An Actor rebukes the audience
It's not just Patti LuPone who calls out her audience for taking photographs or swipes cellphones from aberrant theatregoers who are checking them during a show. In London this week, one leading actor, Laurence Fox, broke the fourth wall and refused to finish the show The Patriotic Traitor in which he was starring at the Park Theatre, telling the audience: "I won’t bother telling you the story because this c*** in the front row has ruined it for everybody."
He subsequently replayed the events in an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Today program: "What happened was, the gentleman in the theatre started muttering and heckling early on during the play, and then towards the end started telling me to f-off and sort of moaning about various things. It became so loud and so impossible to deal with. It's not an interactive, stand up comedy show, and, therefore, if someone is hellbent on heckling they are ruining it for everybody. So it becomes an unperformable play. The play stops at that moment because that person is defying the device of what the theatre is."
But is an actor who responds this way also defying what theatre is? Surely its for the house management to take steps to stop the disruption, not the actors. On the other hand, I've experienced that you can't always rely on that. When the Barbican Centre failed to stop a person taking flash photography throughout a performance of Robert Wilson's production of Einstein on the Beach in 2012, I confronted the offender myself after the show—and summoning my inner LuPone, screamed at her, "Who do you think you are?"
It turned out she was Bianca Jagger. It duly made front page news. The Guardian followed it up with a big feature on audience etiquette, concluding with the immortal advice: "When something is being a distraction nearby, you have a duty to do something. Others further off may be equally annoyed, but powerless, so they are depending on you. Remember that—and don't rely on having an enraged Mark Shenton at the end of every row."
Berry Gordy returns to the West End and Tom Jones to Wales
Berry Gordy was onstage twice this week: on March 8, Motown opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Cedric Neal had just played Gordy’s younger self in the London transfer of Motown, the musical Gordy wrote about his own career, when Gordy took to the stage, as well, for an audience that included original Supremes singer Mary Wilson and Smokey Robinson. As he revealed in a first night interview, "London has been so much to Motown. It has been successful here for 50 years, and it opened the gateway to the world for us. We’re just thrilled to be here.”
And Tom Jones—the Welsh born son of a miner who became a global singing superstar—was back in Wales this week, played by Kit Orton, in a new stage bio-musical called Tom: A Story of Tom Jones. It opened at the Wales Millennium Centre on March 9, prior to an extensive national tour. Jones wasn't there himself, but the London critics were, including Quentin Letts who in the Daily Mail wrote, "The whole thing could do with a lot more chest hair, really: a more ruthless eye to entertaining its punters. Yet there is something agreeably decent and truthful about this production—which the Cardiff crowd loved with almost proprietorial pride." He drew attention to some of that audience response: "Kit Orton is really good as Jones. He has a fine voice, strong body and pelvic thrusts which had some old dears behind me gasping through their gums."
Groundhog Day announces London dates
The Broadway-bound musical version of Groundhog Day—which reunites composer Tim Minchin with key creative members of the West End and Broadway hit Matilda that he co-wrote—has announced its London dates. It will begin performances July 11 prior to an official opening August 16 at London's Old Vic, for a run through September 17. The box office opens for general sale from April 12. Broadway's Andy Karl has also been confirmed to play Phil Connors, the Pittsburgh TV weatherman who finds life repeating itself.
McKellen and Stewart to reprise No Man's Land in the West End
Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, who previously starred in Pinter's No Man's Land at Broadway's Cort Theatre in 2013 in rep with Waiting for Godot, are to bring that production to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre from September 8, following a regional tour to four cities that kicks off at Sheffield's Lyceum Theatre August 5. McKellen is looking forward to it: "Playing Spooner to Patrick’s Hirst on Broadway was a constant joy, which is why I am delighted to be back with him in the West End."
More production news
Director Thom Southerland is to revive his own production of Maury Yeston's Titanic from May 28. The show first played Southwark Playhouse in 2013 and subsequently at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre in 2015, as the inaugural show of Southerland’s new regime as as artistic director at the Charing Cross Theatre in central London. He will also direct a new production of Ragtime in October and the U.K. premiere of Yeston's Death Takes a Holiday in December.
Michelle Terry will continue the trend for women actors to play principal roles in Shakespeare plays when she stars in the title role of Henry V. The new production opens June 17 at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. Declan Bennett—who originated the role of Guy in the original London transfer of Once from Broadway—will play the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar there from July 15.
The Off-Broadway hit Forever Plaid gets a new London outing at the St. James Theatre's studio from April 5, starring Jon Lee—recently in Jersey Boys in the West End, Marius in the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables at the O2 and a former pop star as member of the group S Club 7.
Farewell to War Horse… and hello to another play by Florian Zeller
This weekend brings an end to the National's long West End run of War Horse on March 12 (before it goes out on another national tour). Also closing at the Savoy is Guys and Dolls—but only to re-open days later at the Phoenix from March 19, with a cast newly led by Samantha Spiro as Miss Adelaide, Broadway's Richard Kind as Nathan Detroit and Oliver Tompsett as Sky Masterston.
Amongst next week's openings, Jane Horrocks (Bubbles in TV's Absolutely Fabulous) stars in If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me, opening March 16 at the Young Vic, a show she has co-conceived with director/choreographer Aletta Collins and in which she appears with a live band and a company of dancers. According to press materials, it invokes the rebel spirit of new wave, conjuring the hopes, disillusionment and messy relationships that were the hallmarks of the 1970s and 80s music scene in the U.K. Also, Florian Zeller—the suddenly prolific French playwright—has his third play running simultaneously in London when The Truth opens at the Meneier Chocolate Factory March 16, joining The Father (now at the Duke of York's, and soon Broadway-bound in a separate production) and The Mother (closing at the Tricycle March 12).
For regular updates on the U.K. scene, follow Mark Shenton on Twitter @shentonstage.