Even with its star Sheridan Smith on an extended leave of absence, the Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Funny Girl remains in Mark Shenton’s regularly updated list of ton ten ticket recommendations – just! Elsewhere, new entries include the West End debut for Hollywood’s Jesse Eisenberg – as both playwright and star – in the New York transfer of The Spoils. What are the other risers and fallers? Follow links to book tickets.
My top ten shows this week
Joe Penhall’s bruisingly brilliant play about a conflict over the treatment of a mentally ill black man by two doctors is played with a ferocious intensity in a set that resembles a boxing ring and has the audience arranged on all four sides around it. Michael Xia’s production is superbly played by a cast that comprises the amazing Daniel Kaluuya, David Haig and Luke Norris. Running at the Young Vic to 2 July.
2. The Spoils
After recent vanity projects in the West End for actors-turned-writers like Matthew Perry (The End of Longing) and Zack Braff (All New People) that could have only made it there thanks to their commitment to also be in it, it’s a serious relief to find that Jesse Eisenberg (right) earns his place as both writer and star of The Spoils, which comes to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios after a successful Off-Broadway run.
3. The Deep Blue Sea
This is the play that literally changed my life – it was seeing it when I was 14, in South Africa where I grew up, that turned me onto the theatre. I’m not entirely sure how my 14-year-old self understood, instinctively, what a co-dependent relationship would look like, and how painful unrequited love would be, when I had not yet experienced either. But now that I have experienced both, more than once, the play cuts even deeper. It is exquisitely staged at teh National with a devastating performance from Helen McCrory.
4. Show Boat
London is currently experiencing a rare history lesson in the both where Broadway’s great musical era began with Show Boat in 1927, and would land so triumphantly just 23 years later with Guys and Dolls, possibly the greatest musical of them all in my opinion. But Show Boat is pretty astonishing, too, not least for one of the most rapturous, enchanting scores ever written; the standards just pour out of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, including ‘Ol Man River’, ‘Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’, ‘Why Do I Love You?’ and ‘Bill.’ Its been given a gorgeous production (pictured above) by Daniel Evans, transferred from Sheffield’s Crucible to the wrap-around intimacy of the New London, and featuring a cast full of stunning voices.
5. The Threepenny Opera
Yet another National Theatre show — Rufus Norris directs the great Weill/Brecht musical, first premiered in Berlin in 1928, in a newly revised version by Simon Stephens that makes its blistering satire on corruption bang up to date, full of moody malevolence. A fantastic cast led by Rory Kinnear (pictured left), Nick Holder, Haydn Gwynne and Rosalie Craig give it full value.
6. The Go-Between
Original British musicals are having a tough time competing against the onslaught of Broadway imports, and though Richard Taylor’s quiet, understated new musical — first produced regionally in 2011 — won’t be to everyone’s tastes, it is a tender, beautiful piece, and graced with a perfect starring turn from Michael Crawford (right) that knows not to dominate the show.
7. The Invisible Hand
Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, seen at the Bush Theatre a few years ago, won him the Pulitzer prize for drama; though The Invisible Hand isn’t quite in its league, its nonetheless a gripping play, part hostage drama and part a thriller about how the money markets are manipulated. Indhu Rubasingham’s production is acted with fierce intensity by a cast that includes Daniel Lapaine as the hostage, with Tony Jayawardena as his Iman captor and Parth Thakerar as his idealistic London-born enforcer.
8. Guys and Dolls
Frank Loesser’s immortal Broadway musical jut gets better and better. Chichester’s transfer to the West End has recently moved from the Savoy to the Phoenix and has a new cast who are just wonderful. Oliver Tompsett, who is possessed of one of the best male voices in British musical theatre, has stunningly inherited the role of Sky Masterson from Jamie Parker, and Samantha Spiro (to 26 June, to be succeeded by Rebel Wilson) has taken over brilliantly as Miss Adelaide. It is also simultaneously on a UK tour I can’t wait to see, too, because Louise Dearman and Richard Fleeshman are playing the roles of Miss Adelaide and Sky there. It has long been my absolutely favourite of any musical: as I wrote when this production premiered at Chichester in 2014, “Guys and Dolls is, to my mind and even more my heart and soul, simply the greatest of all the classic musicals of Broadway’s golden age of over half a century ago. No show for me summonses a mythical, virtually mystical version of its own mean but colourful streets with as much serious style and witty panache as Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’s incisive, clever distillation of Damon Runyon’s classic story and characters, set to Frank Loesser’s irresistibly tuneful but acerbically pointed songs.”
9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare’s Globe has a new artistic director Emma Rice – who has admitted that, not only has she not read all the plays, but doesn’t understand them, either. But her debut production is a rollicking romp that is full of her own directorial trademarks yet also honours the play and its audience. I’ve seldom had such fun at the Globe – one of the happiest shows ever.
10. Funny Girl
London’s Menier Chocolate Factory is riding high on both sides of the Atlantic with hit transfers of The Color Purple (to Broadway, where London star Cynthia Erivo won this year’s Tony and the production Best Muiscal Revival) and Funny Girl (to the West End’s Savoy Theatre, marking this 1960s show’s first appearance in the West End since the original transferred from Broadway in 1966). Though star Sheridan Smith has temporarily (we hope) withdrawn from the show owing to ill-health, the show goes on with her brilliant understudy Natasha Barnes (pictured above) in the title role — I saw her do it at the Menier, and she, too, was amazing
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.