News: International Rescue Committee and Shakespeare’s Globe reveal the ‘Stranger’s Case’ for #WorldRefugeeDay

International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Shakespeare’s Globe have come together to mark World Refugee Day with a powerfully moving short film – the “Stranger’s Case”.

Actors from some of the biggest TV shows and Broadway shows have come together with refugees from Syria, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan (half of the people who appear in the film have fled conflict) to perform a previously banned speech widely believed to have been written by William Shakespeare, from the collaborative 16th-century play “Sir Thomas More”.

Watch the film here:

and then explore what Shakespeare’s Globe is doing for #RefugeeWeek, and think about supporting International Rescue Committee’s work here.

 

Create A Magic Memory With A London Theatre Break

“Let me entertain you!” former Take That member Robbie Williams once sang! For entertainment is what you’ll get if you spend an evening in the West End of London. See a musical, and you’ll soon be in its mesmeric grip. You’ll be taken away from the daily humdrum for a few hours and royally entertained. It’s an experience which, if you combine with the range of London Theatre breaks on offer, will live long in your memory.

Into the West End

Head to the West end of London, and you’ll soon discover you’ve entered theatreland. On every street, down every side avenue, you’ll find a theatre. Its lights and signs are vying for your attention. You’re in the entertainment district of London, so enjoy, and make the most of it! 

As you’re visiting the capital, it makes sense to combine your show with an overnight stay. Just think, you’ll have seen a show, why make the long journey home? Stay, take in some night scenes of London, knowing a centrally located hotel bed is close by to return too. You want to make the most of your London visit, right? Continue reading “Create A Magic Memory With A London Theatre Break”

#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage

Such amazing casting news came our way yesterday, with not one but two of my absolute faves returning to the London stage in the coming months. The starrier of the two is Cate Blanchett, who will appear with Stephen Dillane in a brand new play by Martin Crimp’s directed by Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre in January 2019. The play is enigmatically entitled When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. (The torture presumably being the absolute scrum there’ll be to get tickets, as the show is going into the NT’s most intimate space, the Dorfman.)

But matching Blanchett in my personal pantheon in Lucy Cohu, an actor whom I’ve longed admired since she broke my heart in the double whammy of Torchwood – Children of Earth on the TV and Speaking in Tongues on the stage. She’s joining the cast of Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm, alongside Anna Madeley and Amanda Drew. And given that the cast already contains the previously announced Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins, this ought to be a good’un. That shows arrives at the Wyndham’s Theatre in October after a brief tour of Richmond, Cambridge and Bath. Continue reading “#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage”

The 2017 Ian Charleson Awards nominees announced – time for an update?

Nominees have been announced for the 2017 Ian Charleson Awards:

Ellie Bamber for Hilde in The Lady from the Sea, Donmar Warehouse
Daniel Ezra for Sebastian in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Tamara Lawrance for Viola in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Rebecca Lee for Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Watermill, Newbury
James Corrigan for Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare Royal Shakespeare Company
Ned Derrington for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe
Sope Dirisu for Coriolanus in Coriolanus, Royal Shakespeare Company
Arthur Hughes for Lucius in Julius Caesar, Crucible, Sheffield
Douggie McMeekin for Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic
Natalie Simpson for Duchess Rosaura in The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse
Hannah Morrish for Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Company

The focus of the award is on roles in classical theatre – yours Ibsens, your Chehkovs, your overwhelming number of Shakespeares – but you do wonder whether there’s something about the kudos automatically granted here. Though there is diversity in the names selected here, the very notion of ‘classical’ as determined by the theatrical establishment seems to work against its actual ecology, at least as it relates to modern Britain.

I mean to not at all dishonour the legacy of Ian Charleson, but I do wonder whether the awards that bear his name recognise the bias that its limitations impose. If the Quentin Letts farrago shows us anything, it shows us how entrenched some of these attitudes are. But it also serves as a reminder that actors of colour (and women to some of the same extent) are ill-served by the ‘canon’.

I’m all for celebrating and highlighting the work of great young actors but I want all of them to be included. And yes, that makes the scope considerably wider but surely its time to acknowledge that there’re amazing actors who have never performed Shakespeare, and might never do Chekhov, but who are more than worthy of the kind of recognition offered here. 

2018 Vault Festival – what to see

On the one hand, that the Vault Festival has expanded to over 300 shows running over 8 weeks is fantastic news for the emerging theatremakers that it supports. On the other, it means making the choice about what to see, even tackling the catalogue alone can feel somewhat daunting. It has taken me a wee while to get round to delving into it myself, but as the festival is set to open this week, here’s some of my top tips for each week.

Week 1

Tomorrow Creeps – repurposed Shakespeare via the medium of Kate Bush? Hell, yes.
Tumulus – it’s not a festival unless there’s a chemsex show
Great Again – likewise a Trump-bashing musical 


Week 2

Double Infemnity – gender-flipping noir crime antics in a one-woman show? Whyever the hell not!
Gypsy Queen – gays and boxing, sometimes I’m an easy sell…
Gun – I’ll be trying to catch more comedy than I usually do this year, and this western-inspired show very much seems as good a place to start as any


Week 3

Think of England – love, lust and swing dancing in wartime Waterloo – TICK!
Be Prepared – I’m a fan of writer/performer Ian Bonar so definitely looking forward to this one
Douze – Eurovision pop comedy musical fun, nuff said


Week 4

YOU – a thought-provoking look at adoption, drawing on some deeply personal narratives
STUD – gays and football, a combination that usually works wonders for me!
Elsa – a chirpy sounding piece of reflective musical comedy


Week 5

Sparks – Jessica Butcher is a name that people in the know rave about, Anoushka Lucas is a name I have raved about, together they ought to come up with something special
Conquest – a debut show from PearShaped and one which promises to tackle contemporary feminism with real fearlessness
Still We Dream… – I don’t see much dance but something about this piques my attention, animalistic movement in non-traditional spaces


Week 6

TESTOSTERONE – experimental work pushing the trans narrative forward, one for the Daily Mail-reading person in your life…
Das Fest – in many ways what the Vault Festival is for, for me, to see the type of thing I would never normally book for (as in Philipp Oberlohr’s show last year Das Spiel) and be delighted and not a little freaked out!
The Strongbox – Stephanie Jacob is having a low-key moment, her play Again opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 next month and its final week will overlap with another piece of new writing from her, I suspect they’ll both be worth catching


Week 7

Fuck Marry Kill – a work-in-progress from Vera Chok and Amy Mason which uses the game show format to challenge the patriarchy
Bury the Hatchet – the tale of Lizzie Borden is one of enduring fascination and Out of the Forest are no exception here, using bluegrass, nursery rhyme and horror to retell and reexamine this story
Unburied – a folk horror mystery that just seems most intriguing


Week 8

THINGS THAT DO NOT C(O)UNT – I loved No Offence’s torn apart at the Hope last year, so I’m much intrigued by this new work
The Dirty Thirty – an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 shows in 1 hour – I’m sold!
Tom and Bunny Save The World – another company I’m a big fan of, Fat Rascal, present a zombie comedy musical that is sure to shake up gender lines as much as apocalyptic survival methods

Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre

Good things come to those who wait! I hadn’t booked for Young Marx at the brand new Bridge Theatre for a couple of reasons. I was still hoping that I might get a response to my email to the PR and despite a cast that includes the splendid Nancy Carroll and the delicious Oliver Chris alongside lead Rory Kinnear, Richard Bean just really isn’t my cup of tea. ‘Don’t you love farce?’ Not much my dear…
  
So when an email popped into my inbox offering a sneak preview of the show and an opportunity to be the first ever audience in the theatre for a pre-preview test run of the new venue and its facilities, then I knew it was meant to be. Turns out I do love a farce, at £7.50 a ticket.


First things first, the foyer is extremely spacious and rather beautifully lit. So whilst there were hefty queues at the box office and the bar, there was still plenty of room to mill about, some seats available and a wide enough staircase that when we finally started going down to the stalls, it wasn’t too much of a crush. 

Drink prices are pretty much as per any theatre bar, £7.50 for a G&T. The much-vaunted St John madeleines were really not cheap (although to be honest, who knows what the going rate for gourmet madeleines is?!) At £9 for 12 though, it does feel like a deliberate attempt to brand the theatre as upper reaches of upmarket and you wonder what implications that has for access, and particularly for the perception of access from those new audiences theatres long to attract.

Weirdly, the toilets also feel a touch out of place. Very smart and spacious, though I can’t comment on the ladies, posh handwash and individual handtowels point to a more luxurious experience than you’ll be used to in most London theatres – it’ll be interesting to see if these last.
And whilst I appreciate the efforts being made to be inclusive, I don’t really understand how this can be a male toilet, and a gender neutral toilet at the same time. Surely it’d be better to go all the way…?
Inside, the theatre certainly boasts an impressive auditorium. In its current end-on configuration, it is somehow reminiscent of both the Olivier and the Dorfman at the same time. And something the seating plan doesn’t show you, there’s a considerable rake on the floor (also worth bearing in mind for accessibility issues if you’re sitting anywhere near the front).  

Seats are comfortable, plenty of legroom (in row C of the stalls at least), sightlines are fine and neither of us had any issue there. There doesn’t seem to be a second entrance/exit into the stalls though, so there’s little chance of a quick escape – getting out at the interval and at the end took an age as we had to wait for most of the stalls to empty before we could leave.

But as the auditorium has been designed to be entirely flexible, these are issues that won’t affect every show. And given how phenomenally quickly the building has been constructed, it is a remarkable achievement of which Nicks Hytner and Starr should rightly be proud.

Nick Hytner welcoming us to the theatre
As for the show itself, this was the very first pre-preview so I ain’t going to comment on it, apart from to say if you like Richard Bean plays, then you’re most likely in safe hands.

So a fun evening all round and I’m glad I got to experience the theatre this way for the first time, with its own sort of buzz. I’m still not entirely convinced that what London needs is another new theatre, especially one that feels so directly in competition with the National but who knows, maybe this will be a good thing, a kick up the arse for the theatre ecology on the South Bank, in London, maybe even in the UK as a whole. Welcome to the Bridge!

Sir Peter Hall: 1930-2017 – a photo retrospective

In sad news, the death of Sir Peter Hall, one of the great names in British theatre, has been announced today. Sir Peter died on 11 September at University College Hospital, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family.
As the below statement from the National Theatre reminds us, his achievements were unparalleled, his devotion to the arts undoubtable. And in this selection of photos from some of his productions for the NT, his was a rare artistic vision indeed.

Peter Hall was an internationally celebrated stage director and theatre impresario, whose influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled. His extraordinary career spanned more than half a century: in his mid-20s he staged the English language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In 1960, aged 29, Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company which he led until 1968. The RSC realised his pioneering vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both classic and modern texts with a clear house style in both Stratford and London.
Appointed Director of the National Theatre in 1973, Peter Hall was responsible for the move from the Old Vic to the purpose-built complex on the South Bank. He successfully established the company in its new home in spite of union unrest and widespread scepticism. After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company (1988 – 2011) and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston. Throughout his career, Sir Peter was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

Peter Hall’s prolific work as a theatre director included the world premieres of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), John Barton’s nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000); and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977). Other landmark productions included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Wars of the Roses (1963), The Oresteia (1981), Animal Farm (1984), Antony and Cleopatra (1987, with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant of Venice (1989, with Dustin Hoffman), As You Like It (2003, with his daughter Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010, with Judi Dench). Peter’s last production at the National Theatre was Twelfth Night in 2011.
Sir Peter was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Nicki, and children Christopher, Jennifer, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca and Emma and nine grandchildren. His former wives, Leslie Caron, Jacqueline Taylor and Maria Ewing also survive him.


No Man’s Land – 1975

Photos by Anthony Crickmay

John Gielgud as Spooner,Ralph Richardson as Hirst,Michael Feast as Foster

Michael Feast as Foster,John Gielgud as Spooner,Ralph Richardson as Hirst,Terence Rigby as Briggs

Ralph Richardson as Hirst,John Gielgud as Spooner

Betrayal – 1978

Photos by Michael Mayhew

Michael Gambon as Jerry,Penelope Wilton as Emma

Daniel Massey as Robert,Michael Gambon as Jerry,Penelope Wilton as Emma

Penelope Wilton as Emma,Michael Gambon as Jerry

Amadeus – 1979 

Photos by Nobby Clark

Paul Scofield as Antonio,Simon Callow as Mozart

Dermot Crowley as The Venticelli,Paul Scofield as Antonio,Donald Gee as The Venticelli

Felicity Kendal as Constanze Weber,Paul Scofield as Antonio

The Oresteia – 1981

Photos by Nobby Clark

The Importance of Being Earnest – 1982

Photos by Zoe Dominic

Zoe Wanamaker as Gwendolen Fairfax,Martin Jarvis as John Worthing,Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell

Nigel Havers as Algernon Moncrieff,Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell

Martin Jarvis as John Worthing,Elizabeth Garvie as Cecily Cardew,Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell,Zoe Wanamaker as Gwendolen Fairfax

Anna Massey as Miss Prism,Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell

Animal Farm – 1984

Photos by Nobby Clark

Barrie Rutter as Napoleon,David Ryall as Squealer,Judith Paris as Muriel,Greg Hicks as Snowball

Twelfth Night – 2011

Photos by Nobby Clark

Tony Haygarth as Sea Captain,Rebecca Hall as Viola

Marton Csokas as Orsino,Rebecca Hall as Viola

David Ryall as Feste,Marton Csokas as Orsino,Rebecca Hall as Viola

Samuel James as Fabian,Simon Callow as Sir Toby Belch,Charles Edwards as Sir Andrew Aguecheek,Simon Paisley Day as Malvolio

Amanda Drew as Olivia,Rebecca Hall as Viola

Round-up of August music reviews


Though I might not have been away for my usual month-long sojourn to France, I kept up with a glut of album reviews to cover the (relatively) quiet period for those of us who don’t put themselves through Edinburgh 😉

Recommended titles
Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle
Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)
Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)
Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)
The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)
The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)
War Paint (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)


And the rest!
9 to 5 (2009 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Anastacia (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars
Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers 
Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2
Betty Buckley – Quintessence
Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)
Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast Recording)
Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)
Carousel (1993 London Cast Recording)
Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original Cast Recording)
Comrade Rockstar (2017 Studio Cast Recording)
Crazy For You – (1993 Original London Cast Recording)
Dirty Dancing (2006 London Cast Recording)
Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)
Gavin Creel – Get Out
Gavin Creel – Goodtimenation
Gavin Creel – Quiet  / Oliver Tompsett – Gravity
Groundhog Day (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Half A Sixpence (2016 London Cast Recording)
Helena Blackman – The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein
Laura Benanti – In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention
Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)
Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)
Marin Mazzie – Make Your Own Kind of Music
Mary Poppins (2005 Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)
Noel Sullivan – Here I Go Again
On The Town (2014 New Broadway Cast Recording)
Shona White – I’ll Bring You A Song
Songs From The Musical Wolfboy (2010)
Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)
The Halcyon (Original Music From The 2017 TV Series)
The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)
The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)
The Woman In White (2004 Original London Cast Recording)
USHERS: The Front Of House Musical (2014 London Cast Recording)

Production shots for Ibsen Huis

“Moeten we hier als op de Wallen in lingerie gaan zitten?”

Time pressures (and priorities) being what they are, when one is on holiday celebrating one’s birthday, my review of Simon Stone’s Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam won’t be ready for a couple of days. So in the meantime, follow the lovely Hans Kesting’s gaze past the break and feast your eyes on some of the production photos from Jan Versweyveld.

(c) Henri Verhoef

Bridge Theatre new season – excited by new writing or disappointed by lack of diversity?

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr have announced the opening programme for their The Bridge Theatre venture – the 900-seat commercial venue near to Tower Bridge which marks their re-entry into the London theatre landscape. The first three productions, all booking now, are:

  • Young Marx – Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s new play about German philosopher Karl Heinrich Marx which will star Rory Kinnear in the title role alongside Oliver Chris as Engels. Directed by Nicholas Hytner it will have designs by Mark Thompson and music by Grant Olding;
  • This will be followed by Julius Caesar directed by Hytner in promenade, starring
    Ben Whishaw (Bakkhai, Skyfall) as Brutus, David Calder as Caesar, Michelle Fairley as Cassius and David Morrissey as Mark Antony;
  • a new play from Barney Norris called Nightfall, directed by Laurie Sansom.
Further ahead from Summer ’18, we can expect:
  • a new play by Lucinda Coxon based on the novel Alys, Always by Harriet Lane;
  • a new play by Nina Raine about JS Bach, played by Simon Russell Beale; 
  • flatpack, a new play by John Hodge; 
  • The Black Cloud, a new play by Sam Holcroft from the novel by Fred Hoyle; 
  • Carmen Havana, a version of Bizet’s opera by Lucy Prebble with choreography by Miguel Altunaga and directed by Nicholas Hytner.
The focus on new writing is something exciting, all but one of these are new works. And if we count them altogether, there’s pleasing gender parity in their number. And that’s good enough to get luminaries like Sarah Crompton and Michael Billington fawning over the season ahead.
But looking at all those playwrights, there’s not a person of colour among them. And delving into the cast and creatives of the opening three shows, all of them are being directed by white men. Furthermore, of the headline casting announced, six out of seven of them are white men. We can cling to Michelle Fairley’s cross-casting as Cassius as a sole beacon of hope but let’s not forget that Robert Hastie is already doing this much better and bolder in Sheffield.
There’s no doubting that there’s a number of issues intertwined here but once again, a big commercial theatrical season is being launched on the back of safe, safe decisions. I don’t deny the harsh realities of the commercial world but it is just so dispiriting to see how little is being done to address these issues by the people who can affect them, whether Messrs Hytner and Starr, or Branagh and Grandage in previous years.

  • The Kenneth Branagh season (2015-6) – 5 plays initially, all written and directed by white men; 5 people in opening publicity shot, 2 women including Dame Judi Dench
  • The Michael Grandage season (2012-13) – 5 plays all written and directed by white men; 7 people in opening publicity shot, 2 women including Dame Judi Dench
  • The Donmar in the West End season (2008-09) – 4 plays all directed by white men and all but one written by white men; 4 people in opening publicity, 1 woman who was Dame Judi Dench!

Some thoughts
– Magnificent as she is, Dench is far from our only star actress but without the requisite support, how is anyone else supposed to join her above-the-title as it were.
– Same with any actors of colour 
– If you’re going to focus on new writing, how do commissioning decisions remain so stubbornly white as well? Delving into (white) history won’t help.
– And how the f*ck is the status quo ever going to be challenged if the commentary acquiesces so easily – the race to label this season as “thrilling” or “mouth-watering” leaves little room to call into question the age-old biases that are once again being reinforced here.
It’s hard not to feel a little disillusioned by this all. Attitudes don’t change overnight, they need to be persuaded, and yet the opportunities to change minds remain few and far-between. So the commercial imperative to keep programming ‘safe’ remains intact and so the vicious cycle repeats itself ad nauseam. The power and influence that the two ‘Nicks’ wield is an awesome thing in the world of UK theatre, I just wish it was being used here in a more creative and forward-thinking way.