What's Hot in London: Aug. 20: The Play's The Thing — Cumberbatch's Hamlet Finally Opens

News   What's Hot in London: Aug. 20: The Play's The Thing — Cumberbatch's Hamlet Finally Opens
 
It's easy to find yourself living inside a theatrical bubble, outside of which little else exists. A London critical colleague of mine Natasha Tripney filed a column for TheStage from the Edinburgh Fringe a few days ago in which she wrote, "at the moment nothing else really exists; the fringe has the ability to do that, to blot out everything else."

By the same token, the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet has made it seem like nothing else really exists in London theatre, either, given the huge media coverage of it (some of it about the media storm itself, as a few critics weighed in with reviews the day after the very first preview).

As U.S. theatre commentator Howard Sherman put it in an interesting blog post, "The press’s near-obsession with the Cumberbatch Hamlet is quite extraordinary… It’s not entirely unexpected for a show which sold out its run a year in advance, but surely bigger stars have taken to the stage before; perhaps this is the first UK social media theatre blockbuster and it has forced the mainstream media to struggle to keep up."

John Tiffany, director of Broadway's Once and the last Glass Menagerie there, argued in a feature for The Observer, "The hard truth is that the importance of newspaper reviews has declined over the past few years. Now the conversation really begins and ends on social media. When I speak to my peers about responses to a particular show, they say they only take notice of Twitter. In that context, you could see the Times review as a desperate bid to make critics matter again. 'Look at us, we can put our thumbs up or down, we do matter!' So there is a crisis, but it doesn’t sound like it’s on Lyndsey Turner’s stage."

In fact, it turns out the Times review — which described the repositioning of 'To be or not to be' to the top of the show as 'indefensible', a word that could equally be applied to the review itself — is now entirely redundant, too: it has been moved back to its proper place in the third act, as reported here.

The rest of the critics (including me) will be going in this weekend and to Tuesday's opening, and reviews — based on the production Lindsay Turner actually wants us to see — will appear from that evening onwards. Other Openings This Week in London and Beyond
Difficult though it is to believe — and with the aforementioned Edinburgh Festival now in full swing and taking the rest of the coverage — there are still openings elsewhere.

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The National offers a revival of Timberlake Wertenbaker's 1988 play Our Country's Good, that's about the restorative power of the theatre itself, opening August 26. Its original director Max Stafford-Clark himself staged London's last revival at the St James just two years ago to mark the play's 25th anniversary; now Nadia Fall directs a new production.
  • Terry Johnson (La Cage Aux Folles, End of the Rainbow on Broadway) directs Mrs Henderson Presents, a new musical version of the 2005 film of the same name, starring End of the Rainbow Tony nominee Tracie Bennett in the title role, opening at Bath Theatre Royal on August 26.
  • Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon's 1966 Broadway musical Sweet Charity is having a short concert performance run (through Aug. 22 only) at Chelsea's Cadogan Hall, featuring Denise van Outen in the title role with Kimberley Walsh, Kerry Ellis and Michael Xavier also in the cast.

Headlines of the Week
Other stories making news this last week include:

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The abrupt cancelation of a play about young Britons joining Isis called Homegrown that was to have run in London from August 12 to 27 under the auspices of the Naional Youth Theatre provoked a letter of protest published in The Times signed by leading theatrical luminaries including David Hare, David Lan, Simon Callow and more, as reported here. In their letter, they wrote that it marks a "a troubling moment for British theatre and freedom of expression" and they said, "We fear that government policy in response to extremism may be creating a culture of caution in the arts."
  • An all-white cast for Trevor Nunn's production of Shakespeare's The War of the Roses at the Rose Theatre in Kingston has also provoked protest from both Equity U.K and the Arts Council, as reported here. As Malcolm Sinclair, president of Equity U.K, asked, "Can it be acceptable best practice in 2015 to cast a project such as this with 22 actors but not one actor of color or who apparently identifies themselves as having a disability?" Nunn argued in response that he was striving to present the play with "historical verisimilitude." But as has been noted, a Norwegian actor Kare Conradi plays Edward IV, and two British actors, Joely Richardson and Imogen Daines, play the French characters Margaret of Anjou and Joan of Arc.
  • Director/choreographer Jonathan Butterell is to return to performing for the first time in over twenty years to star in the London premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's See What I Wanna See at the Fringe Jermyn Street Theatre, from September 8, as reported here. Butterell, whose Broadway credits include Nine, Light in the Piazza, Assassins and Fiddler on the Roof, also choreographed the original off-Broadway production of See What I Wanna See at the Public as well as directed LaChiusa's Giant at the same address.
  • The Menier Chocolate Factory, whose production of The Color Purple heads to Broadway next to begin performances in November, already has another homegrown hit and it hasn't even gone into rehearsal yet: its revival of Funny Girl, that begins performances November 20, has sold out its entire run within a few hours of going on public sale. Sheridan Smith will play the title role in Michael Mayer's production.

For more updates
Follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen! And keep checking the international section of Playbill.com for major stories.

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