What’s Hot in London: June 18-24

News   What’s Hot in London: June 18-24 “Brexit” changes arts in the U.K., Mike Bartlett establishes himself as a playwright of the now with new work, a female Henry V continues the all-female Shakespeare trend and more.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

“Brexit” changes the arts.
Britain woke up on Friday to a new political future. Britain’s people voted to exit the European Union. After suffering a narrow defeat in the national referendum to decide whether Britain should remain in Europe or “Brexit,” as the term became coined, Prime Minister David Cameron immediately announced his intention to step down from office.

The result was in spite of dire warnings from most leading economists but also arts leaders, too. The Barbican Centre’s managing director Nicholas Kenyon had said ahead of the vote, “My approach is: We are all Europeans now if you look at the range of co-productions that we now have that depend on the free movement of talent between European countries.... Being in [the union] is an immense benefit in terms of the possibilities of creating these co-productions.”

Those views were echoed by the Southbank Centre’s artistic director Jude Kelly, who said, “We see creative collaboration being supported by remaining part of the EU. I’m not saying it could not happen by being outside the EU, but it would be that much more difficult, that much trickier.”

The Young Vic’s David Lan, who regularly collaborates with European partners, commented that the U.K. had much to learn from Europe. “Many of the European theatre companies are way ahead of us in terms of imagination, sophistication, intelligence, skill, acting … certainly in terms of how to run a company effectively—way ahead of us.”

Nick Hytner, former artistic director of the National Theatre and now leading his own theatre company, commented, “Creativity knows no borders. Theatre, like all the creative industries, thrives on the free exchange of talent, of ideas, of inspiration and the EU enables this. Why would we want suddenly to impose borders on this free exchange of talent and ideas?”

Harriet Walter
Harriet Walter

A female Henry V takes the London stage.
This is the year where two-time Oscar-winning film star Glenda Jackson returns to the London stage for the first time since she was a long-serving London Member of Parliament to play King Lear at the Old Vic, and Harriet Walter will play Prospero in The Tempest in rep with the title role in Henry IV and Brutus in Julius Casear. Now, Michelle Terry leads the charge of younger actors tackling traditionally heroic male roles with Henry V.

The production of Henry V, directed by Robert Hastie (soon to take over at the helm of Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, succeeding Daniel Evans), opened at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park on June 22. In a four-star review for the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish wrote, “This must rank as the biggest cross-gender shock to the Shakespearean system this year.”

He amplifies his concerns: “The prologue invites us to suspend disbelief, but might putting a woman in this front-line heroic position be an imaginative bridge too far?” But he declares, “It works really well, though. Terry, a fine actress, seems to grow in stature before our eyes. She adopts a neutral stance, neither overtly a woman in a man’s world, nor attempting male impersonation, allowing our perceptions to shift and throwing the gauntlet down to any prejudices. This Henry is pensive, serious, straight-faced and piercingly alone; not Man, not Woman, Human.”

In The Guardian, Michael Billington is also four-stars, and says, “It helps that Terry has a resonant voice that can ring out across the open spaces. But I was struck most by the way she and Hastie reinvigorated a familiar text. There’s a classic example in the pre-Agincourt speech when Henry’s offer of a passport for anyone with no stomach for the fight is seized on by one of her soldiers. Terry then directs the rest of the speech to his departing figure, instantly turning a piece of tub-thumping rhetoric into a moving personal plea. But that is simply the highlight of a riveting performance that makes you see Henry as role player, rather than hero or war criminal.”

Wild, a new play based on the story of whistleblower Edward Snowden, opens in London.

Mike Bartlett
Mike Bartlett

Mike Bartlett—whose King Charles III was Tony-nominated and whose other work includes Cock that was seen in New York—has premiered a new play Wild at London’s Hampstead Theatre. The work offers a fictionalised version of the Edward Snowden story, after he blows the whistle on mass online surveillance and becomes a hunted exiled man in Russia. It opened June 20.

In a four-star review for The Guardian, Michael Billington writes, “Under the surface of a mystery thriller, Bartlett is, in fact, dealing with the ethical and political consequences of Snowden’s 2013 revelations....Bartlett uses the particular case of Snowden to offer an exaggerated, conspiracy theory view of a world in which government agencies, big companies and terrorist organisations are all intimately connected.”

In The Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish says that Wild confirms Bartlett “as a playwright impressively willing to wrestle with the big questions of our time and, in its closing stages it delivers the year’s most sensational coup de théâtre.” But he’s not telling us what it is: “I’m going to keep the exact nature of that scenic surprise as classified information though the issue of what can be kept ‘secret’ in this online age goes to the heart of the evening’s concerns.”

More production and casting news...
Samantha Barks, fresh from her run in Berkeley Rep’s Amelie, is to return to the London stage to star in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years at London’s St James Theatre from October 27. Brown will himself direct. Barks will be joined by Jonathan Bailey, best known for his TV roles in Broadchurch and the title role in Leonardo.

Samantha Barks in Amelie
Samantha Barks in Amelie Kevin Berne

London’s Lyric Hammersmith have announced plans to revive Mark Ravenhill’s first play Shopping and F***ing, from October 7. Sean Holmes, the Lyric’s artistic director who is also directing the play, comments, “It’s a privilege and a delight to stage the 20th anniversary production of Mark Ravenhill’s prophetic play. What is the internet now if it isn’t shopping and f**ing?”

The Menier Chocolate Factory, currently represented on Broadway by The Color Purple and in the West End by the transfer of Florian Zeller’s The Truth to Wyndham’s, have announced another transfer: David Baddiel’s autobiographical My Family: Not the Sitcom. The production will transfer to the West End’s Vaudeville Theatre from September 12. Meanwhile at the Menier itself, Tom Hollander is to star in Stoppard’s early play Travesties, directed by Patrick Marber, from September 22.

For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com—and follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.

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