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 27
My week in review(s) column of news and reviews (including my own) across the last week (from November 20-26) is here, including Ann Hampton Callaway at the Pheasantry, Samuel Barnett in FEELING AFRAID…. at the Bush, and Sally Ann Triplett in THE WITCHES at the National Theatre.
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 28
I’ve highlighted the ongoing behind-the-scenes turmoil at ArtsEd, the West London actor training centre and high school, before; I am following this story closely, as I still feel invested in it because I spent almost a decade happily teaching there part-time.
Today comes news that an external investigation is being launched by “to review claims of a toxic culture at the school”.
Deadline reports, “It marks a change of position from the institution, which has strenuously denied claims that student safety has been put at risk under principal Julie Spencer, who has been accused of bullying behavior and favoritism by at least 20 people.”
It goes on, “Spencer remains in post but has told colleagues in an email that she is taking a leave of absence on medical grounds. ArtsEd declined to comment. The decision to launch a review follows an intervention last week by 109 parents. They wrote to ArtsEd chairman Brian Brodie to say they were “horrified” by the allegations and the school’s “inadequate and unsatisfactory” response. In an email to parents on Monday morning, ArtsEd trustee Farida Mannan said “further complaints and concerns” had been brought to the attention of the performing arts institution since Deadline’s report.”
It’s interesting that it is Deadline — a US-based entertainment website — that is leading on this reporting. This surely should have been the preserve of THE STAGE, the UK-based theatre newspaper and website. Instead, they are merely recycling Deadline’s reporting: this is churnalism, not journalism. And yes, I am taking an interest in this because I spent over 15 years working for THE STAGE, including a stretch as Associate Editor and joint chief critic. It saddens me to see them losing the valuable ground they once occupied.
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 29
There’s an unfolding debacle in the (un)making of a new West End bound play, due to begin performances this week prior to an originally scheduled opening next Wednesday at the Ambassadors: Paul Unwin’s THE ENFIELD HAUNTING, which has already played in Brighton and Richmond.
Critics are now being delayed till the New Year — the press agent wrote to say,
But the public have already spoken, loudly, on social media — including the production’s own Facebook account, with comments like these:
Of course, comments like these make me actually curious to see it — can it really be THAT bad?
But now that I no longer HAVE to see everything, I can also save myself the pain, as I recently did with THE PILLOWMAN and the Branagh KING LEAR, amongst others. Theatre is sometimes a punt, of course, and it is always a matter of taste; but we can’t say we’ve not been forewarned now. The creative team may also, of course, have heard the criticisms and are working, even as I write, to fix the problems.
On the other hand, I’m also making informed decisions on other imminent shows: given director Matthew Dunster’s declaration to “fuck the critics” after the reception accorded to the aforementioned THE PILLOWMAN, I’m giving a wide berth to his revival of another modern classic, THE HOMECOMING, opening at the Young Vic next week.
The utter lack of respect he’s shown cuts both ways.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 30
I’ve already highlighted the perils of audience-led reviews above; today, Mischief Theatre’s Henry Lewis has hilariously dissected some of the reviews he’s been getting for their new show MIND MANGLER that is currently playing at Off-Broadway’s New World Stages. This is now a show I really want to see!
FRIDAY DECEMBER 1
This cartoon holds a special poignance for me.
I’ve previously written here about losing my best and oldest friend Dean Jones, to pancreatic cancer in July, at the age of just 56. I also wrote here more recently about missing his memorial last month as I was away in New York.
But I’m thinking of him a lot right now as we catch up on ITV’s MAMMA MIA! — I HAVE A DREAM, the last show he was involved in commissioning as Director of Production for the TV company who made it.
I’ve been to the live finales of many of his previous shows; I’ll now be at the live finale of this one, too, being held at the Novello Theatre on December 10, but this time he won’t be there in person, alas. He’ll be there in spirit, though, as I remember the many conversations we had about this show as he pitched it.
SATURDAY DECEMBER 2
Today I caught up with the Rebeccs Frecknall’s new production of THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA at the National Theatre. There was a lengthy unexplained show stop during the first act, 1hr 10mins in — just after the finding of the photograph scene. The cast were told to leave the stage. At least 15 minutes passed before it resumed.
That continuity lapse didn’t exactly help with my levels of engagement in a strident production that overlays — and overplays — it with much symbolism and a lot of swearing, to no good effect. But Lorca’s play still survives as a fierce portrait of a stifling matriarch (the fine Harriet Walter) and her ruthless domination of her five unhappily unmarried daughters.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 3
Broadway is currently featuring a hit revival of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, Sondheim’s 1981 musical that notoriously flopped badly on its first outing 42 years ago but has now returned there in triumph; as I reported last week, they are commanding top prices of $899 a ticket. (Earlier this week, 42 years to the day that they recorded the original cast album, members of the original 1981 cast saw the new production on Broadway).
The South London powerhouse venue, which has also been responsible for productions of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, THE COLOR PURPLE and FUNNY GIRL that have also made their way subsequently across the Atlantic, is currently heading in the other direction, to “the floating kingdom” of Japan, co-producing a new production of Sondheim’s 1976 musical PACIFIC OVERTURES (pictured above) with Japan’s Umeda Arts Theatre, who have already presented it in Tokyo and Osaka.
It opens officially on December 4, but I bought a ticket to see it at today’s matinee. It’s another ideal fit for the Menier’s charmed space, bringing a difficult work into close-up intimacy in a traverse staging.
But for all the warmth of Paul Farnsworth’s beautiful design, it’s still a chilly, sometimes remote, piece, and although it contains many sublime and intricate songs, this production is more impressive physically than vocally in some quarters.
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-december-4-2023/
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)13