Diary of a Theatre Addict: Ten Crazed Days (and Nights) Before I Go Away Again

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I’m seriously chasing my tail now after a week away in Gran Canaria that I reported on here last, which meant I missed openings like RoosevElvis at the Royal Court (and now will miss entirely) and Husbands and Sons at the National (which I’m booked into at the start of December now). But I’ve have seen fifteen shows in the last ten days in between getting back on October 28 and leaving again for New York tomorrow (November 9).

I returned from a week in Gran Canaria on a Wednesday afternoon — fortunately the Easyjet plane back wasn’t just on time, it was actually early, landing at 4.30pm instead of the scheduled 4.55pm, and meant I was on a train to Victoria soon after 5pm, and made it, with time to spare, for the 7pm first night of Pig Farm (pictured left) at the St James. Not that it offered much of a homecoming; my review for The Stage shows that I might have been better delayed en route!

The next day, meanwhile, there was another of those annoying clashes of major openers, with the Old Vic’s rare revival of O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape going head-to-head with Hampstead’s premiere of David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano; I saw The Hairy Ape that night, and then caught up with The Moderate Soprano at that Saturday’s matinee.

The latter (starring a virtually unrecognisable Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, pictured left) found Michael Coveney awarding another of his now nearly-routine five-star reviews, and even he was drawn to note in his opening para here, “The trouble with handing out four or five star ratings, as I’ve been doing lately with alarming frequency, is that you feel some poor sucker’s got to get it in the neck tomorrow. Well, hey, as the new Times critic is wont to exclaim, hold that chopper, here comes another high five for David Hare after a whole bunch of them down at Chichester for his revelatory early Chekhov season.”

Coveney had also awarded a four-star rave to Pig Farm, that I — and several others— had given a far less welcoming two-stars to. But then the new Times critic (Ann Treneman) that he draws attention to has also recently been wayward, with a five-star rave for Ticking at Trafalgar Studios that many of her colleagues had given two-stars to.

But then I always say there’s no such thing as right or wrong in theatre reviewing, it’s always simply a matter of opinion, and how you justify that opinion that counts. I’m afraid that Treneman’s endorsement of Ticking still didn’t make me want to rush out to see it — with limited slots available, part of the critical choice lies in what you actually choose to cover.

But Coveney’s rave of The Moderate Soprano sharpened my anticipation for it, just as Treneman’s three-star diminution of the same play didn’t put me off. And I duly made my own mind up here. I also finally caught up with Medea (pictured left) at the Almeida, which opened when I was last in New York — since I’d missed the press night, I splashed out on two of the £10 front side stalls seats (billed as restricted, but in fact only very partially so) for my husband and I to have a night off at. Hardly the most romantic choice, of course — this is a play about the fall-out of the disintegration of a marriage in this very modern re-telling of the fabled play — but I’m very glad to have caught in, and in particular Kate Fleetwood’s bruising performance as a woman furiously grieving over being dumped by her husband. (Since Fleetwood’s own husband Rupert Goold directs her, it’s hardly the most romantic choice for them to work on it together, either)

This last week, meanwhile, has taken me from a theatre on my doorstep in Southwark to visit Venice Breach in California (in the musical Xanadu, reviewed here) and Bristol to watch a nanny flying over the rooftops of London that I’d left behind (in Mary Poppins, reviewed here) to the North Pole (via the London premiere of Elf – the Musical, reviewed here) and the Forest of Arden (in the National’s As You Like it, reviewed here)

You can’t say theatre critics don’t get around! I’ve also had a bumper weekend of it this weekend — the critics piled into the Garrick yesterday (all on their lonesome ownsome, since we were unusually only afforded single tickets) for the opening two productions in Ken Branagh’s year-long residency of his own company, both of which he co-starred in and co-directed (my review of The Winter’s Tale, pictured left, is here). And later today I’m doing another theatrical double-bill, seeing The Stationmaster, a new musical by my friend Tim Connor at the Tristan Bates as part of producer Katy Lipson’s From Page to Stage festival of new musicals, and then catching the latest edition of La Soiree, a personal seasonal favourite, on the South Bank.

All that, and Charles Aznavour at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening — an experience seriously marred by a sea of mobile phone users taking photographs and filming it throughout, so eventually I left after about an hour — having paid £85 (plus booking fee) for my ticket. I protested to the duty manager as I left, and discovered that it was an official policy not to intervene. The battle is officially lost and I’m going to stop going to live concerts entirely. As Judi Dench points out in an interview (links to paid content) in today’s Sunday Times about the Branagh season, “I can’t see well but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.”

I feel slightly more confident about still going to cabaret, though, and on Monday night had a simply wonderful late night catching up with one of my long-time favourite Broadway singers Julia Murney at the Hippodrome, after seeing Xanadu earlier the same evening. And on Friday, I saw the British premiere of Andrew Lippa’s Broadway show Big Fish being done at ArtsEd by third year Musical Theatre students: a whimsical delight of a show whose whimsy was rather drowned in a large Broadway show here reveals more poignant depths in the more intimate focus of a studio production, and greater clarity in the doubling up of actors to play the younger and older versions of the father and son at its centre. I actually cried twice at the story — and my eyes pricked with tears of pride regularly, too, as I watched these students who I’d taught in their first years showing their professional potentail.

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Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.

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Mark Shenton on FacebookMark Shenton on RssMark Shenton on Twitter
Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.

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