What's Hot in London: May 4

News   What's Hot in London: May 4
 
Today I kick off a new weekly feature, that will provide a constant update on what's hot (and sometimes what's not) and what's to watch in London, onstage and off. Stay tuned — and follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen!

OPENING THIS WEEK!

This week there's a little minor matter in Britain of a general election to choose the next government on Thursday (May 7), so most of the drama of the week will be focused on the nail-biting rush to the finishing line at the polls in what is expected to be a very closely fought election.

Election Fever
The London theatre is responding with various specially commissioned plays on the fringe, including the world premiere of A New Play for the General Election (running at the Finborough through May 12, http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2015/a-new-play-for-the-general-election.php), by actor-turned-playwright Chris New with his first play, but best known for his starring role in the wonderful British film "Weekend" about two gay men falling in love over the course of a single weekend.

But the highest profile election play is The Vote, running at the Donmar that is set in the last 90 minutes of polling day — and will be shown live from the Donmar on TV's More4 during those exact last 90 minutes. The high profile cast includes Judi Dench, her daughter Finty Williams, Catherine Tate, Timothy West, Hadley Fraser and Rosalie Craig.

Will the election affect the London return of Peter Morgan's The Audience, also now playing at Broadway's Schoenfeld Theatre, which opens on Tuesday (May 5) at the Apollo? It now stars Kristin Scott Thomas stepping into Helen Mirren's long-worn shoes as the Queen, and already one re-write imagines her last meeting with David Cameron before he recently dissolved parliament before going to the polls. Another re-write may be necessary if he loses….. and a new incumbent is elected to joins the roster of 11 men and 1 woman who have so far served under the Queen across her 60-plus year reign so far. There's a different kind of election being marked in Vote for Me, the London premiere of a musicalized US Presidential debate first seen at the 2010 New York Musical Theater Festival and opening now at Fulham's London Theatre Workshop May 8.

More around town
Other productions opening in the fantastic array of London's smaller theatres this week include the latest from Michael Frayn (Broadway's Noises Off, Benefactors and Copenhagen), called Matchbox Theatre which is based on his 2014 book of mini-plays, opening Hampstead Theatre May 4. There's also a new staging of Mark Ravenhill's 2005 play Product, starring Olivia Poulet (best known for TV's "The Thick of It" and "Sherlock"), opening at the Arcola May 5; and James Graham, currently represented on Broadway by his book for Finding Neverland, sees the London transfer of his play The Angry Brigade, seen in regional theatres last year, to the Bush Theatre (also opening May 5).

Mike Leigh brings G&S to the stage
Film director Mike Leigh, whose films include the Gilbert and Sullivan bio-film "Topsy-Turvy" and who is a well-regarded theatrical playwright in his own right, now comes to the opera house for the first time to direct a new production of G&S's The Pirates of Penzance for English National Opera (which recently reprised the Lincoln Centre Sweeney Todd with Bryn Terfel), opening at the London Coliseum May 9.

London Festival of Cabaret: Scott Alan, Cynthia Erivo and more This year's festival — the third — is in full swing, with appearances this week, all at the St James Studio in Victoria, including New York songwriter Scott Alan joined by Cynthia Erivo, the Broadway-bound star of The Color Purple, for three nights May 4-6 (the pair were recently interviewed on Playbill.com here), Olivier winner Paul Baker in his show Baker's Dozen May 8 (before he reprises it at New York's 54 Below May 19) and rising star Jamie Parker (one of the original troupe of The History Boys who reprised that show on Broadway) May 10.

FROM THE HEADLINES

A new artistic future at Shakespeare's Globe

The biggest news of the last week offstage was the appointment of Emma Rice, currently joint artistic director of Cornwall-based touring company Kneehigh, as the third artistic director at Shakespeare's Globe, following in the maverick footsteps of Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole. It's one of the highest-profile jobs in UK theatre, since the theatre — though totally unfunded — is a massive success story, routinely playing to audiences of 90 percent and over.

As well as playing an extended season in its famous outdoor recreation of Shakespeare's original theatre (summer here runs from April through to late October), it also now has an indoor Jacobean theatre named for founder Sam Wanamaker that plays year-round; as well as a huge international touring programme, including a current tour of Hamlet that intends to visit every single country in the world!

Rice will take over in April 2016, and comes from wide acclaim for work that has included shows that Kneehigh co-produced with the RSC and National, amongst other partners. Her West End production of Brief Encounter subsequently played at Broadway's Studio 54.

More star casting for Branagh's West End company

The other big news was that veteran actor Derek Jacobi — now 76 — is to return to the West End to war as Mercurio in Kenneth Branagh's production of Romeo and Juliet next May, as part of the year-long residency that Branagh is establishing there from this October. Jacobi will be reunited with Richard Madden and Lily James, the stars of Branagh's recent film "Cinderella" that Jacobi also starred in.

Keep checking the international section of playbill.com for more breaking news as it occurs.

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