A LETTER FROM LONDON: Chichester Festival, York Mystery Plays, Kim Cattrall and More

By Ruth Leon
27 May 2012

Judi Dench is a Patron of the <i>York Mystery Plays</i>
Judi Dench is a Patron of the York Mystery Plays
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

If you're not planning to see Singin' in the Rain, Long Day's Journey Into Night or Collaborators in London, how about a weekend in the country, far from the crowds?


The Olympics have hit us all hard, and it will only get harder. London streets will be closed; traffic blocked; public transportation, ahem, difficult; and I fear that the theatres will be hard to reach.

There is some great stuff, though. If you want to get out of London, you could do worse on a sunny summer's day than take yourself to Stratford-upon-Avon. There the Royal Shakespeare Company is presenting 12 new productions of its own, with actors from the USA, Mexico, Russia, Iraq and Brazil performing first as part of the World Shakespeare Festival and then going on to play elsewhere in the U.K.

Further north, and even more unusual, are the York Mystery Plays. This medieval cycle of plays has been performed by the people of York for more than 800 years and is a world-famous part of the city's cultural heritage. The plays tell the story of the cosmic battle between good and evil, from creation to the last judgment, and will return to the city this year on an epic scale; in August a cast of 2,500 professionals and townspeople will perform against the magnificent backdrop of York's St Mary's Abbey.

Judi Dench has performed in the plays three times over the course of her career and is a Patron of the plays for 2012. She says, "It is something I will always remember. I know the excitement that these events bring to the people of York and the important place they hold within the city's history." These plays are unique and well worth the extra traveling hassle that getting there might entail.

Derek Jacobi

Closer to London, in the beautiful Sussex countryside, the Chichester Festival Theatre is a hotbed of shows likely to make it to the West End by the fall. This year Chichester is presenting in the big theatre one of Cole Porter's most enchanting scores, Kiss Me, Kate, while the small Minerva Theatre will house the brilliant Henry Goodman in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. This is one of Bertolt Brecht's most demanding plays, the most shocking and easily the funniest. Written in 1941, just before the exiled Brecht arrived in the USA, and described by the author himself as a "gangster play that would recall certain events familiar to us all," The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a sharp and thrilling parable of the rise of Hitler, shot through with razor-sharp wit.

Shaw's Heartbreak House is on offer at Chichester this summer too, with the incomparable Derek Jacobi, while in September, the eminent Shakespearean actor, writer and scholar Michael Pennington is coming in to play Antony to the Cleopatra of Kim Cattrall. Yeah, yeah, that Kim Cattrall, but hasn't the poor woman paid enough dues to be identified with her considerable achievements in the live theatre — Amanda in Private Lives in the West End and on Broadway, Mamet's The Cryptogram at the Donmar in the West End, and the quadriplegic in Whose Life is it Anyway? — instead of that television series? Enough, already. She played Cleopatra to much admiration in a production last year in her hometown of Liverpool and is keen to continue with her Shakespearean career. The director is one of our finest actors and one of the greatest Cleopatras I have ever seen: Dame Janet Suzman. Should be ace.

Chichester has been on a roll recently, with its productions regularly winning Oliviers and transferring to New York. The current hit West End musical Singin' in the Rain started at Chichester, as did the best production ever of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. There is no reason to believe that a summer run-out from London this year would be anything but terrific, too.


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