TICKETS: Mark’s Top Ten recommendations + this week’s openings (14 Mar)

In Features, London theatre, Musicals, Native, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Ticket recommendations, Touring by Mark ShentonLeave a Comment

What are this week’s main London openings? Which shows have made the grade for Mark Shenton’s top ten ticket recommendations? Here you go…

This week’s main London openings

  • Miss Atomic Bomb — new musical at the St James, with a cast led by Catherine Tate, Dean John-Wilson (soon to star in the West End in the title role of Disney’s Aladdin), Simon Lipkin and Daniel Boys in the world premiere of a musical inspired by the bomb tests and beauty pageants that co-existed in 50s Vegas. Opening March 14.
  • If You Kiss Me, Kiss MeJane Horrocks has co-conceived this show with director/choreographer Aletta Collins (the choreographer behind Bend it Like Beckham), in which she appears with a live band and a company of dancers, opening on March 16 at the Young Vic.
  • The Painkiller Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon bring their Belfast hit to the West End’s Garrick Theatre as part of the Branagh Theatre season, opening March 17.

My top ten shows this week

1. Akhnaten
Philip Glass’s 1984 opera is, now that Bend it Like Beckham has left town, my favourite musical evening in town! The evening is a glorious wallow in rapturously beautiful music, with an amazing, meditative staging by Phelim McDermott that is full of haunting imagery – and even juggling. It was seeing the ENO’s original version in 1985 that made me a fully-fledged fan of Glass; now it’s wonderful to see it again in a brand-new production, running in rep at the London Coliseum, to March 18. I have just shelled out over £100 to buy a ticket to see it again this Thursday. Yes, it’s that good!
2. Nell Gwynn
A ravishing, rambunctious and hilarious new play by Jessica Swale that’s about a love affair both in and of the theatre, revolving around the true story of the 17th century actress who ended up as mistress to KIng Charles II. First seen at Shakespeare’s Globe for a run of just 11 performances last summer, it now gets a West End transfer the Apollo, starring the wonderful Gemma Arterton in the title role of Chris Luscombe’s production.  Shakespeare’s Globe previously also transferred Twelfth Night and Richard III with Mark Rylance to the same theatre. See my review for The Stage here.
4. Motown
Not everyone loved this one – critical opinion was, to say the least, mixed. But even though I thought it was a bit of a cruise ship revue when I first saw it on Broadway, seeing it again in London, with a really fine, mostly British cast pumping out the hits, warmed me to this show’s infectious and multiple pleasures. There simply hasn’t been a songstack quite like it in a jukebox musical ever – sure, it’s a pity some of the songs get cut off in their prime and the book makes Rock of Ages seem deep, but I still loved it! See my review for The Stage here.
4. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The National revisit August Wilson’s early play in his ten-play cycle of American black experience across the last century that they previously presented the UK premiere of back in 1989 to offer a stunning new production in the Lyttelton, starring Sharon D Clarke in the title role. Lucian Msamati, who’ll play Salieri in the NT’s  forthcoming production of Amadeus, is extraordinary, too, amongst a superb ensemble that also features Clint Dyer and Giles Terera. See my review for The Stage here.
5. In the Heights
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony winning Broadway musical returns to London in the exhilarating production first seen at Southwark Playhouse last year, and now at the new Olivier-eligible King’s Cross Theatre, where has now extended until October. See my Stage review here.
5. Uncle Vanya
There isn’t a more up-and-coming director in town than Robert Icke, associate at the Almeida, who last year directed the award-winning Oresteia there that transferred to the West End. Now he does equally revelatory work on Chekhov’s enduring masterpiece, bringing it into the here and now with startling immediacy, and with an astonishing lead performance from Paul Rhys in the title role (actually re-named Uncle Johnny in this version).
8. The Father
Florian Zeller has gone from unknown to soon having three plays running simultaneously in London – The Truth opens officially at the Menier this week, while The Mother, with Gina McKee, ended its run at the Tricycle last week. But it is James Macdonald’s bleak but beautiful production of The Father, now back in the West End at the Duke of York’s until March 26 prior to a national tour, that has initiated this flurry of interest. Kenneth Cranham, who won the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best Actor, is newly joined now by Amanda Drew as his daughter. See my review for The Stage here.
9. Bad Jews
Return run to the West End for Joshua Harmon’s brilliant, excoriating study of a family of young Jewish people and their claims and counter-claims for assimilation… or not. A ferocious, lacerating family comedy that’s like a gladiatorial contest, it was first seen at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, then transferred to the St James before moving to the Arts and now the Haymarket, where it runs to March 20. Even the poster ignited controversy, getting banned by London Underground. But the show demands to be seen.
9. Welcome Home, Captain Fox!
Rare sighting of a still rarer Jean Anouilh play is updated to the late 50s by playwright Anthony Weigh, and turned into a strange, funny and stylish evening. See my review for The Stage here.
10. Mrs Henderson Presents
Transfer from Bath Theatre Royal of this touching, terrific new musical version of the 2005 British film set backstage and frontstage at the Windmill Theatre, which offered audiences live, nude (but completely immobile) women. The cast includes Emma Williams  as one of the showgirls, plus Tracie Bennett in the title role, originally played by Judi Dench in the film. See my review for The Stage here.
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Mark Shenton
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.

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Mark Shenton on FacebookMark Shenton on RssMark Shenton on Twitter
Mark Shenton
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.

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