Television and big screen fame is a major driver for West End producers. Opened last week are Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey in a new production of Mike Bartlett’s COCK, and the lowest ticket price is £65, with the bulk at £100 or more, so it also translates to big prices.
Prices are a lot cheaper, but in even shorter supply, at the Donmar Warehouse, which only has 251 seats. Yet ever since Sam Mendes first established it as a producing house, and was then succeeded by Michael Grandage, it has specialised in attracting big stars, from Nicole Kidman to Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne (who actually appeared there both before he was famous, in the original production of Red, and after).
Grandage’s era was also notable for streamlined, intimate productions of Shakespeare — some critics used to think the texts were routinely cut, but in fact, they were just spoken at normal speed.
Visiting the Donmar recently to see Kit Harington playing the title role in Max Webster’s new production of HENRY V there reminded me of the old days here, though with added special effects (Webster’s production is epic and expansive, with brilliantly choreographed battle scenes, video and exquisite choral music).
While Harington is obviously the star attraction, he’s also really good, too — not just a pretty face. And there’s a brilliant ensemble cast around him.
The breadth and depth of great British stage acting is on display, too, at Hampstead Theatre in their downstairs studio, where I caught Ruby Thomas’s The Animal Kingdom.
It was wonderful to see such stage stalwarts as Paul Keating and Martina Laird joined by brilliant younger actors Ragevan Vasan and Ashna Rabheru, plus an extraordinarily assured Paul Hickey standing in for the indisposed Jonathan McGuinness. He raised the stakes in a beautifully told story of family dysfunction in a treatment centre where an adult son is being treated after a failed suicide attempt.
Screen fame may be a major driver of ticket prices – such as with the #WestEnd revival of Mike Bartlett’s @cocktheplayldn, starring @TaronEgerton & #JonathanBailey – but the breadth of British acting talent is vast, says @ShentonStage. #Londontheatre #CockThePlay