The Stage Debut Awards were presented for the second time on Sunday 23 September, honouring eight theatrical newcomers as writers, composers and/or lyricists, directors, designers and actors in plays and musicals, plus an additional category for West End debut. Only the latter was done by public vote (and went to the ever-popular TV star Aidan Turner); the rest were voted by a panel from The Stage, which I was proud to be a part of.
The event was hosted by Cush Jumbo (pictured above with me!); I was also proud to be asked to present the award for Best Actor in a Musical, won by Louis Gaunt for his performance as Will Parker in Grange Park Opera’s Oklahoma!; only the day before these awards, I went to Nottingham to see its production of Sweet Charity in which he was in the chorus of, and next up he’ll be in Hadestown at the National (he’s been commuting between Nottingham daily to rehearsals in London — using up most of his acting fee for Nottingham, no doubt, on East Midland Trains!).
The musical performance categories also included three students I had taught in their very first years at ArtsEd – Toby Miles, Simon Oskarsson and Amara Okerere (all nominated for performances I’d not seen, so I had no part in their nominations); Amara’s win as Best Actress in a Musical (for playing Eponine in Les Misérables in the West End right now) follows last year’s win of another ArtsEd graduate Miriam Teak-Lee, who I’d also taught (for her performance in On the Town at the Open Air Theatre; she has now gone onto the original cast of Hamilton).
These awards are absolutely remarkable: they celebrate the most important pipeline there is — to the next generation of talent. And The Stage has turned them into a real event: they could have been given out at a little cocktail party, but instead its a full, three-course dinner affair in a glamorous events room off Trafalgar Square — and a who’s who of the industry is there to see them, including Rufus Norris, Stephen Daldry, Michael Grandage, Howard Panter, Rosemary Squire and more! The winners are all talents to watch.
LONDON OPENINGS OF THE WEEK
* Sylvia — Old Vic (scheduled opening September 24):
Sylvia was due to open at the Old Vic on Monday September 24, but in the event, the press night got cancelled — after the critics had arrived. Owing to another cast illness — after the actor playing the title role had previously withdrawn — it led to Susannah Clapp reporting in The Observer of “an announcement that it would be a concert performance (no props, no scenery, no real movement), and that all audience members would get a full refund. Oh, and a request: this is the first time I have turned up at a theatre and been asked not to write a review.”
So she doesn’t, but writes of the concert she duly saw: “Here are the ingredients for a marvel. I hope the narrative lives up to it when the show is put on in full.”
A few critics, however, managed to get into see the full (but not finished) version of the show — both Michael Billington in The Guardian and Ann Treneman in The Times obviously went in ahead of the scheduled Monday opening, with their reviews appearing on Tuesday September 25. Billington itemised the show’s slightly troubled gestation and some of its faults, “yet the audience I saw it with was on its feet in acclamation… What is clear, however, is that, with some judicious cuts and more attention to the lyrics, the show could be a palpable hit.”
In a subsequent interview with The Stage, the Old Vic’s artistic director Matthew Warchus called the production “a triumph over adversity,” saying that: “We have this wonderful show in its early form on our stage and audience reaction has been more positive than anything I’ve ever had at my time at the Old Vic. We are very pleased with how honest and upfront we have been and how well the company have coped with the bad luck thrown at them. We are really proud of the show and I am proud of how my staff have handled this situation.”
REGIONAL OPENINGS OF THE WEEK
* Flowers for Mrs Harris — Chichester Festival Theatre, opening September 15:
Originally produced under the auspices of Daniel Evans as his parting shot from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 2016, he has now revived his production at Chichester Festival Theatre that he now runs.
I very much admired on its first outing in Sheffield two years ago for The Stage, and re-reviewing it in Chichester, Julia Rank quotes my comment on the show’s “glowing warmth” and says, “This revised staging at Evans’ new home theatre reinforces its poignant charms.”
In a four-star review for The Times, Dominic Maxwell concurs: “This enchanting British musical arrives at his present home to light up West Sussex just as it lit up South Yorkshire.”
Touching the Void — Bristol Old Vic, opening September 17:
The Bristol Old Vic’s reopening, after a £26m refurbishment, with Touching the Void, a stage version of Joe Simpson’s 1988 best-selling autobiographical mountaineering memoir, has received two five-star raves so far, from Mark Lawson in The Guardian and Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. As Cavendish put it, “Simpson’s 1988 best-seller – detailing a near fatal climbing expedition in the Peruvian Andes three years earlier – relayed one of the most remarkable stories of endurance and survival in climbing history. And you could say that the Old Vic has battled overwhelming odds to remain the oldest continually working theatre in the English-speaking world. A decade ago, it was touch and go; the building looked tired, the direction of travel was uncertain. Step by step, phase by phase, a hobbled regional player has been given exactly the right shot in the arm to recover and move forwards. It might sound far-fetched to hail the BOV as an Everest of an arts venue, but architects Haworth Tompkins – the go-to-people for theatre-building magic – have created a sense of the sublime in the piazza-like new foyer.”
LONDON THEATRE NEWS OF THE WEEK
* The Almeida announced its new season. Simon Russell Beale (currently in The Lehman Trilogy at the National) is to star as Richard II, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, from December 10 prior to opening on December 18, with an NT Live screening on January 15. Mona Wasburne, who wrote Mr Burns and Twilight Zone that ran there, returns with Shipwreck, from February 11 prior to opening on February 19, directed by artistic director Rupert Goold; he will also direct The Hunt, adapted from Danish thriller Jagten from June 17, prior to opening June 26. Between these two, associate Director Rebecca Frecknall and Patsy Ferran will reunite, following the West End transfer of their Almeida collaboration on Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke, for Chekhov’s Three Sisters in a new version by Cordelia Lynn, from April 8, prior to opening on April 16.
* The previously announced stage version of All About Eve, to be directed by Ivo Van Hove and starring Gillian Anderson, has confirmed its West End dates and venue: it will begin performances on February 2 prior to an official opening on February 12 at the Noel Coward Theatre. Additional casting has also been revealed: the cast will also include Lily James (last in the West End as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet as part of Kenneth Branagh’s season at the Garrick), Monica Dolan, Sheila Reid and Rhashan Stone.
* Talking of van Hove: the revamped Linbury Theatre (right) is to re-open at the Royal Opera House in December; the programme to include UK premiere of The Diary of One Who Disappeared, directed by Ivo van Hove, next June.
* Chicago has once again used a reality TV programme to secure a casting take-over. In 2004, Matthew Goodgame made his professional debut in the original West End run of this revival at the Adelphi after winning the Channel 4 series Musicality. Now Laura Tyler will take over from Denise Van Outen in the show’s current return run at the Phoenix to play Velma Kelly from September 24 to October 6, after winning the role as part of the new ITV series The Big Audition, which begins airing next month.
* The current 30th anniversary touring version of Fame the Musical will have a West End run next year, at the Peacock Theatre from September 11 to October 19. (I will be reviewing it a year before that, when it plays in Woking from October 1 to 6, THIS year).
* The script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child instantly became the fastest-selling published play in theatrical history; now there’s an album ahead, for Imogen Heap’s score for the production, that will be released on November 2. She has commented, “This album is like nothing I’ve ever attempted before. It’s four suites containing music from each of the four acts of the play. With over 100 moments of music in the play, the challenge was how to weave them together, and I think it has manifested into a really enjoyable listen, with memories for those who’ve seen the play, musical accompaniment to those with the script of the play or simply just to enjoy the music as a stand-alone album.”
* New York’s celebrated gay piano bar Marie’s Crisis will “pop up” in London for a week from October 30 to November 3, in the basement bar of London’s oldest existing gay pub the City of Quebec, near Marble Arch.
THEATRE NEWS BEYOND LONDON
* In a open letter to National Theatre Wales chair Clive Jones, 40 Welsh artists — including playwrights Gary Owen and Tim Price — stated, “It is with extreme sadness that we wish to make known our discontent with National Theatre Wales. We feel it is time for a public discussion about the very purpose of the organisation. The direction of NTW, coupled with a lack of scrutiny, transparency and openness has led to a worrying internal culture, which, despite the organisation’s name, seems to take pride in ridding itself of a theatrical identity and even its nationality.”
* The full cast has been announced for the new tour of Les Miserables, beginning performances at Leicester’s Curve on November 3. Joining the previously announced Killian Donnelly who will reprise his West End performance as Jean Valjean will be Nic Greenshields as Javert, Katie Hall as Fantine, Martin Ball as Thénardier, Sophie-Louise Dann as Madame Thénardier, Harry Apps as Marius, Tegan Bannister as Eponine, Will Richardson as Enjolras and Bronwen Hanson as Cosette.
* This year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards, the longest-established of all London’s theatre prize giving ceremonies that has been presented annually since 1955, will take place on November 18 at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Claire Foy and Idris Elba will co-host alongside the paper’s celebrity-obsessed owner Evgeny Lebedev.
* Sean Holmes, currently the outgoing artistic director at Lyric Hammersmith, is to join Shakespeare’s Globe as Associate Artistic Director to Michelle Terry. He has commented, “Michelle’s vision for the Globe is exciting, inclusive and bold…It’s an honour and a privilege to be invited to join Michelle’s team.”
* Raymond Gubbay, the combative founder (and former chief executive of Raymond Gubbay Ltd who once applied to take over the running of the Royal Opera House), told The Stage this week why he’d parted ways from the company that (still) bears his own name in 2016: “I didn’t like the new owners. I didn’t like Sony thought for a music company they were remarkably ignorant about music and were only interested in the bottom line. For me, this is a business about passion and having an interest in it and putting your life and soul into it. That, for me, is very important.”
Now he’s applying that passion to a new venture Fiery Angel Entertainment with Edward Snape, whose opening shot will be a new semi-staged concert version of Guys and Dolls at the Royal Albert Hall next month. In a separate interview with The Times, Gubbay explained, “The Albert Hall is very keen to extend into the West End audience. It is extremely comfortable, people like going there and it is luxurious in comparison with a lot of West End theatres where they get crammed in, there are queues for loos and you can’t get drinks at the bar.”
* Theatre directors will see their minimum rates increased by more than 20% by 2021, following an agreement stuck by Equity and Stage Directors UK. According to a report in The Stage, “Directors working in the biggest West End venues will benefit from increased rates of up to £1,023 by 2021, to £5,770 a show. Minimum rates will increase for West End directors by 5% every year until 2021, beginning with a rise of 5% backdated to August 1, 2018. By the end of the period, pay will have increased by 21.6% on the current rates.” SDUK executive director Thomas Hescott commented to The Stage, “These agreements are just the starting point, and represent a good deal for our most vulnerable members – directors in the early stages of their careers. We will be working alongside Equity to ensure all directors and all agents know the content of the agreements in order to ensure they are being implemented across the sector.”
NEW YORK NEWS
It’s farewell to the long-running cable show devoted to New York theatre, Theater Talk, which has been cancelled after 25 years. Susan Haskins, Susan Haskins, the show’s host and executive producer and a co-creator, told the New York Times it ended after a change in leadership at CUNY TV, which broadcast the programme, led to a dispute over editorial control. I was a guest on the show myself, alongside the West End Whingers, on 2010: you can watch here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW2NbJrEjFo; and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDbTxdQjgEE.
* Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is to be revived on Broadway as well as a separate production in the West End. Broadway’s Roundabout Theatre Company will stage it at its American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street from April 4, prior to an official opening on April 22, featuring Annette Bening (right) and playwright/actor Tracy Letts, under the direction of former Lincoln Center Theatre director Gregory Mosher. In London, Sally Field and Bill Pullman will star in Jeremy Herrin’s co-production between Headlong and the Old Vic at the exact same time, running at the latter from April 15 to June 8.
Veteran stage and TV actor Dudley Sutton died, aged 85, on September 15. As The Guardian reported, “Brimming with mischief, the gloriously uproarious Dudley Sutton was an actor who epitomised the Elizabethan view of thespians as rogues and vagabonds, “cony-catchers and bawdy-baskets”. His face provided theatre critics with years of poetic inspiration. They described him as “a debauched cherub” and “a fallen angel”; the Guardian’s Michael Billington admired his “baby face battered with experience” in a production of Strindberg’s After the Fire at the Gate theatre in 1997, while another said of Sutton in Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class at the Royal Court 20 years earlier that he was “the only actor who can upstage a baby lamb”, spluttering insults from the side of his mouth “like a rustic WC Fields”.
* Playwright Stephen Jeffreys, a regular at the Royal Court where his plays included The Libertine (premiered there in 1994, subsequently turned into a feature film that starred John Malcovich and revived in the West End in 2016 with Dominic Cooper) and where he was literary associate for 10 years, died, aged 68, following a brain tumour, on September 17. As Michael Coveney put it in an obituary for The Guardian, “Jeffreys operated quietly and efficiently in the theatre for 40 years…. He inspired others, too, and was renowned as both teacher and facilitator. His Royal Court colleague, the director Stephen Daldry said: “What he doesn’t know about playwriting isn’t worth knowing.”
INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Bonnie Langford is interviewed by Matt Hemley in The Stage on returning to Drury Lane — 46 years after making her professional debut on the same stage, when she was just seven, to now star in 42nd Street. Her first appearance there was in a stage production of Gone with the Wind, which also featured a horse called Charlie who, as she puts it, “did his business on the stage every night”.“ This led to one of the most famous quips of Noel Coward’s, who apparently said, “You can solve this problem easily: simply shove the child’s head up the horse’s arse.” Langford tells The Stage, “I found out a little while after, when I was 14 and about to go on stage for some gala performance. I turned to my mum, who was chaperoning me, and asked if it was true. She said: ‘Darling, I’m afraid it is.’ I thought it was hilarious. And I feel quite honoured.”