The Kiln (formerly the Tricycle) officially re-opened, not without bad blood about the renaming and some protestors outside the theatre, on Monday (11 September 2018) with the premiere of Alexis Zegerman’s Holy Sh!t; it feels like very bad form to be pursuing this grievance at a time when people ought to be celebrating its return.
Even The Guardian has published an editorial saying as much, contradicting their own chief critic Michael Billington who spoke out against the re-naming. As they wrote: “There is something unedifying about the spectacle of an institution’s former leaders lining up to criticise the current incumbent. It is time for the Kiln Theatre’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, to be left alone to do her job – bringing great shows to what is, and has long been, one of London’s most vibrant local theatres. The Kiln ought to be judged by its output today. A change of name does not mean the past is being blotted out. It is still there – a great history that is now ready to be built on.”
LONDON OPENINGS OF THE WEEK
* Holy Shi!t at the Kiln, opening 11 September:
Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play? Actually, you couldn’t get away from the re-naming controversy even in the reviews, but as Matt Wolf noted in his review for the New York Times: “For the record, the theatre’s entrance displays a corrective and clearly visible subtitle of sorts — ‘Tricycle transformed’ — and it could well be argued that a theatre seen to have grown in stature to this degree surely deserves a name that doesn’t call to mind a child’s toy. The space is now grown up in every way.”
In The Times, Ann Treneman also noted the protests: “They were protesting about the name change outside on press night, holding signs saying: ‘It’s our Tricycle, not your Kiln’. Again, it seemed appropriate. For this play is also about ownership: religion, race and, well, unicorns (don’t ask). But she also complained about another name: the play’s title. “The worst thing about this new play by Alexis Zegerman is the name. It’s a cr@ppy name that is quite unfair to exclamation marks.”
In The Independent, Paul Taylor itemised the theatre’s many improvements best: “There’s a glass-fronted on-street cafe, a hospitable ramp up to the auditorium and a buzzy sense of interconnectedness round the building (constructed in 1929). Additions from the 1980s have been stripped away to expose original tiles, architraves and balustrades. The inclusiveness of the atmosphere is heightened by the warmth of the wood and textured timber that permeates the redesign. The beautiful auditorium shows how deftly the architects have managed to bring this theatre up to date technically while being respectful of its soul. The old padded benches have been replaced with individual seats; the capacity has been raised to 292; and the sightlines have been greatly improved. The flexible new design allows the space to be reconfigured for traverse and in-the-the-round productions. All of this is surely beneficial – building on, rather than nullifying, the Tricycle’s illustrious history under Nicolas Kent who was artistic director here from 1984 to 2012.I’ve seen refurbishments elsewhere that have crassly banished the venue’s ghosts. This splendid revamp is much too sensitive to be guilty of that.”
* The Village, Stratford East Theater Royal, opening September 13:
Also beginning a new chapter this week was Stratford East Theatre Royal, whose incoming artistic director Nadia Fall premiered the first new production she has programmed: The Village, a new version of Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna by playwright April de Angelis. In a three-star review for The Stage, Francesca Peschier puts it in its historical context: “Fall cements her commitment to Joan Littlewood’s legacy of revolutionary theatre. She honours Stratford East’s past – Fuenteovejuna was staged here by Littlewood in 1955 – while promising to be innovative. It’s not the most consistent production. Its fire is tempered by its slightly odd, layered staging, but it’s a radical statement of intent for the rest of Fall’s inaugural season.”
In a four-star review for The Times, Dominic Maxwell even more confidently wonders aloud: “Could this be the show that signals this east London venue is about to return to the vanguard of the capital’s theatre scene? I hate to leap to conclusions from just one riveting night out. Yet this, Nadia Fall’s first show here as artistic director, suggests a revivified scale of ambition, engagement, imagination and skill from the theatre that once gave us A Taste of Honey and Oh! What a Lovely War.”
* Wasted at Southwark Playhouse, opening September 12, and Heathers, opening September 13 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket:
This week also saw the opening of two new musicals, Wasted (a new British musical at Southwark Playhouse) and the off-Broadway show Heathers (via The Other Palace, where it ran over the summer without being reviewed but has now transferred to the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket).
Each received very contrasting reviews.
Wasted received a four-star rave from The Guardian and a one-star pan from The Times. In The Guardian, Arifa Akbar wrote of this rock-musical version of the lives of the Bronte sisters, “Strangely, it works – partly because of the fantastically witty book and lyrics by Carl Miller. His words carry their learning lightly, but there is enough depth of characterisation and scholarship to save the piece from cliche. Its success is also down to the cast, both in how they inhabit their parts and their vocal strength.” But in The Times, Ann Treneman wrote, “Adam Lenson directs a production that is too long and wildly uneven. It makes its point (the Brontës were rock stars who dared to dream) with thudding regularity. Forget nuance. This is rock’n’roll! The singing, however, is good. Natasha Barnes is a barnstorming Charlotte and Molly Lynch is good as insecure Anne. Siobhan Athwal overplays the eccentric Emily until she is just a weirdo, but she is often funny too. Oh Heathcliff, I thought halfway through, save me! But, of course, he was too tormented to do that.”
Heathers was much admired by Tim Bano in a four-star review for The Stage: “There’s uncomfortable stuff here: suicide, bullying, murder, misery. But the songs aren’t sugarcoating these things; they intensify them and satirise the glamorising, patronising cultures that surround them. Be sceptical all you like. It turns out Heathers is a masterful deconstruction of hypocrisy and a hymn to acceptance and tolerance. With a catalogue of fantastic songs and a belting cast too, Heathers takes schmaltz and sop and smashes them into smithereens with a blood-red croquet mallet.”
But, again in The Times, Ann Treneman gave it a two-star review: “If it were just a musical it would not be in the West End — it’s not that good. But don’t tell the distinctly twentysomething audience. They cheered everything. Every song was greeted like a long-lost friend, every minor joke indulged. At the end, the standing ovation was instant. It’s a cult, basically.” She goes on to note that it “is probably critic-proof. Still, for the record, Houston we have a problem. Wonky sound, stilted action and atrocious lyrics.”
* Foxfinder, opening at the Ambassadors Theatre on September 13: Originally premiered at the Finborough in 2011, Dawn King’s futuristic, dystopian play opened in a different production in the West End, directed by Rachel O’Riordan (who last week was announced as the new artistic director of Lyric Hammersmith). In a three-star review for The Stage, Sam Marlowe wrote, “Sharp of tooth and riddled with a clawing dread, Dawn King’s 2011 rural drama is a fierce and fabulous beast…. Since our world has only grown crazier since the play first appeared at the Finborough Theatre, its themes seem richer and more resonant than ever, Brexit fallout joining the spectres of environmental catastrophe, sectarianism, extremism and totalitarian oppression that lurk in its murky corners and monstrous shadows. Sadly, it is not well served by this curiously inert production by Rachel O’Riordan. Its compulsive slow burn becomes merely laborious, with what little tension accumulates drained away by a needless interval.”
In a two-star review in The Guardian, Miriam Gillinson seems to also blame the production: “The 2011 debut of the piece launched the playwright’s career and confirmed Blanche McIntyre as a director of exceptional dramatic instinct. McIntyre’s production was pared back and simple, with the audience crammed around the tiny stage of the Finborough in west London. This production, however, feels a little lost and overexposed in its expansive and shiny new home.”
* Misty, opening at Trafalgar Studios, on September 13:
Originally premiered at the Bush Theatre in March, the transfer of Arinzé Kene’s play, in which he also stars, marks only the second play by a living black British writer to appear in the West End (after Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Elmina’s Kitchen in 2005; it will be followed, at the same address, by the transfer of Natasha Gordon’s Nine Nights to be a third).
In a four-star review for the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish writes: “As much bumbling clown as muscular force to be reckoned with, by turns endearing and commanding, Kene keeps you guessing where he’s going next, daring to let things trail off, shifting tempo… It’s a tribute to this absorbing (if perhaps too-protracted) evening that by the end of it, you feel you’ve been drawn into his mind itself – it’s phantasmagorical and inspiringly individualistic.”
REGIONAL OPENING OF THE WEEK
In Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn wrote and directed his 82nd play, Better Off Dead, opening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on September 11:
In a four-star review for The Times, Dominic Maxwell wrote: “Like a lot of recent Ayckbourns, Better Off Dead is two parts as inspired and acute as ever and one part in need of a final polish. I’ll take that deal. The jokes re good and the tragicomic trajectory is resonantly autumnal.”
But in a two-star review for The Guardian, Catherine Love is less convinced: “From a playwright renowned for his craft, Better Off Dead feels surprisingly thrown together. Ayckbourn labours over tired tropes and struggles to come up with anything new to say about creativity, fame or failure. If the detective genre is there to be parodied, it’s never clear to what end, or even whether we’re meant to be laughing. Other Ayckbourn trademarks are hinted at but not fully pursued: a strained marriage, a farcical misunderstanding, the inexorable passing of time. You get the sense of a writer rooting around in his toolkit, taking up and discarding the implements that have served him well in the past.”
WEST END NEWS OF THE WEEK
* Matthew Warchus has announced his fourth season at the helm of the Old Vic. As well as the previously announced return of A Christmas Carol from November 27 prior to an official opening on December 5, this time starring Stephen Tompkinson as Ebenezer Scrooge (played last year by Rhys Ifans), the season will include two Arthur Miller plays: The American Clock, from February 4 prior to an official opening February 13, directed by Rachel Chavkin (soon to be represented by Hadestown at the National) and All My Sons, from April 15 prior to an official opening on April 23, in a co-production with Headlong whose artistic director Jeremy Herrin directs a cast led by Sally Field, Bill Pullman, Jenna Coleman and Colin Morgan. Further ahead, with dates still to be announced, the theatre will offer the world premiere of Lucy Prebble’s adaptation of Luke Harding’s A Very Expensive Poison.
* Josie Rourke has also announced part of her final season at the Donmar Warehouse, before Michael Longhurst takes over: former Donmar president assistant director Lynette Linton will direct the UK premiere of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer prize winning Sweat from December 7 prior to an official opening on December 19, and a Donmar designer Tom Scott will make his directorial debut with a stage version he will also co-adapt and co-design of the film Berberian Sound Studio, from February 8, prior to an official opening February 14, with a cast that includes Tom Brooke. Rourke’s final production, which will open in April, is still to be announced.
* The 2009 Broadway musical version of the film 9 to 5 — with songs by Dolly Parton who also co-starred in the film — is coming to the West End’s Savoy Theatre, for a run from January 28. Louise Redknapp (last seen as Sally Bowles in the West End return of Cabaret), Amber Davies, Natalie McQueen and Brian Conley will star.
* Simon Callow will reprise his solo version of A Christmas Carol — which he has previously performed in London in 2011, 2012 and 2016 — at the Arts Theatre from December 8 to January 12.
* Hot Gay Machine, seen at this year’s Edinburgh fringe, will transfer to Trafalgar Studios 2 from November 27 to January 5. It is co-written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (co-authors of Six, currently running at the Arts) and Zak Ghazi-Torbati. Marlow and Ghazi-Torbati co-star: according to the press release, “Just like A Christmas Carol – but with fewer ghosts and more gays – the dynamic double-act sing, shimmy and sashay the audience on a time travelling adventure through the history of their favourite topic: themselves.”
THEATRE NEWS BEYOND LONDON
* Nominations have been announced for this year’s UK Theatre Awards, the winners of which will be revealed at a ceremony to be held at Guildhall on October 14. I am proud to have been part of the nominating committee this year.
* Leicester’s Curve have announced that their 3016 revival of Grease — originally choreographed by Nikolai Foster but now being replaced by Arlene Phillips – will launch a new tour from June 19, 2019 in Leeds, with 90s pop heartthrob Peter Andre playing Teen Angel at certain venues on certain dates.
* The RSC has announced that next summer it will present new productions of As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure in rep, presented by a company of 27 actors who reflect the nation ““in terms of gender, ethnicity, regionality and disability”
AWARDS OF THE WEEK
* This year’s Hospital Club h100 Awards were presented on September 10. I am proud to have been also been on the nominating committee for the Theatre and Performance category, which was won by director Ola Ince who earlier this year directed Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 at the Gate Theatre. Actor Lucie Shorthouse, who is currently featured in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in the West End, won the rising star award.
* Charlene Ford, a cast member of 42nd Street who gave birth to a son six months ago, has returned to the show after her maternity leave. She will perform three out of eight shows a week, alongside Jenny Legg, who had covered for her while she was off, in what is the West End’s first official job-share. In a piece in The Stage, she said how the producers were initially resistant; but they eventually agreed to it, and they commented to paper, “Following the request from both artists, we are pleased to have abided by the ACAS [Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service] code of practice.”
As Alistair Smith, editor of The Stage, wrote in an editorial, those words “seem more grudging than celebratory.” The changes “represent progress in modernising theatre’s sometimes outdated employment practices.” But it didn’t come easily: it had to be fought for.
* Sir Peter Hall, founder of the RSC and the second artistic director of the National Theatre, was remembered in a memorial service at Westminster Abbey on September 11, the first anniversary of his death. Amongst those who paid tribute were Trevor Nunn (who succeeded him at both the RSC and later the National), who said that from the first moment he met him, “I was ready to follow that man to the North Pole, to the dark side of the Moon. I had experienced the Peter Hall effect.”
Judi Dench performed a speech from Antony and Cleopatra and David Suchet another from Amadeus. Amongst those in attendance were Sir Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Fry, Felicity Kendall, Twiggy, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Penelope Keith, Sir Ben Kingsley, Joely Richardson, Sir Patrick Stewart and Ralph Fiennes;
NEW YORK NEWS
* The current National hit The Lehman Trilogy will play a season at New York’s Park Avenue Armory from March 22 to April 20, 2019, with Adam Godley, Ben Miles and Simon Russell Beale reprising their roles in Sam Mendes’s production.
* Taylor Mac, the performance artist who in June brought part of his 24-Decade History of Popular Music to the Barbican and has previously seen his play Hir staged at the Bush, is to make a Broadway debut as a playwright. Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin will star in Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, set to begin performances March 5 prior to an official opening at the Booth Theatre on April 11.
* When it was announced that Glenda Jackson was to reprise the role of King Lear that she originally played at the Old Vic in 2016 on Broadway, it was stated that it would be a new staging, not the Deborah Warner one that ran in London. Dates, director and co-stars are now announced: it will begin performances February 28, prior to an official opening on April 4 at the Golden Theatre (where Jackson recently appeared in Three Tall Women), with Sam Gold directing a cast that includes Ruth Wilson, Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards), Jayne Houdyshell (currently reprising her role in The Humans at Hampstead), Aisling O’Sullivan and John Douglas Thompson.
* Fenella Fielding, who died on September 11, aged 90: according to Michael Coveney in an obituary for The Guardian “was a household name in the 1960s when she graced and sidled across the West End stage and the television screen, as well as appearing in the Carry On and Doctor films, usually playing a vamp, or the femme fatale.” As he also wrote, “There was always something exotic and possibly louche about Fielding. You never felt that she had skimped on mascara, eyeshadow or lipstick, or that her hair was necessarily all her own in its chaotic and often strangely unkempt manifestation. At the same time, she might appear in public, and occasionally on television, on a chat show, or the popular word game Call My Bluff, dressed in clothes of a distinctly severe line, with white collars back and front, clasped with big jewellery, which gave her the appearance of an unlikely modern nun on the run. No one ever had such a laughing drawl, or haughtier, naughtier intonations.”
* Marin Mazzie, the Broadway leading lady who starred in the original productions of shows like Sondheim’s Passion and Ragtime, as well as revivals of Kiss Me, Kate (which transferred with her to the West End’s Victoria Palace) and most recently taking over in The King and I, died on September 13, aged 57, following a return of ovarian cancer with which she was first diagnosed in 2015. In an obituary in the New York Times, it is stated that she got her cancer diagnosis on the very day that she opened in a Encores! concert run of the Kander and Ebb musical Zorba at City Center. As she told the New York Times that year, “How ironic that I was singing: ‘Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die. Life is how time goes by.”
She is quoted in the obituary saying: “I always wanted to move to New York and be on Broadway even before I had really been here. I didn’t know what either of those things meant, but that’s what I wanted.” She got her wish — and three Tony nominations along the way — and the enduring respect of her peers.