Theatre holds politicians to account.
On July 6, Sir Robert Chilcot published his long-awaited report that followed a public inquiry he led into Britain’s role in the Iraq war. It took Chilcot some seven years—and 2.6 million words—to reach his conclusions, which have been devastating about Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join forces with President Bush. Blair proceeded despite the absence of a UN resolution and against the wishes of his own parliament. Amongst Chilcot’s pronouncements: “We have concluded that the U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.” Also: “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities ... were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
But most extraordinary of all, Blair wrote to Bush eight months before the Iraq invasion to offer his unqualified backing for war well before UN weapons inspectors had complete their work, saying: “I will be with you, whatever.”
The same night Chiclot released his report, the National reprised David Hare’s documentary play Stuff Happens, originally premiered at the theatre in 2004, for a one-night reading. It was resonant and chastening, some 12 years later, to hear this story re-played again, especially in the light of Chilcot’s verdict. Of course, a show at the National could be said to be preached to an already converted audience. But, there’s also something very symbolic about the publicly-funded National Theatre, within (so to speak) a Hare’s breath of parliament itself, offering this direct challenge to holding a Prime Minister to account.
At the end of the play, an Iraqi exile stands alone on the stage and tells us of the aftermath of the invasion: “A vacuum was created. Was it created deliberately? I cannot comprehend. They came to save us, but they had no plans..... Iraq has been crucified. By Saddam’s sins, by ten years of sanctions, by the occupation and now by the insurgency. Basically it’s a story of a nation that has failed on only one thing. But it’s a big sin. It failed to take charge of itself. And that meant the worst person in the country took charge. A country’s leader is the country’s own fault.”
It’s something to reflect on in a year when Britain is currently facing a major leadership struggle for who will take over from David Cameron as its Prime Minister, and America will choose its next President.
Disney hits the London concert circuit.
London will get a chance to hear some Disney scores that have not yet made their way to the West End when Disney’s Broadway Hits concert is staged for the first time in the U.K at London’s Royal Albert Hall October 23. Alan Menken, composer of several of the scores for the shows that Disney have produced including Aladdin, Newsies and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, will appear, alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra and members of the current West End cast of Aladdin.
London revitalizes its cabaret season.
Also heading to the boards: a London fringe production of Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts’s long-running Off-Broadway hit I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, will be reprised for one night only at the Arts Theatre August 15, with a cast that comprises Simon Lipkin (currently playing Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls opposite Rebel Wilson), Julie Atherton, Gina Beck (currently in Show Boat) and Samuel Holmes (recently in Mrs Henderson Presents).
Tony nominee Jenna Russell (Sunday in the Park with George) and John Owen-Jones (currently playing Jean Valjean in Les Misérables on Broadway) will star in a one-night concert performance of Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical The Hired Man, at Chelsea’s Cadogan Hall September 22. Also in the cast are Evelyn Hoskins, Matthew Seadon-Young, Nigel Richards and Stewart Clarke—the latter of whose parents Paul Clarkson and Julia Hills met when they starred in the original West End production!
Atherton and Lipkin will also host a new weekly theatre party called West End Coqs at the Crazy Coqs cabaret season that is being curated by songwriter Scott Alan in September. Other attractions in the season will include a strand called Coq-tails and Conversations, hosted by me, in which I will conduct a series of early evening interviews with leading stars of the West End.
More Off-Broadway shows receive U.K premieres.
It has also been announced that two Off-Broadway musicals are to get London bows. Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith’s 2008 Off-Broadway show Adding Machine: A Musical, based on Elmer Rice’s play of the same name is to receive its U.K. premiere at London’s Finborough Theatre. The production begins performances September 28, prior to an official opening September 30, for a run through October 22.
Lauren Samuels is to star in the U.K. premiere of Vanities: The Musical, a stage musical version of the 1976 play of the same name that was originally seen Off-Broadway in 2009 after prior productions in California in 2006 and 2008. Vanities will be seen at London’s Trafalgar Studios 2, beginning performances September 1 prior to an official opening September 6, for a run through October 1.
Finally, three-time Tony-winning actor Mark Rylance, who also won an Oscar this year for his appearance in Bridge of Spies, is to reprise his performance in Nice Fish. Rylance co-wrote the play with Louis Jenkins, a poet he has quoted in his past acceptance speeches. The play bows at the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre, beginning performances November 15 for a ten-week run that is booking through January 21 only. Originally commissioned and produced by The Guthrie Theater in 2013 and subsequently produced at Cambridge’s A.R.T, it received its New York debut in a run at St Ann’s Warehouse in February this year.
For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com—and follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.