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).
MONDAY NOVEMBER 20
My week in review(s) column of news and reviews (including my own) across the last week (from November 13-19) is here, including seeing MANDY PATINKIN in the West End, TWO STRANGERS at Kiln Theatre, MATES IN CHELSEA at the Royal Court, and BACKSTAIRS BILLY at the Duke of York’s, plus Barry Manilow’s HARMONY and the return of SPAMALOT to Broadway:
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 21
As someone who started my professional career editing theatre programmes and souvenir brochures in the mid-80s at Dewynters plc, I still pay attention to a dying art (Dewynters have in fact given them up for dead, and no longer have a publishing department).
But if anything kills theatre programmes stone dead, it will be the sort of hyperbole demonstrated in the programme for the current KING LEAR with Kenneth Branagh in the West End. As Jeremy Mailes notes in his review of the production for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL:
Banal programme notes will always be a hostage to fortune, and they’ve clearly been so here.
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 22
I’m very happy to have caught the brilliant Sam Barnett at last tonight in the immensely clever FEELING AFRAID AS IF SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS GOING TO HAPPEN at the Bush Theatre.
I missed this solo play when it premiered at Edinburgh last year, which is part stand-up, part wild account of a lonely single comedian trying to establish his first long-term relationship at the age of 36. As directed by Matthew Xia, it weaves in and out of ‘performance’ mode to make some very poignant and powerful observations about the perils of the dating game in our modern era of apps, drugs and low self-esteem.
Its arrival in London coincides with the West End debut of playwright Marcelo Dos Santos’s BACKSTAIRS BILLY that I saw and reviewed in last week’s column; but compared to that somewhat cheesy royal comedy, this one really hits home.
Apologies for the graphic picture, but today is five years since I had an emergency visit to St Thomas’s Hospital in London for an angiogram that included installing two stents. I was on the Stephen Ward, and as I noted at the time, I hoped I would run longer than the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of that name that ran for just three months at the Aldwych in 2013. Thanks to the NHS, I have!
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 23
Today I visited Hampstead Theatre to catch Richard Bean’s TO HAVE AND TO HOLD before it closes this weekend, on the same day that the theatre made its announcement of its first shows for 2024, including a world premiere by April de Angelis and the UK premiere of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY.
The theatre was rammed, and it occurred to me that it is truly thriving now away from ACE funding to have become one of London’s key theatres again for new writing, especially with the Royal Court currently floundering so badly (see last week’s column for their current play, MATES IN CHELSEA).
Bean’s play is really, really lovely — a warm-hearted comedy about dealing with ageing parents, wonderfully acted by a cast led by Alun Armstrong and Marion Bailey, who I’ve been following on stage for more than 40 years! That makes me realise how old I am! But also just how privileged we are to be able to watch actors as skilled as this at Hampstead across their — and our — lifetimes. They make it seem as effortless and realistic as breathing.
Then in the evening I went to see ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY in solo cabaret at the Pheasantry, who I’ve been seeing for more than 30 years, at venues in London, New York, Provincetown and elsewhere. In the first act, she performs standards by singer/writers that have inspired her, from Carly Simon and James Taylor to Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, then follows it with a second act of ‘Anndards’ — songs she’s written and feature on her new solo album, FINDING BEAUTY.
“Music is the bridge between earth and heaven”, she says. And I felt like I was in heaven at the Pheasantry again.
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 24
Broadway’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG revival has set the season high of $899 a ticket. The complaints when they reached $699 seem puny by comparison.
As Philip Bosoff notes in his Broadway Journal blog,
Of course producers want to make a fast buck, especially in good times when the heat is there for their show, as come the post-holiday season in January demand may drop off precipitously.
But the greed is so palpable that it makes me wonder if there’s a future for Broadway at all, when a perception is being created that it’s only there for the extremely privileged.
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 25
Today I caught THE WITCHES at the National Theatre: MATILDA it is not, but it’s also considerably better than CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY too. And the performances ace it, especially Sally Ann Triplett (pictured below) and outstanding kids! At last, a good Xmas show at the NT!
My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/the-witches-at-the-olivier-national-theatre/
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 26
Today is the 2nd anniversary of the passing of Stephen Sondheim, currently represented on Broadway by both SWEENEY TODD and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, off-Broadway by the world premiere of his final show HERE WE ARE, and in the West End by OLD FRIENDS, a revue of some of his greatest songs. This coming week a new production of PACIFIC OVERTURES also begins at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory.
It was one of the honours of my entire career to have interviewed him on the stage of the Olivier at @NationaTheatre in 2004. Here is a transcript of that interview. https://shentonstage.com/my-2004-interview-with-stephen-sondheim/
SHOWS AHEAD IN LONDON, SELECTED REGIONAL THEATRES AND ON BROADWAY
My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-november-27-2023/
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)