Welcome back to my recently intermittent ShentonSTAGE theatre newsletters — and looking forward to a more regular service in 2024!
Those who follow me on social media will know that last week I posted publicly about the return of another bout of depression, which I had been mercifully free of for the last three years.
Being public about this has been one way in the past to give it meaning: I can’t diminish my own pain, but by sharing it, I can let other sufferers know they’re not alone. As I’m there again, I’m therefore declaring it.
Depression for me is a signal that I need to make changes, but also about a powerlessness to be able to easily do so. I’ve fought the last two bouts (in 2013 and 2019) by working two 12-step programmes that have enlightened (and lightened) me about addiction and its origins in family trauma.
The trigger for my current bout has been conflict within the home group of one of these fellowships that I co-founded three years ago, so ironically a place for succour and recovery has actually become a source of my current pain. But I’m not blaming it: it was lying in wait, ready to announce itself.
Recovery has given me the tools to understand this, and in turn to deal with it, so I hope that I don’t suffer as long a bout as I have previously (my last two rounds lasted 21 months and 19 months respectively).
And In the midst of this new depression cycle, I’m still managing to take some pleasures in the simple joys of life, like breakfast on Friday morning at our favourite beachside cafe in West Worthing (pictured above). I’m also not isolating, but seeking out connections with favourite friends, including the legend that I’m proud to call a friend: Philip Quast, who is in the UK for Christmas with his wife, visiting their eldest son who still lives here (pictured below), who we visited last Wednesday.
So depressions are not all bad: they may separate you from yourself, but they also bring you close to other people you may not have known otherwise, or at least not with the same shared histories. That’s a source of immense strength and comfort, resilience and hope.
Our deep friendship grew out of professional connections when I’d interviewed him over the years, going back to the first job that brought him from Australia to London when he starred in the National’s 1990 UK premiere of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. After he starred in a revival of EVITA in 2006, we’d started emailing — and discovered a powerful bond in the depressions we have both suffered from.
MAKING POSITIVE CHANGES
As a self-confessed theatre addict, I have come to realise that theatre — like some of my other less polite addictions — is something I use to numb my pain, or at least divert me for a few hours, from confronting it.
Living in London as I used to do, there were virtually limitless opportunities to get lost in my whirl of theatregoing I was, of course, previously able to tell myself that this was “work” — that I was just doing my job — but going to the theatre somewhere between seven and twelve times a week, week in, week out, was more than just work, of course: it was full-scale addiction.
Since moving to West Sussex two and a half years ago, I’ve brought this down to a more manageable four to six visits a week most of the time. That’s still more theatre than is typically required even of a regularly working national critic,but it’s about the degree of compulsiveness it entails — and overcoming the sense of loss when I don’t see everything I’d like to.
Those feelings are much more under control than ever before. And I’ve achieved it partly by accepting that there are some things I just don’t NEED to see anymore; in the last year, I’ve passed on seeing such high profile entries as seeing Martin McDonagh’s THE PILLOWMAN revived (the production’s reliance on gushing social media bloggers were a determining factor, as they proved that the show was unable to boast more credible outlets in their favour), the Kenneth Branagh KING LEAR (the reviews again enabled me to swerve it without too much FOMA), or HAMNET (still running at the Garrick, but of no interest to me; i’ve not read the book).
Ditto the recently opened stage version of STRANGER THINGS: I’ve never seen the TV series, and as much as I’m curious about the reported stagecraft on display here — plus a couple of cast members I’d really like to see, including the wonderful Patrick Vaill, the American actor who played Jud Fry so thrillingly in the West End return of OKLAHOMA! last year — it’s not enough to have me decide I have to see it yet.
THE WEEK(S) IN REVIEWS/SHOWS FURTHER AHEAD
Last year this column comprised a day-by-day account of the week in review(s), documenting the daily round of news and reviews. (The final one of 2023 is here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-the-weeks-in-reviews-dec-4-17/) I plan to do an abbreviated version of these going forward from next week.
I am going to stop updating my regular feature on shows further ahead, as this has become a bigger burden to keep up-to-date than the rewards it brings. But I will continue to list the openings of the week ahead in this newsletter.
THE BEST OF 2023
As the end of the last year drew close, many critics announced their favourite shows of the year — given my change of emphasis in what I get to see nowadays, it’s hardly surprising that I missed some of the choices of critics like The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar (I saw just one of her top ten), The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (I’ve seen five so far, and will be seeing one more of her choices later this month), and Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowksi (I’ve seen seven of his ten).
I offered my own choices of my favourite musical shows of the year for MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW, an online source of news and reviews specific to musicals, in their round-up here. My new musical of the year was THE LITTLE BIG THINGS at @SohoPlace (pictured above left), which I originally reviewed for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/the-little-big-things-sohoplace/, The cast album is released this week (on January 5); I will certainly be back before it closes in March.
My favourite imported musical of the year was the arrival, at last, some 14 years after its Broadway premiere, of NEXT TO NORMAL (pictured above, top right), my favourite musical of the century so far; it will be back in the West End in June. (My review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/next-to-normal-at-donmar-warehouse/)
And my favourite revival of the year was Jamie Lloyd’s astonishingly bold and brilliant production of Lloyd Webber’s potboiler SUNSET BOULEVARD, with the scorching performance of the year from Rachel Tucker (pictured above, bottom right), who appeared on Mondays instead of Nicole Scherzinger. (My review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL Is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/sunset-boulevard-at-savoy-theatre/_
Also stupendous in 2023: I hope we’ve not seen the last of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (pictured above left) that I saw six times at Southwark Playhouse (first seen at Southwark Playhouse in 2019, it returned to their larger new theatre at Elephant and Castle this year) I also loved LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (above top right) at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park (I went three times; my Plays International review is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/la-cage-aux-folles-at-regents-park-open-air-theatre/). And Janie Dee (above top left) single-handedly defined the wit and glamour of Sondheim’s OLD FRIENDS with “The Boy from” (My Plays International review is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/stephen-sondheims-old-friends-at-gielgud-theatre/).
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)