Coming Up in London:
A friend of mine just said, “There are so many many things I want to see in London right now,” and that’s likely to be true right through the summer and beyond, though many of them won’t be in the dead center of the West End, where the “same old, same old” shows continue to draw in the tourists.
There’s nothing wrong with seeing Mama Mia or Les Mis for the first time or even yet again, and there are revivals one would expect, like Blithe Spirit to show off the undoubted and wonderful talents of Angela Lansbury—the most iconic performer in London at the moment. However, there are some very interesting brave arrivals which I want to see, starting especially with a new production of the Gershwin opera, Porgy and Bess, at the Regent’s Park Theatre (17 July to 23 August). Timothy Sheader, Regent Park’s Artistic Director will direct, and that surely bodes well. His recent take on Arthur Miller’s All My Sons was a hit, and he’s also done some terrific new productions of major musicals in the past few years that benefited from his great eye and ear for casting. This time, he’s drawing on talent from both sides of the Atlantic; Rufus Bonds, Jr. and Nicola Hughes take the title roles. I’ve been deeply impressed by Nicola Hughes in shows ranging from Lola in Damn Yankees (with Jerry Lewis), to Velma Kelly in Chicago, through one of the company in Fosse, and I expect her to be a definitive Bess. During her last time around in the role (2006-07) she was nominated for an Olivier Award.
And if you ‘re a Miller fan, there is a new production of The Crucible on at the Old Vic (24 June to 13 September). Yaël Farber is the director. I’ve been following her work for about ten years and she’s emerged as one of the most innovative, sensitive and totally reliable directors of our time. She’s always had a strong political interest and The Crucible, with its implications of and parallels to political witch hunting in our own times, is a perfect vehicle for her considerable talents. How many remember her play Amajuba (2007 Drama Desk award)? Or her recent Edinburgh Festival Awards winner Miss Julie (2012)? Farber is, for me, the draw for this one. Another heads-up: Kristin Scott Thomas will be following The Crucible into that theatre with Electra in a new version by Frank McGuinness (20 September to 20 December). I would go see Kristin Scott Thomas reading the proverbial phone book!
Director Nadia Fall, who is beginning to make a name for herself at the National Theatre, was in charge of the Harold Brighouse play Hobson’s Choice, rarely seen these days (played in Regent’s Park from 12 June to 12 July). With Mark Benton as Hobson, this was a real treat too. Let’s hope the weather holds for this summer’s open air events—the operas in Holland Park, but most especially Shakespeares’s Globe Theatre which has a very interesting season this year. The highlight for me so far was Antony and Cleopatra with the ever-wonderful Eve Best as Egypt’s fascinating queen and Clive Wood, who is one of the most memorable, powerful and intelligent Shakespeare actors in the UK, as Antony.
The highly recommendable National Theatre Production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is reopening July 21 at the Gielgud Theatre. Hugely successful and award-winning, this is the play where the roof literally fell in on its audience at the Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue not so long ago. It’s a very strong translation of the Mark Haddon novel to the stage with a uniformly praiseworthy cast and a thought-provoking and emotionally moving story.
The new and stunning production of Julian Mitchell’s 1981 play Another Country at Trafalgar Studios 1 had an impressive cast and an equally impressive director (Jeremy Herrin). Richard III moved in with Martin Freeman and Gina McGee when Country moved on, and has been totally selling out. But you can try for August…
An old musical being given a new look is Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s The Pajama Game. Already critically acclaimed during its run in Chichester, it’s directed by Richard Eyre, known for doing a fine line in musical comedy (his was the famous Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre and beyond!). In an age of austerity and various financial problems, this musical about a strike in a pajama factory (from a novel by Richard Bissell, Seven and a Half Cents) as well as the nefarious dealings of a corrupt management is topical again. With a brilliant score that makes it one of the best musicals of the golden era of the 1950s on Broadway, I’m excited about it because it also stars Joanna Riding, one of the most consistently brilliant West End musicals performers (she was a superb Julie in Carousel and a totally convincing Eliza in My Fair Lady).
In the role of Babe, made famous first by Janis Paige on stage and then by Doris Day in the film, I’m betting she’ll live up to that standard with no trouble at all. The role of Sid is played by the very talented Michael Xavier. Both these performers would most likely have been huge stars in an age when musicals were written for the likes of Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, or Howard Keel. Indeed, I hope that seeing them on stage in a classic setting will inspire some young composer to do something original for them now. (The show runs until 13 September at the Shaftesbury Theatre.)
Weirdly, as one who usually cannot stand stage adaptations of movies, I am looking forward to seeing what they will do with Shakespeare in Love. I like the look of the cast, the director and the fact that the writer is Lee Hall of Billy Elliot fame. Now in previews at the Noel Coward Theatre. How will it stack up compared to the film? Stay tuned…
With things like The Scottsboro Boys transferring to the Garrick Theatre in the West End in October and a full, interesting season for the ROH and the ENO plus the usual range of world class concerts, there’s plenty of culture coming up on offer in London. And then there’s all the amazing stuff in Edinburgh for the Festival, and all around the UK. So go online, but don’t get a horse – get a car!