Mark Shenton views the week of news in the West End & Broadway including a trio of much-anticipated London openings

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A big week in London theatre, with three of the most anticipated openings of the autumn: Marianne Elliott’s new production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 musical Company, in which the lead character of Bobby becomes Bobbie for the first time, the West End transfer of Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance to the Noel Coward, and the launch of Emma Rice’s new post-Globe company Wise Children with a show also called Wild Children, at the Old Vic which will become the company’s London home, though it is based on the South West. And in the midst of it all, there was also a new Nina Raine play Stories at the NT’s Dorfman, too.

Meanwhile, Broadway saw the openings of Daniel Radcliffe in a new play The Lifespan of a Fact and the transfer of Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman.

LONDON OPENINGS OF THE WEEK

* The Inheritanceopening at the Coward Theatre on 13 October (with reviews appearing from 15 October)

In my own review for London Theatre, I wrote: “During one of the intervals for The Inheritance, I ran into Martin Sherman, who wrote one of the great gay plays of my lifetime in Bent, a shattering account of gay life (and death) in a Nazi concentration camp. I was a 17-year-old gay man just coming to terms with my sexuality when this forever-potent play first premiered in 1979 at the Royal Court and it exposed me to a heart-breaking legacy that I’d not been aware of until then, but also showed the overwhelming power of love, even in the direst of situations.

“Sherman told me he was seeing The Inheritance for the third time – and that he considered it to be the greatest modern play ever. And even allowing for a little bit of hyperbole, he has a point, particularly for those of us who want to understand our own history – and acutely mourn an entire generation who were lost to the scourge of AIDS…. All of this is by way of context for the overpowering sense of loss and the vacuum created by it in our collective history that The Inheritance so powerfully articulates.”

In The Times, Dominic Maxwell wrote: “Watching this two-part, seven-hour saga of modern gay life in New York is like immersing yourself in a great novel. That’s partly because the American playwright Matthew Lopez has created characters who are flawed, fascinating, funny, self-aware and self-destructive in a way more lifelike than theatre normally has the skill or the space to manage. And that’s partly because Lopez has based his story on a great novel: Howards End by EM Forster…. It is a glorious achievement.”

In the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford wrote: “Stop the clocks; the race is won. Here is the play of this year and last year and quite possibly next year as well.”

* Company — opening at the Gielgud Theatre on October 17 (with press admitted the night before on October 16)

Of course the headline for this new production of Company is the gender-switch (or switches), in which Bobby becomes Bobbi and Amy becomes Jamie, amongst others.

In an interview with with the FT, director Marianne Elliott (right) stated, “It was my business partner [producer] Chris Harper who said, ‘Why don’t you change Bobby into a woman?’ I’m always looking for stories for women, particularly older women. I thought that it could be brilliant, because that is a story that is out there that isn’t being reflected on stage: the predicament of a 35-year-old woman who starts to realise that the clock is ticking. I looked at it really carefully. I didn’t want to just do it for the sake of it, because I knew Stephen Sondheim is always very specific about what he writes and thinks very carefully about the characters.”

She staged a workshop they duly did of the revised version, which was filmed and sent to Sondheim for his approval.

And in my review for londontheatre, I wrote: “By making this sly change, director Marianne Elliott and her thrilling star Rosalie Craig have given a deeply familiar and now nearly half a century old show a seemingly radical make-over that thrusts it into the here and now, yet with hardly any lyric changes required. (One of the few noticeable ones: instead of singing “my service will explain”, it becomes “I’ll text you to explain”). Other character genders have changed, too: Amy, the anxious, jittery bride who is one of Bobby/Bobbie’s best friends and desperately tries to cancel things on her wedding day, has become Jamie, running away from Paul. These switches are seamless to those of us who know the show intimately, yet it’s also striking how newly modern and unfamiliar it makes it all seem, too. It’s like seeing an old friend again after a long absence who has lost a ton of weight:  they’re still recognisably the same person, but yet also a different person from which layers have been taken away. We watch the show through fresh eyes – and ears.”

As Andzrej Lukowsi wrote in Time Out, “The potential for this to be a novelty hung over it… but now that it’s here I’m going to cheerily declare that Elliott has found hidden depths in what was already a stone-cold classic. In 2018, when the borderline geriatric likes of Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig still regularly play sexy bachelors, the notion of a 35-year-old man being under any great pressure to settle down seems kind of quaint. But there is, of course, intense pressure for women to do so, before society deems them wanting for letting their youth and fertility run out. The nagging concerns heaped upon Bobbie for her singledom make total, crystal clear, perfectly realised sense. (NB Bobbie is straight, with the hopeless trio of lovers now men – a move that takes a certain misogynist sting out of the writing).”

For Susannah Clapp in The Observer, “It is a supercharged show with a sceptical centre; a play that hinges on marriage but doesn’t exactly like it; a drama that has the rhythms – the soaring and the stutter – of romance but an ironic, unsentimental plot; a slice of life that lives in dreamtime. It is a glorious paradox.Marianne Elliott’s production doubles the stakes. This is more than a revival: it is a remaking…. Actors and audience step through glamour into disillusion – and then back again into something that looks suspiciously like real life. The most traditionally escapist of theatrical forms turns out to be one of the most true.”

For links and extracts to more of the major reviews, visit https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Review-Roundup-Critics-Weigh-In-On-Marianne-Elliotts-COMPANY-on-the-West-End-20181017

* Wise Children — opening at the Old Vic on October 18 (with press admitted the night before on October 17)

As I wrote in my review for Londontheatre, “The dazzling theatre magician that is Emma Rice has just conjured the latest chapter, in every sense, of her compelling and revolutionary adventures in theatreland. From Kneehigh, the touring company based in Cornwall which propelled her to the National, the West End and Broadway, to her sadly abbreviated tenure at the helm of Shakespeare’s Globe, she is a bold and brilliant theatremaker, who brings a highly distinctive artistic signature and sensitivity to her work. It is always alive with humanity – but also buzzes with innate theatricality. And it is born of the naked simplicity and directness of its storytelling, full of playfulness, a lot of songs, wit and also sadness. She launched her own company in the wake of her early departure from the Globe.”

In The Guardian, Arifa Akbar writes, “Wise Children is Angela Carter’s rambunctious novel about illegitimacy, incest and Shakespearean illusion. It is also the name of Emma Rice’s new theatre company, which launches with this adaptation. Carter would surely have approved of such doubleness and reinvention; her work is filled with twins and revisionist retellings of old stories… It is a spectacular show, distilling the carnivalesque spirit of the book yet managing to control its many unruly parts and surfeit of imagination. Rice’s relaunch is a splashy one, celebrating the sheer razzle-dazzle of a life in theatre..”

In The Times, Dominic Maxwell writes, “It is a paean to the joys of living on the wrong side of the tracks. It is a celebration of the value of family: biological, surrogate, professional or all of the above. And with its blend of music hall and circus, of high drama and high comedy, it’s a summation of everything [Emma Rice] does best. A controlled explosion of theatrical glee.”

* Stories — opening at the National’s Dorfman on October 17
Nina Raine’s last play Consent transferred from the National’s Dorfman to the West End’s Harold Pinter; now her latest Stories, that she also directs, has opened at the Dorfman, too, revolving around a single 39-year-old woman’s attempts to conceive a child.

In The Stage, Natasha Tripney complains (and contrasts), stating, “Compare Stories to, for example, Simon Stone’s Yerma and it starts to look as empty as the specimen jar Anna brandishes triumphantly aloft at the play’s conclusion.”

But in The Times, Sam Marlowe applauds: “It’s astringently funny and full of painful uncertainty; just as resonant as the ticking of Anna’s biological clock are ideas about family, relationships and the shape they give to our existence. Raine’s production is hugely entertaining, bruising and tender. Behind every smile, there’s an ache.”

NEW YORK OPENINGS OF THE WEEK


* The Lifespan of a Fact, opening at Studio 54 on October 18, with Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale, was welcomed by Jesse Green in a NYT Critic’s Pick review for the New York Times: “There used to be a genre of Broadway comedy meant to be topical but not emotional. Plays like Take Her, She’s Mine, Fair Game and Norman, Is That You?” treated current social issues — the generation gap, divorce, gay liberation and such — as touchstones for an evening’s light entertainment, and were welcome as such. So is this one… With its cast, its dead-on timing, its perfect set by Mimi Lien and sound design by Palmer Hefferan, it would probably nail its laughs even without the dialogue. It’s what you call a good time.”

Links and extracts to more major reviews can be found here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Review-Roundup-What-Did-Critics-Think-of-Daniel-Radcliffe-Cherry-Jones-and-Bobby-Cannavale-In-THE-LIFESPAN-OF-A-FACT-20181018

* The Ferryman, opening at the Bernard B Jacobs on October 21, with Sam Mendes directing the transfer of his production, originally premiered last year at London’s Royal Court.

In my review for The Stage, I wrote: “Over 20 plays have already been announced to open on Broadway this season, but there’s unlikely to be a family drama teeming with more life than this import from London…. It’s a big play: there are 21 speaking characters, plus a live baby, a goose and a rabbit; its three acts run to well over three hours. This sense of overflowing dramatic richness is perfect for Broadway, where bigger is usually better. But the production’s epic sense of scale, with Rob Howell’s looming domestic kitchen interior filling the stage, is offset by the intimacy and detail of the performances. Eleven of the original London cast reprise their work here, including Laura Donnelly (whose own family history inspired Butterworth, her husband, to write the play) as the woman left in limbo by her husband’s vanishing; Paddy Considine as the patriarch who takes her into his family, and Genevieve O’Reilly as his wife, also return.”

In the New York Times, Ben Brantley writes: “No matter what sort of spread you’ve planned for your Thanksgiving dinner, it won’t be a patch on the glorious feast that has been laid out at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater…. But the real sustenance provided here comes from the sheer abundance within a work that picked up most of the awards on offer during its London run last year. This is theater as charged and cluttered and expansive as life itself.”

Links and extracts to more major reviews can be found here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Review-Roundup-What-Did-The-Critics-Think-of-THE-FERRYMAN-on-Broadway-20181022

LONDON THEATRE NEWS OF THE WEEK: SHOWS AND CASTING
* Two productions originated at Bath Theatre Royal’s summer season, both programmed and directed by Jonathan Church and both coincidentally starring below-stairs alumni of Downton Abbey, are moving to London: Joanna Murray-Smith’s Switzerland moves to the Ambassadors from November 10, opening Nov 19, for run to January 5, with Phyllis Logan starring; and Arthur Miller’s The Price transfers to Wyndham’s from Feb 5, opening Feb 11, for run to April 27, with David Suchet, Downton’s Brendan Coyle, Adrian Lukis and Sara Stewart reprising Bath performances.

* The Lehman Trilogy is to transfer from the National to the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre from May 11, 2019, with Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles reprising their NT performances in Sam Mendes’s production.

* Further casting for the Menier Chocolate Factory’s Fiddler on the Roof, from November 23, opening December 5, will see Andy Nyman joined as Tevye by Judy Kuhn as Golde, Stewart Clarke as Perchik, Matt Corner as Fyedka, Louise God as Yente, Harriet Bunton as  Hodel, Dermot Canavanas as Lazar Wolf, Joshua Gannon as Motel, Kirsty Maclaren as Chva and Molly Osborne as Tzeitel.

* Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre will transfer their summer production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1989 show Aspects of Love to London’ Southwark Theatre, from January 7, opening January 10, for a run to February 9, directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, whose Hope Mill production of Pippin also transferred to Southwark.

* Josie Rourke’s re-working of Measure for Measure has extended its run at the Donmar Warehouse to December 1; and casting has been announced for its next production, the UK premiere of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat from December 9, opening December 19: Broadway actress Martha Plimpton will be joined by Leanne Best, Patrick Gibson, Osy Ikhile, Wil Johnson, Stuart McQuarrie, Clare Perkins, Sule Rimi and Sebastian Viveros.

* The Almeida cancelled its first preview on October 15 of Robert Icke’s production of The Wild Duck, citing cast illness. One wag on Twitter replied, “Is it the duck?”

LONDON THEATRE NEWS: BEHIND-THE-SCENES
* Agent Stuart Piper has stepped  steps down from InterTalent, which he co-founded as Cole Kitchenn Personal Management in 2005, before entering into partnership with Jonathan Shalit’s Roar Group in 2010, with plans to spend more time with his family. Is that a euphemism for the contractual terms of his departure? (And funny that, when I sat next to Shalit at the UK THeatre Awards just the day before this announcement and said to him, “You work with Stuart Piper, don’t you?” he replied: “Yes — Stuart is a great guy!” without mentioning this change…..

* The Wall of Fame, a new installation at the stage door of the London Palladium on Great Marlborough Street, was unveiled there on October 15. The theatre’s owner Andrew Lloyd Webber was joined by four of the stars whose portraits feature on  it: Jimmy Tarbuck, Tommy Steele, Des O’Connor and  Cliff Richard. Tarbuck commented of his co-stars: “Three of my boyhood heroes, Mother loved the three of you.” A committee comprising Lloyd Webber, TV veteran Michael Grade, lyricist Don Black and agent Laurie Mansfield chose the first artists to be honoured, each of whom must have performed in more than two major seasons at the Palladium.

NEW YORK NEWS

Baked by Melissa WICKED Cupcake, available through October 31st. $0.10 will be donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and A BroaderWay for every WICKED cupcake sold.

* Wicked is soon to celebrate its 15th anniversary on Broadway, and it is being marked by Baked by Melissa, the cupcake specialists, with a special green vanilla cake featuring green sugar crystals, and a fudge stuffing, with a portion of proceeds will be donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.

The Broadway League have published their annual demographics report of their audience, comparing  current Broadway theatregoing habits in New York City to previous seasons. Key findings: “During the 2017–2018 season, the average age of Broadway theatregoers was 40.6, the lowest since 2000, and for the second year in a row, there was a record total number of kids and teens under 18 attending a Broadway show. At 2.1 million, this is the highest total ever (it was 1.65 million the season prior). Additionally, since the 2010-2011 season, Hispanic/Latino attendance has grown by 61% or 430,000 admissions (from 710,000 to 1.14 million).”

COLUMN OF THE WEEK
Former Sunday Times magazine lead interviewer Lynn Barber, a veteran of Fleet Street, on being laid off by her editor Eleanor Mills after 9 years and suddenly finding herself freelance at 74:

“How do I feel? Well, naturally I feel bruised but, as I say, not really surprised. It had been more or less open warfare with Eleanor Mills ever since she arrived at the magazine three years ago (I got on fine with her predecessor, Sarah Baxter). It was hard to deal with an editor who didn’t seem to like reading — sending articles to her was like dropping stones down a well. And then there was the showdown over Katie Price, when Eleanor actually wrote a sentence starting ‘As a feminist’ into my article. I said she’d either got to take it out or change the byline and she took it out, but after that it was only a matter of time.” 

And this is priceless: “As a journalist, I am a dinosaur. I like reading words on paper. I like writing long interviews when everyone nowadays seems to want short. I hate dealing with PRs. I don’t follow any celebs on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, because I don’t know who half of them are. One of the last interviews Eleanor asked me to do at the Sunday Times was with Nick Grimshaw, the Radio 1 DJ. I’d interviewed him before and knew he was a likable bloke, but I was rather baffled as to why Sunday Times readers were supposed to be interested in him. I was told the answer was ‘clicks’. Apparently he has a large Instagram and Twitter following among the under-thirties and the idea was that they would read the article and retweet it and the Sunday Times would accumulate more clicks. I’ve no idea whether this worked and frankly I don’t care. I can’t write for clicks. I need to know who I am writing for and why. But I mean to go on writing.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Producer Cameron Mackintosh, speaking at the Theatres Trust Conference 2018 at London’s Lyric Hammersmith last week, said: 
”I firmly believe that if a lot more money was put into half a dozen [regional] centres across the country, and if the actors and creatives are prepared to go there, that’s how we ensure British theatre remains extraordinary for the next 100 years. I would not have a career, and I think most other people my age would agree, if we hadn’t started off in subsidised theatre, the Bristol Old Vics, Leicester as it was, Birmingham Rep and places like that. That’s where we all started. That’s where we learned our craft.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK


Julian Clary tweeted after seeing Company in the West End:
“What a marvel of wit, cleverness and show stopping performances. Cunnilingus too! I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Mark Shenton on FacebookMark Shenton on Twitter
Mark Shenton
My Theatre Mates co-founder Mark Shenton is one of the UK’s leading theatre critics and correspondents, whose regular credits include LondonTheatre, Playbill.com and The Stage, where he is contributing editor. He chairs the drama section of the Critics’ Circle, and hosts the annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, held at the Prince of Wales Theatre. He blogs independently at www.shentonstage.com and tweets @ShentonStage.
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Mark Shenton on FacebookMark Shenton on Twitter
Mark Shenton
My Theatre Mates co-founder Mark Shenton is one of the UK’s leading theatre critics and correspondents, whose regular credits include LondonTheatre, Playbill.com and The Stage, where he is contributing editor. He chairs the drama section of the Critics’ Circle, and hosts the annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, held at the Prince of Wales Theatre. He blogs independently at www.shentonstage.com and tweets @ShentonStage.