In the past week, foreshortened for me by caring duties for a terminally ill parent, I managed to pay my first visit to Kilburn’s totally refurbished and reinvented Kiln Theatre — see London openings below — and also the 1st anniversary of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the West End’s Apollo Theatre (where a life-size cake of John McCrea as the title character was flown in on a swing from the flies at the curtain call – and then McCrea tentatively wielded the knife on his own leg onstage afterwards, pictured above).
I also did an informal RSC double bill for two transfers from Stratford-upon-Avon: Romeo and Juliet to the Barbican, and (belatedly) Don Quixote to the Garrick, two years on from its Stratford premiere. It was a pity that the former was disrupted for me by an adult wielding a mobile phone throughout the first act — both to visibly surf the internet (particularly Instagram) and also to take regular photographs; perhaps the two were related….. But the astonishing thing for me is that, six years on from my (in)famous rant at Bianca Jagger for taking flash photography throughout a performance of Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican (reported by various national newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph, at the time), audience (mis)behaviour is still not being properly monitored there. It was only after myself and another patron confronted the front-of-house manager in the interval was the offender spoken to.
LONDON OPENINGS OF THE WEEK
The RSC brought two productions from Stratford-upon-Avon to London: Romeo and Juliet, premiered there in May, opened at the Barbican on Tuesday November 6, as part of the company’s annual residency there), and Don Quixote, first seen at the Swan in 2016, belatedly moved to the Garrick, where it opened on November 8.
* Romeo and Juliet: This modern-dress, contemporary staging by debut artistic director Erica Whyman arrived, as I said in my review for londontheatre.co.uk, “in a week which saw five fatal stabbings here in the space of just six days”, so I remarked, “there is something undeniably shocking about seeing similar events playing out on the London stage as competing family gangs wrestle for supremacy.”
But as Andzrej Lukowski said in a two-star review in Time Out, the production “is almost impressively tone deaf. Styled as a modern-dress production about knife-happy teens, it transfers down to London at a time when youth stabbings in the capital are massive news. And yet it has nothing to say about this, really: Shakespeare can be painfully illuminating of modern times, but this just feels like an aesthetic choice barely thought through – a jumble of posh kids swinging at each other for reasons that feel obscure in a contemporary context.”
* Don Quixote: In my review for londontheatre.co.uk, I wrote, “There’s a lot of breaking of the fourth wall in Angus Jackson’s production, not least because of the apparently spontaneous, conspiratorial brilliance of Rufus Hound as Don Quixote’s fantasy enabler and servant Sancho Panza, who possibly wants to believe his master’s lunacies as much as his master does. In an absolutely riotous moment on the press night, the theatre’s fire alarms went off – and Hound covered it with his own baffled astonishment about whether it was real or not. It’s that sort of show – it constantly blurs the boundaries between truth and fantasy so that even when something real like a fire alarm goes off, we are entirely wrong-footed.”
In The Stage, Natasha Tripney writes: “Angus Jackson’s faintly Monty Pythonesque production, first performed on the Swan’s thrust stage, has been repurposed for a proscenium. The first half borders on pantomime. There’s audience interaction and pratfalls, songs, plus a full-on food fight. Though some of the jokes are on the broad side – Panza being chased around the stage by his nagging wife is tiresome the first time and they do it twice – the comic timing of the ensemble cast (care of comedy director Cal McCrystal) is bang on….. Though some of the earlier silly business smacks of enforced fun, the production gradually grows into something stronger and subtler, anchored by the two central performances.”
In my own review for londontheatre.co.uk, I wrote, “There’s a raw, ragged and baggy charm to the portrait of a local community in White Teeth… But for all that ready charm — and the spirited sense of infectious energy expended by the 14-strong cast — the show is never quite sure what it wants to be. Is it a play? Is it a musical? Is it a revue?”
In The Guardian, Michael Billington writes, “Adapting Zadie Smith’s phenomenal novel for the stage is like trying to harness a whirlwind. The book leaps back and forth in time between 1945 and 1999 and offers multiple perspectives on what Smith calls the “immigrant experiment”. Stephen Sharkey’s stage version, with songs by Paul Englishby, captures something of the book’s buoyancy but inevitably feels as if it is trying to squeeze a whole narrative flood into a pint pot.”
Local protestors, including former Kilburn MP Ken Livingstone, were outside the theatre, once again complaining about the rebranding of the theatre from the Tricycle to the Kiln. But as Susannah Clapp remarked in her review for The Observer, “Outside on the pavement, protesters are picketing, claiming that the recent transformation of the Tricycle to the Kiln has taken their theatre away from them. Inside, Rubasingham’s programming is clearly bent on bringing the outside world into the stalls. Far from excluding, it is strongly reaching out.”
* Pinter Three and Four
The Pinter at the Pinter season continues in the West End, curated by Jamie Lloyd, with two more programmes: Pinter 3, directed by Lloyd, comprises 11 pieces, including Landscape (1969) and A Kind of Alaska (1982, pictured right), both starring Tamsin Greig, and Monologue (1973) and Trouble in the Works (1959) featuring Lee Evans. Pinter 4 comprises Moonlight (1993), with Lyndsey Turner directing Robert Glenister and Brid Brennan, and Night School (1960), with Ed Stambollouian directing Jessica Barden, Al Weaver and Janie Dee. The press day was held on November 10.
In the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish writes: “Everywhere you look at the Harold Pinter Theatre, there are photos of the great man, in varying attitudes of imposing seriousness. The disconcerting impression is of being inside a mausoleum – and a further, allied impression is of the suffocating potential of all that prestige. It’s as if the building isn’t just celebrating him, it’s re-affirming the reputational pressure he sweated under. Jamie Lloyd’s exhaustive season of Pinter’s short works is proving ever more fascinating: you don’t just spot connections between pieces or find that each mixed bill is more than the sum of its parts. Increasingly, it’s as though you’re being ushered inside the many-roomed mansion of Pinter’s mind – it’s all one big opus. The mood might be throwaway comic or protractedly dark, the writing pin-sharp or off-key, yet the overhanging light-bulb of flickering doubt is a constant: the world outside is unreliable, and the world within equally so. Groping for words, Pinter turned creative isolation into existential statement.”
In The Guardian, Michael Billington writes, “It is good to be reminded of Pinter’s gift for comedy. But the abiding impression of the two evenings is of Pinter’s periodic view of the marital state as, in Beckett’s words, ‘alone together, so much shared’.”
NEW YORK OPENINGS OF THE WEEK
* KING KONG — opened at Broadway’s Broadway Theatre on November 8, is the long-aborning new musical stage version of the enduringly popular film fable that was originally premiered in Melbourne, Australia in 2013. But while a giant puppet of King Kong is still centrestage — operated by 12 onstage puppeteers and three offstage ones — virtually its entire creative team has been overhauled since then, with director-choreographer Drew McOnie, book writer Jack Thorne and songwriter Eddie Perfect now running the show.
The New York Times ran a joint to-and-fro snark session from joint lead critics Ben Brantley and Jesse Green. The tone is set from the start:
BEN BRANTLEY Hello, Jesse. Though I’m not in a playful mood this morning — having just seen the spirit-crushing King Kong — what if we begin this dialogue with a game? Imagine you are on the street, having just left the theater, and are asked by a television interviewer to describe your response in one word. Well?
JESSE GREEN It can’t be printed here, and I’m not even sure it’s one word. (It starts with “ape.”) So I guess I’ll go with “ugh.”
BRANTLEY I understand what you’re saying. Since screaming is such a big part of the show, mine would be “aaaaaaaaargh.”
Ugh and aaaaaaaaargh, indeed, if this is what theatre criticism has been reduced to. As Jason Robert Brown, a composer who was himself briefly on board to write new songs for the show in 2015, posted on social media: “So this new thing where the New York Times has two middle-aged white guys try to out-snark one another at the expense of some show is not a step forward for criticism, for journalism, for Broadway, for the Times, or for the American theater. A vile practice that I hope is retired immediately.” I’d love to read a cogent argument by either or both Brantley and Green, but not this two-way snark…..
For a full round-up and links to other reviews, visit https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Review-Roundup-Did-Critics-Go-Bananas-For-KING-KONG-On-Broadway-20181108
* AMERICAN SON, a new play by Miami-based lawyer-turned-playwright Christopher Demos-Brown, opened at the Booth Theatre on November 4. In my own four-star review for The Stage, I called it “an impassioned and startling piece.”
In a Critic’s Pick review for the New York Times, Jesse Green wrote: “American Son is not a subtle play; it barely feels like a play at all. With its unrelentingly high tension on every level — maternal, marital, societal — it’s more like a slice of a nightmare, with few contours despite its surprises. Its abrupt ending doesn’t even offer a chance for catharsis; it just spits you out. But why should the audience be let off the hook? Why, when everything’s coming apart, should any of us?”
For a full round-up and links to other reviews, visit https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Review-Roundup-What-Do-The-Critics-Think-of-AMERICAN-SON-Updating-Live-20181104
LONDON THEATRE NEWS OF THE WEEK
* John Berry, former artistic director of English National Opera, has launched a new commercial theatre venture Scenario Two Limited, which plans to create new productions of classic musicals, develop new commissions & thereby to attract both existing theatre-goers and new audiences. The first production will be Adam Guettel’s 2005 Broadway masterpiece The Light in the Piazza, to run at Royal Festival hall from June 14 to July 5, starring Renee Fleming and Dove Cameron.
* Ian McKellen is to celebrate his 80th birthday with a new solo show Ian McKellen, touring to 80 theatres across the UK, including London dates from his own local theatre closest to where he lives — the Space on the Isle of Dogs — to the Arts (where he made his West End debut 60 years ago as a student actor in the transfer of a production from Cambridge), Old Vic (where the National Theatre was based when he first joined it in 1964), Royal Court (where he appeared in the world premiere of Martin Sherman’s Bent in 1979) and National, amongst other London theatres he has been long associated with, as well as some he has not, like the LGBT-focused Above the Stag in Vauxhall. Regionally, his tour will stretch from Stratford-upon-Avon (where he frequently appeared for the RSC) to Hornchurch (where he was offered £7 a week in 1961 to make his professional debut at at the original Queen’s Theatre, but instead accepted a rival offer of £8 a week from Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre that he will also visit) as well as other theatres up and down the land. All profits at each stop will support local initiatives. As Dominic Cavendish, theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph, tweeted, “Great to see McKellen playing Above the Stag, Wigan Little Theatre and Questors, Ealing as part of his tour – affirming support for LGBT fringe theatre, regional and amateur theatre as he goes.”
* McFly’s Harry Judd, JLS’s Aston Merrygold & Olympic gymnast Louis Smith to be joined by The Wanted’s Jay McGuinness for Rip it Up — the 60s, to play at the Garrick from February 7, opens February 12, for run to June 2.
* West End Christmas at Cadogan Hall on December 9 will feature Sheila Atim, Jonathan Bailey, Reeve Carney, Sharon D Clarke, Janie Dee, Alice Fearn Alexander Hanson, Trevor Dion Nicholas, Joanna Riding, Jenna Russell, Danielle Steers, Rebecca Trehearn and Michael Xavier.
* US stage and tv actor Denis O’Hare, previously seen on the London stage in Take Me Out at Donmar Warehouse, is to return to London to make his National Theatre debut in title role of Tartuffe in the Lyttelton Theatre from February 9, opening February 21.
* Cameron Mackintosh, who recently said he wasn’t sure he could afford to refurbish the Ambassadors Theatre after all, won’t be buying it now after its current owner Stephen Whaley-Cohen pulls out, citing “significantly higher offers” he’s received for the venue in the wake of Mackintosh’s declaration. But for his part, Mackintosh has now said: ““I am at a complete loss to understand why a perfectly amicable, and fully agreed, transparent deal should be abandoned at no notice after four years’ extensive work and with no good reason. Waley-Cohen was also quite aware that I intend to leave my businesses and theatres to my foundation so that they can be enjoyed by future generations and creative artists and in doing so avoid them being bought by venture capitalists or a trophy hunter. I firmly believe that London’s historic theatres, mostly built by producers like me, should be operated by and remain in the hands of the people who understand them and who work in our business.”
* Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Delfont Mackintosh portfolio, planning permission has been sought for proposed changes to the Queen’s Theatre, currently home to Les Miserables. According to a news report in The Stage, “five new audience boxes would be added to the back of the dress circle. These will either be built into the back wall of the dress circle or will occupy what is currently a VIP room and a storage space…. The renovation could also involve lowering the stage by 100mm in order to ensure it will be able to “meet the demands of contemporary theatre presentation. Additionally, two accessible seating boxes on either side of the dress circle are to be opened up into the adjacent corridor spaces behind, “to improve comfort and manoeuvrability within the space.”
NEW YORK NEWS OF THE WEEK
* A tragedy multiplies: the 44-year-old female driver who killed Broadway actor Ruthie Ann Miles’s young daughter and unborn child in a traffic accident back in March, has now been found dead, after an apparent suicide. This is not a happy outcome for anyone.
INTERVIEWS OF THE WEEK
* In a preview feature on Hadestown in The Guardian, which opens officially at the National’s Olivier Theatre on November 6, director Rachel Chavkin tells Alexis Soloski of the long development process of the show, “The work is so fucking far from being done. I would only ever say that if I thought the work was extraordinary. Because it’s not worth revising crap, you know?”
* In the first extended interview with Ambassador Theatre Group CEO Mark Cornell in The Stage, the former soldier tells Alistair Smith of his military past: “As a young guy – I was 19 years old, commanding 40 to 45 soldiers – you grow up pretty quick. It taught me at the right age some very important life lessons, which without question have influenced me ever since. While I try not to come across as someone who is particularly military, there is no doubt that there’s a streak within me: when talking about strategy and tactics, or ‘winning wars’, but also in supporting and understanding that it’s important that ‘everyone’s boots fit and the mail gets through’, and all those classic army adages. It helped me understand how a unit, a team, can work efficiently and effectively.”
Team-work — and the quality of the product — are paramount to how he is running the organisation: “The common denominator between my former life at LVMH, Sotheby’s and now at ATG was all about the quality of the products. I really understood the importance of content. So, when I came to look at the structure of the team, I wanted to ensure that what I call the ‘content people’ were not only very strongly represented but they were strongly represented in senior positions.” The venues are run by Nick Potter, and the programming by Michael Lynas. “The beauty of this model is that I can sleep at night knowing that content is properly represented in the business around the world and content is absolutely at the top table. It’s why we’re making decisions to do things like Caroline, or Change, or The Jungle – to do things that are critically very highly acclaimed but not necessarily particularly commercial. At the same time, we need to counterbalance that with some more overtly commercial things, which are also hopefully very critically acclaimed.”
* CONTROVERSY OF THE WEEK (CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK)
Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, an aspiring theatre director who has been working as an assistant director at Talawa Theatre Company on an Arts Council funded scheme to promote BAME talent, has been thrust into an unwelcome spotlight when it was discovered that he was, in fact, born to white parents, as I wrote here last week.
Now he has replied with a column of his own in The Guardian, in which he states: “During the last few days, all my industry friends and colleagues – the African-centred community of actors, producers, dancers and film-makers to which I belong – have reassured me that this is part of a wider conversation about identity and evolving consciousness. But others have tried to make me feel like a liar and a thief. It disappoints me that an attempt to reduce my life’s experience into a misleading headline can so easily lead to character assassination. I will not allow anyone who can’t accept or understand my life to be relevant to my existence. Meanwhile, I appear to have come full circle, back to all those people arriving on my mother’s doorstep, wanting to know about her son’s parentage.”
TWEETS OF THE WEEK
* This is my own tweet of the week:
* Playwright Chris Bush on the Bush Theatre’s new way of promoting its writers:
* And here is writer, podcaster and former gay porn star Conner Habib on a Brexit campaign that Nigel Farage might not want to get behind (in any sense)