for me to beat this depression: I must be around for it! If the desire to see a show is enough to keep me on the planet, that’s a successful show!


This afternoon I caught up with Trevor Nunn’s gently traditional new production of UNCLE VANYA at Richmond’s Orange Tree. This is such an extraordinary play, a forever prescient yet penetrating study of the human condition, covering climate change and the damage we’ve wrought upon our natural habitat, plus thwarted desires, selfishness and depression.

It’s even more powerful in the intimate close-up of the in-the-round Orange Tree. A superb cast is led by Ted Lasso’s James Lance in the title role (front right), with Madeleine Gray as his niece Sonya, Andrew Richardson as Astrov (third from the left) and William Chubb as the professor.

Tonight I attended the first night of the joyous return of SISTER ACT to the West End, with probably the best cast it has ever had, with luxury casting throughout the ranks (and habits), led by Beverley Knight, one of the fiercest voices in town.

Also amongst the habit-wearing cast are Ruth Jones, Alison Jiear,  Lesley Joseph and Lizzie Bea (the latter two of which were the last iteration of this production at Hammersmith Apollo last year), plus Clive Rowe (in police uniform) and Carly Mullaney (in cardinal clobber)

My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here:


In an interview in today’s Guardian with the great film (and stage) comic Steve Martin, to coincide with a new documentary Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces on Apple TV that charts his five-decade career so far, he admits: ““Bad reviews hurt; they really hurt. But if I’m at a scr eening and I see the critic, I just go: ‘Hey! How you doing?’ Like you don’t know anything.”

It’s good to be reminded of the vulnerability of the artist when you’re writing, though a critic has to be honest in their opinions; there is no place for wilful cruelty, personal attacks or comments on attributes that have nothing to do with the role being played, like weight.

A friend who is appearing in a play in London right now sent me one of the reviews that did just that about him, calling it “Dog whistle fat shaming” and adding, “I’m so sick of this shit.” As am I; as someone who also carries extra pounds, I’m sensitive to such remarks, too. It really doesn’t add to the descriptive power of a review to have to mention it.


I’ve loved the stage version of PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, based on the 1994 film, ever since I saw its original production in Sydney in 2006, before coming to London in 2009 and then Broadway in 2011, at each of which I saw it again.

Now it is back in London, perhaps inevitably remodelled as an interactive club show called PRISCILLA THE PARTY!, being staged in a subterranean nightclub space at the new Outernet complex at Tottenham Court Road.

With a creative team led by the show’s original director Simon Phillips, and also featuring the original extravagantly eye-popping costume designs of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (who also won an Oscar for their film work), the joyful, inclusive integrity of the original show is retained, even if some of the book has been abbreviated. 

Instead, of course, the wonderful pop soundtrack takes centrestage, stunningly performed here by a cast that features Trevor Ashley, Reece Kerridge, Dakota Starr and Owain Williams as the lead drag queens who take a bus to the Australian outback, with Grace Galloway, Gracie Lai and Sara Louise as the three divas who sing many of the songs. 

It delivers a vivid and exciting new way to enjoy the show.


Over the last ten years, Mischief Theatre have become a permanent fixture in the West End (their first show THE PLAY. THAT GOES WRONG Is still running at the Duchess); their subsequent shows have rotated in and out of various West End theatres, and both THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG and PETER PAN GOES WRONG have played on Broadway

Now they’re back in the West End, at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue (where PETER PAN played in 2015) with one of their most modest shows, MIND MANGLER, basically a showcase for the one-man wonder that is Henry Lewis, with fellow founding member Jonathan Sayer as his stooge, making regular appearances as various ‘audience’ members.

Originally premiered on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022, it then travelled to Off-Broadway’s New World Stages last year, and today officially opened at the Apollo, when I finally caught it.

Lewis is a master of his craft, if not entirely of his malfunctioning magic, and owns the stage. Sayer is equally hilarious as his side-kick.

Together they make theatrical magic that defies their own (in)competence.

See you here next Tuesday
I will be here again next Tuesday, after the Easter bank holiday weekend.  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)