That Was the Week That Was….

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The week in theatre in London, the regions, Broadway and birthdays from May 16-22

As theatre resumed again at the start of this week, after a break of over five months, the West End is already looking very different, and I don’t just mean the missing Pret-a-manger on the corner of the Strand and Bedford Street, near the Adelphi Theatre whose permanent closure I noticed last night when I was back in town for the second time this week.

That Pret was a regular refuelling stop on the way to the Adelphi or Vaudeville in the past; I noticed it wasn’t just closed but the signage had been removed, too, because I was on my way to the latter. The Cafe Nero and Leon’s, meanwhile, on the opposite side of the street at the corner of Adam Street were both, I’m relieved to say, still in business — but shut their doors at 6pm. So I found myself killing time instead at the Coal Hole pub near the Savoy Theatre (pictured at the top of this column) — where a diet coke and ice set me back £3.15, an even higher charge than you’d get an ATG Theatre. So yes, the West End is already a different place.

So are (some of) the theatres. I’ve been to two West End theatres this week — as well as the Vaudeville, the other was the Duchess — both of them belonging to Nimax, to see shows as part of Nica Burns’s Rising Stars Festival that I’ve already welcomed here for bringing fresh younger producers — some 24 of them, presenting 18 productions — in their West End producing debuts.

Last night’s Roles We’ll Never Play was produced by Thomas Duern, picking up a season of one-night concerts he’d been forced to abort at the Apollo last December when the lockdown arrived; I had bought a ticket then, and finally used it last night.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and so it proved here as Burns — the West End’s kindliest mum figure — used that inventiveness to answer a practical problem. Three of her six theatres are currently dark (Palace, Duchess, Vaudeville) as they await the shows that were playing when the theatres shut down last March to return — so she turned it into an opportunity: to give house room to the next generation of producers, but exposing them to less financial risk in having to capitalise more extended runs.

Most are only presenting one or two night runs, like Thomas Duern or Alice Fearn and Kirk Jamieson (I’ll be back at the Vaudeville on Monday for Intermissions Live, an in-theatre version of Fearn and Jamieson’s online lockdown concerts). But Katy Lipson, one of the fringe’s more enterprising producers, particularly at Southwark Playhouse, is the exception, presenting not one but two shows, and both of them for what could have been the length of a Southwark run — which is where The Last 5 Years actually began last March, but whose run was cut short by the sudden arrival of the first lockdown; she then brought it back in October, only to have another lockdown forestall it again before it could finish its run. Now let’s hope it is third time lucky when it transfers to the Vaudeville (from September 17 to October 13), co-produced with Edward Prophet and People Entertainment Group, with Dan Looney, Adam Paulden and Jason Haigh-Ellery for DLAP GROUP.

On Thursday, I attended the opening of her other show, Cruise — the brand-new debut solo play of actor Jack Holden, who also is his own star player (pictured above): a remarkable demonstration of faith in his talents on the page as well as well as the stage by Lipson and her co-producers Jamie Lambert and Eliza Jackson for Lambert Jackson Productions.

And perhaps just as remarkably, it received a round of mostly stellar reviews — the Telegraph was even five stars, with the Standard, Guardian and WhatsOnStage each four, though The Times was just two. That represents the usual spread of critical responses to just about most things — you can always find someone who’ll love a show, just as you’ll invariably find someone to hate exactly the same thing; the good thing is that there isn’t a consensus, thus giving lie to the idea that there is some kind of critical cabal that decides the fate of a show in advance (as a former President of the Critics’ Circle, I can assure that it is hard to get critics to agree on anything at all, let alone a party line on a show).

But what’s interesting, too, is that two of those raves — for the Telegraph and Standard — were by middle-aged straight, cis-gendered white men — representing the Critics’ Circle’s traditional demographic of membership — while the other two both came from white female critics (one middle-aged, one younger); the sole dissenting voice here came from the middle-aged straight mixed race chief critic for The Times.

Now it could be said that this is not exactly a representative cross-section of the audience that this play might be expected to attract — Holden tells the story of a young queer man of 30 (the author himself) who volunteers for Switchboard, the LGBTQ telephone listening service, where he hears stories from the seemingly distant past of the eighties (well, he wasn’t born yet!), and memorialises the experiences of some of the people lost to HIV in that fateful decade, as well as some of the Soho venues that have been lost in the multiple recalibration and gentrification of that district.

But although there’s not much been change to the sort of critics who are reviewing theatre now to the ones that have ever been, their responses have certainly been more welcoming than ones in the past might have been. Many of us will never forget (or forgive) the already-then ancient Milton Shulman fulminating in the pages of the Standard about what his feature was headlined “Stop the Plague of Pink Plays”, writing in 1993; it was, as Michael Arditti (the paper’s deputy theatre critic under Shulman’s successor, Nicholas de Jongh, and more recently my own successor on the Sunday Express, until last year that paper got rid of its entire reviewing desk), put it in a piece for The Independent, it was a headline “cynically designed to equate gay-themed theatre with another ‘gay plague’ that then exercised the tabloids.”

As I wrote in The Stage in 2016,

“Shulman was apoplectic that plays such as Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing and Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg had transferred to the West End from their original runs at the Bush and Royal Court; but a couple of plays hardly makes a plague, and besides, there were and are far more representations of straight lives in the theatre than there have ever been of gay ones”.

But if such archaic attitudes come from the dustbin of press cuttings of the past, we’ve even in this century had to deal with the unrepentantly unreconstructed Christopher Hart verbally belching over having to watch two men kiss each other as he reviewed plays for the Sunday Times (this happened at least twice in my memory; as Andrew Haydon wrote in a blog posting in 2011, “Did Christopher Hart not use his review of a play about homophobia in the 1950s to explain to his readers that he could not look at two men kissing in 2010?”)

And as for gays in Nazi Germany, Hart seemed to imply in a review of a 2006 West End revival of Martin Sherman’s classic Bent, didn’t they get what they deserved?

So at least the mostly positive critical embrace of Cruise by straight critics is a change for the better, although it might have been helpful to hear from some more queer voices reviewing the play, too, amongst the mainstream outlets.

As I now publish a daily newsletter digest (available free by requesting to added by sending me an e-mail here, ShentonStageMailingList@gmail.com), I am also recalibrating this weekly column: instead of providing a re-hashed day-by-day reminder of the week’s theatrical headlines via links to my tweets and columns, I’m going to instead pick out themes like this one, then simply list links to my own daily content that has appeared, then list out the week’s main news stories from the West End, Broadway and beyond, and theatre birthdays.

MY COLUMNS AND REVIEWS OF THE WEEK

Sunday May 16

  • My column for today is here:

Monday May 17

  • My column for today is here:

Tuesday May 18

  • My column for today is here:

Wednesday May 19

My column for today is here:

Thursday May 20

My column for today is here:

Friday May 21

  • My column for today is here:
  • My review for Flight at The Bridge Theatre is here:

Saturday May 22
My column for today is here:

LONDON HEADLINES OF THE WEEK

Monday May 17

Tuesday May 18

Wednesday May 19

Thursday May 20

Friday May 21

REGIONAL HEADLINES OF THE WEEK

BROADWAY HEADLINES OF THE WEEK

EXECUTIVE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE WEEK:

Monday May 17

Tuesday May 18

Wednesday May 19

Thursday May 20

COVID NEWS TWEETS OF THE WEEK

An interesting observation: I’m convinced that I lose followers every time I tweet some bad news about COVID. I know theatre people, who comprise the majority of my readership, are clinging onto good news and craving for a return to ‘normal’; but I also feel it is essential for us to be realistic. No, COVID is not going to go away anytime soon, and perhaps — with the mass roll-out of the vaccination programme — we just need to get on with things, and learn to live with the virus.

But at the same time, an actor who tweeted me publicly that this was exactly how we needed to approach this now, also told me he was only having his first vaccination this past week; his West End show resumes on July 1. So — unless they reduce the time lag between administering the first and second doses — he will not be fully protected until after the run actually begins.

Sunday May 16

Monday May 17

Tuesday May 18

THEATRE BIRTHDAYS OF THE WEEK
Sunday May 16

Monday May 17

Tuesday May 18

Wednesday May 19

Thursday May 20

Friday May 21

Saturday May 22

THEATRE FAREWELLS OF THE WEEK

Monday May 17

AND FINALLY, SOME FAVOURITE PERSONAL TWEETS OF THE WEEK

(both mine and others)

Tuesday May 18

Wednesday May 19

Friday May 21

Saturday May 22

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