Welcome to my weekly theatre newsletter — a day later than I intended to publish (I usually aim for Mondays), but I am struggling to do much at all at the moment, so it’s an achievement to do this much and honour this commitment to myself and you, if you’re a regular reader.
In periods like this, I finally have to cut myself some slack from the internal critical parent that insists I need to keep writing and making my mark upon the world.
But depressions are also an opportunity to recalibrate my life, and release myself from the self-imposed pressures I put myself under. Now that I’m not answerable to any editors, except myself, I have a unique chance to carve my schedule as I want it to be, rather than what others want it to contain.
So, for instance, a highlight of last week was a return visit to THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE (catching it again the day before a closing notice was announced for February 28). The reviews had been a very mixed bunch, but I enjoyed it both at Chester’s Storyhouse (when it premiered there in October 2022, as I wrote here at the time) and again when it transferred to the Apollo Theatre last November, as I wrote about in a review for Plays International).
The pleasure was amplified by sharing it with my good friend Philip Quast (pictured above), my favourite leading man of musicals across nearly 35 years since he starred in the National’s UK premiere of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE In 1990. I’d interviewed him first at that time but it wasn’t until over two decades later that we actually became friends.
The musical provides a complex layering of time and tension that’s captivating if sometimes confusing, but there’s enough craft and creativity to keep it constantly interesting.
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE ENFIELD HAUNTING
I wish I could extend the same spirit of generosity to THE ENFIELD HAUNTING, a new play based on the true story of poltergeist activity in the North London suburb in the late 70s. I hesitated before I even booked in to see it, as the advance word on social media had been so poor.
As I know the author, producer and designer, I wondered whether it would be safer NOT to see it, and therefore not to have to have an opinion about it. But having attended the first night, I felt compelled to issue a warning.
Was this too bald, brutal and unkind, though? No one, after all, ever sets out to make a bad show.
And as critics, we don’t really know (nor should we) the back story of the compromises and difficulties a production may have encountered along the way, though Susannah Clapp in her Observer review hints at what might have well occured: “It would be absurd to expect a solution to the old mystery but not, surely, to hope for dynamism. Yet the action judders from one incident to another as if someone had taken bites out of the plot.”
That seems to be precisely what has happened, as a two-act drama became shaved down to a mere hour 15 minutes of what still felt like padded drama.
Though there’s no such thing as “right” or “wrong” in theatre reviews, the consensus amongst the reviews was overwhelmingly negative, with comments like “it’s epically, almost thrillingly bad” (Alice Savile in the Independent) and “certain to make the list of worst plays of the year”(Clive Davis in The Times). Only Arifa Akbar in The Guardian found any merit in it, as she continues to carve out a unique path as the most unreliable critic writing today in any major outlet.
A PARK DELIGHT
A more unexpected treat came at North London’s Park Theatre, with the English premiere of the stage play KIM”S CONVENIENCE that spawned a long-running Canadian television sitcom that has aired internationally on Netflix.
With its playwright and creator Ins Choi playing his own father in this autobiographically based story of a Korean family running a Toronto convenience store, it’s a play of authentic feeling and charm.
A MEMORIAL FOR PETER WILSON
The best show I saw all week, though, was a gorgeous celebration for the late producer Peter Wilson, who died last September, aged 72.
MIchael Coveney provided one of his typically astute and expert obituaries last year for The Guardian. “Unlike Cameron Mackintosh, his exemplar and colleague in the musical theatre field, Wilson was quiet and undemonstrative, a bear-like, affable presence, but with an extraordinary Mackintosh-like ability to make big things happen.”
Last Friday on the stage of the Noel Coward Theatre, luminaries that included Griff Rhys-Jones, Harriet Walter, Stephen Fry, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow paid generous tribute to him, and Janie Dee gave a lovely reprise of “The Boy From….” from SONDHEIM’S OLD FRIENDS that closed the week before in the West End. I didn’t manage to get to the last night of that, so I was glad of another opportunity to see her give a masterful rendition of the song.
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)