A LETTER FROM LONDON: Simon Russell Beale, Lindsay Duncan, Ibsen, Shaw and The Curious Incident of the Dog

By Ruth Leon
07 Feb 2012

But great though it is, the National is far from the only game in London. (Oh Lord, don't remind me — the Olympics, the Olympics!) No, I meant theatrical game, but you knew that. Commercially, Lindsay Duncan, a wonderful Amanda in Private Lives opposite Alan Rickman a few seasons ago, once again tackles Noël Coward, this time as Judith Bliss in Hay Fever. It will play, appropriately enough, at the Noël Coward Theatre.

The Young Vic (not to be confused with the venerable Old Vic, currently packing them in for the new production of Noises Off) has a well-deserved reputation for the quirky and unusual. Last season they had a notable hit with Kirsk, a remarkable reenactment of the inside of a Russian submarine that was so real I began to suffer from claustrophobia. This year, the same company, Sound and Fury, are planning Going Dark, a new play about an astronomer who, faced with losing his vision, has to evaluate his relationship with the world and the stars. It is one man's exploration of the effect of blindness on the human brain.

Over at the Rose, one of my favorite off-West End theatres, there are several major developments to report for this season. I guess I love the Rose because it's so improbable — a lozenge-shaped Shakespearean space wedged into a riverside agglomeration of multipurpose buildings in the ancient town of Kingston. It's very close to, indeed part of, London but it doesn't seem to be — more like a small market town with great shopping alongside a big city. It receives no subsidy, no government support, no financial aid from anywhere, but it often produces fine work and the café/lobby is one of the most comfortable in London, rivaling the National for food and people-watching.

The theatre's guiding hero was Sir Peter Hall, who oversaw its building and who then handed the reins to artistic director Stephen Unwin. This season, amongst others, he's planning a revival of Michael Frayn's Here, which, given the enormous success of Frayn's Noises Off, seems like a good move. Here, I seem to remember, tells of a young couple facing the challenge of organizing their new apartment and their new relationship amid multiple interruptions.

Most exciting, to me at any rate, is Stephen Unwin's production of his own new translation of The Lady From the Sea, one of Henrik Ibsen's stranger and more delicate plays, starring Joely Richardson, who has had enough success in her own right not to be constantly identified as "Vanessa Redgrave's daughter." I'm looking forward to this one. Not only does it mark Joely Richardson's return to the London stage after a very long absence, but Unwin is an Ibsen specialist. The Lady From The Sea will be his sixth Ibsen production, and he has been described by the Guardian newspaper (and not least by me) as "the best director of Ibsen in Britain."