I am writing this sitting beside a pool, in glorious sunshine, at a private hotel across the street from a beach in Gran Canaria. This is the sort of holiday my husband and I always give ourselves at least once a year — a place with no theatre at all. Not that you can’t find bits of it: last night, for instance, we went to the really awful Yumbo Centre, a giant outdoor shopping centre where most of the gay nightlife is centred, and found a little piece of theatrical heaven in the Centrestage bar, where they play video extracts from film and stage musicals all night long.
So of course there was Gene Kelly dancing up a storm, so to speak, in Singin’ in the Rain, and Deborah Kerr getting to know the Thai kids she’s looking after in The King and I. And Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Rita Moreno performing ‘America’ in West Side Story, and even one or two clips I couldn’t begin to identify.
But I also loved re-visiting some stage classics via archive footage I’d not seen for a while: Liz Robertson performing a song from My Fair Lady, Jonathan Pryce doing ‘American Dream’ from Miss Saigon, a (very young) Teddy Kempner and Ellen Greene in the London production of Little Shop of Horrors. I’d seen all of these shows, of course, the first time they came around; it was a special, if slightly incongruous, treat to be re-visiting them in a bar in an otherwise entirely characterless brick shopping centre.
But I’ve not come to Gran Canaria for the showtunes but for the sun and relaxation, and I’m getting that — even if I’m spending some of the time doing things like writing this! And suddenly it puts the theatrical addiction that this diary chronicles every week into some kind of perspective; there is more to life than the theatre!
Having said that, I had a bit of a theatrical immersion before I went, and in the time since I was last here a week ago last Wednesday, I’d been to New York, England, Wales and Scotland in a seven day period. Last week, meanwhile, I found myself wearing my teaching hat three times over, with my regular musical theatre class at ArtsEd class on Monday, a day with the Musical Theatre students at Mountview on Tuesday and seeing the dress rehearsal of ENO’s La Boheme with a group of A level students attending thanks to the Mousetrap Foundation on Wednesday evening, before the next Tuesday co-leading (with opera and classical critic Alexandra Coghlan) a day’s workshop on critical writing with them.
Teaching is a richly enjoyable part of what I do now; I love sharing my enthusiasm for what I do and passing the torch, in whatever way I can. It’s also part of what informs my own critical writing, which I always hope is driven by passion, though not, I hope, indiscriminate cheer-leading.
So it is that, over the last week, I wasn’t able to cheer quite as loudly as I’d have liked to at Nikolai Foster’s new production of A Streetcar Named Desire at Leicester’s Curve Studio (my review for The Stage is here), even though I love the play, like the director personally and and know its leading man Stewart Clarke, pictured left, a bit. (I was sitting three seats away from his mum Julia Hills, another actor I know and love). This is where I can only be honest, or else my praise would be an empty gesture. (And lead readers to distrust what I say, too).
On the other hand, I cheered just as loudly as I’ve done on each of the previous four times I’ve seen Close to You, as What’s It All About? has now been renamed, on its transfer to the West End’s Criterion (my review for The Stage is here). This brilliant Burt Bacharach tribute and mash-up saw the great man in attendance himself on the first night, and — in a post-show masterstroke — bringing Piccadilly Circus itself to a standstill as he accompanied the cast in their post-show encore of ‘Raindrops keep Falling On My Head’ near Eros outside the theatre. (He watched the show that preceded it, sitting along from Tom Jones, from the front row of the dress circle — not as my Times colleague Ann Treneman erroneously suggested in her review, the front row of the Upper Circle. Perhaps she has not been going to the theatre long enough yet to know the difference).
I also spent a full day with the theatrical patron saint of depression Chekhov last Saturday when Chichester presented a trilogy day of his first three plays — Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull (which I reviewed here) — in which all of the principal characters suffer from forms of depression. Both the night before and two nights later I was also in the world of depression: last Friday I caught after Fake it till You Make It at last, an extraordinary show about a couple and their different perspectives of dealing with the long-term depression of the male party that had been a big hit at Edinburgh this year; and on Monday, I finally caught up, too, with Farinelli and the King, Claire van Kampen’s beautiful play about the King of Spain whose own depression is alleviated by the singing of a celebrated castrato.
Each of these shows resonated on a personal level, as a fellow sufferer; I’m not in a depression now, so was able to watch them with a little more disinterest though far from lack of interest.