What's Hot in London: August 6: Cumberbatch's Hamlet Reviewed (Early), Checking Into Grand Hotel Again, & London Openings

News   What's Hot in London: August 6: Cumberbatch's Hamlet Reviewed (Early), Checking Into Grand Hotel Again, & London Openings
The fans started standing online 17 hours before the box office opened for the release of 30 day seats for the first preview of Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet at London's Barbican Theatre on Wednesday night (Aug. 5). The first arrivals — two Italian women aged 18 and 19 who hail from Rome but are working in London for the summer — started the line at 3 PM the day before.

Paul Benedict
Paul Benedict

One of them told The Guardian, "I’m here because I love Benedict. I think he is a great actor and I love the way you can see his characters’ emotions in his eyes. Hamlet is not my favourite Shakespeare – I prefer Othello – but maybe Benedict Cumberbatch will convince me." The Guardian also found another pair, aged 75 and 58, who had just met on the line, and the younger of whom remarked, "This is the first time I’ve queued for anything and now I’m mad at myself for not getting up earlier," when their efforts to get a ticket were unrewarded. "I think I might come back tomorrow as I’m having so much fun in this queue."

But its not just fans who were eager to see it. In a major breach of accepted (and acceptable) theatre protocol, no less than the London Times sent in a theatre critic—Kate Maltby, a freelance contributor to the paper— to review it. Her verdict — posted online within hours of the curtain coming down on the first preview — gave the show a two-star review, declaring, "This is Hamlet for kids raised on 'Moulin Rouge'." The official press night is Aug. 25 but The Times is, as ever, in on the action early. Most actors get a few weeks to warm up but with hardened Cumber-fans posting images on Twitter, Lyndsey Turner’s production was never going to escape early scrutiny."

But the fact that Maltby is complicit in offering that scrutiny — and she ends her review by dismissing the entire production as "a wasted opportunity: pure theatrical self-indulgence" — means that she (or, rather, the paper) has risked exposing herself to scrutiny, too.

This is a broadsheet (quality) newspaper behaving like a tabloid, one of which — the Daily Mail — also broke the embargo. But they sent a columnist Jan Moir, not a theatre critic, whose whose gushing schoolgirl report ("I must say, he looked particularly fetching in his tight, white fencing jacket,...Goodnight, sweet prince. You were completely amazing") hardly constitutes a 'review' (even though she awarded it a five-star rating).

"Proper" reviews will follow after the show opens officially Aug. 25. Checking in again to Grand Hotel
When the 1989 Broadway production of Grand Hotel transferred to the West End's vast Dominion Theatre in 1992, something was lost in translation and the show only ran for a few months. It later had a far more successful London production in a brand-new staging by director Michael Grandage and choreographed by Adam Cooper at the Donmar Warehouse in 2004, featuring Julian Ovenden (as the Baron), Mary Elizabeth Mastroianni (as the ballerina Grushinskaya) and Daniel Evans (as the dying bookkeeper Otto Kringelein).

Now it has been revived at Southwark Playhouse, the dynamic fringe theatre where In the Heights was given its London premiere last year and is now transferring to the King's Cross Theatre. It is directed and produced by Thom Southerland and Danielle Tarento respectively — the same team behind Titanic, another Maury Yeston musical, also staged at Southwark two years ago, Titanic, that has recently played a season at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre. The production opened Aug. 5, and has already earned a pair of complementary and complimentary five-star reviews: from me for The Stage, and from Giles Cole for Whatsonstage.

<i>Grand Hotel</i>
Grand Hotel Photo by Tristram Kenton

Opening this Week
London gets quieter as all roads lead to Edinburgh for the launch of the annual Edinburgh International and Festival Fringe (with 3,000+ shows!) on Aug. 7. But London is not exactly a wasteland; here are some of the openings!


Stiles and Drewe, the songwriting duo who have been working together for 30 years now and who wrote the new songs for the long-running Broadway hit Mary Poppins (which is coincidentally soon to launch a new UK tour), have a new (mini) musical opening in the West End this week: The 3 Little Pigs opens at the Palace, playing daytime performances (under The Commitments which continues to run in the main evening slots). The cast includes the wonderful Olivier nominee Alison Jiear (Jerrry Springer the Opera), Olivier winner Leanne Jones (London's Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray) and Simon Webbe.
  • The Olivier-nominated children's show Hetty Feather, based on Jacqueline Wilson's book, opens at the Duke of York's Aug. 7 for a summer season. The show includes live music and songs by Benji Bower, aerial and circus skills.
  • Briefs, an Australian "boylesque supergroup" (plus one New Yorker), will open a two-month residency at the Southbank's London Wonderground on Aug. 7. Combining drag, glamour and athleticism, there's dancing, tumbling, juggling, acro-balancing, trapeze, hula hooping, lip syncing, sequins, feathers and frocks.

Headlines of the Week

  • Funny Girl has finally found one to play the title role: Sheridan Smith, who turned Legally Blonde into a West End hit, was announced his week as preparing to follow in Barbra Streisand's intimidating footsteps to play Fanny Brice in a major London revival of the 1964 Broadway musical that Streisand also reprised in the West End. Broadway's Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening, Thoroughly Modern Millie) will bring it to the Menier, beginning performances Nov. 20 prior to an official opening Dec. 2. Will the West End and Broadway be next?
  • Sister Act, the Alan Menken/Glenn Slater musical first seen in the West End in 2009 and then on Broadway in 2011, is to be given a new production for a UK tour that, it has been announced, will launch at Leicester's Curve July 30 2016, directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood — who is currently starring as Miss Hannigan in a touring production of Annie. He is nothing if not versatile.
  • Broadway actor Tom McGowan has been announced to make his West End debut in Wicked, reprising the role of the Wizard that he has played on Broadway and across America, from Sept. 21 at the Apollo Victoria
  • Richard O'Brien, original creator of The Rocky Horror Show (and its original Riff-Raff) is to return to the show to play the Narrator in a short return season of the show at the West End's Playhouse Theatre from Sept. 11. It has also been announced that it will be broadcast live to cinemas across the U.K. and Europe on Sept. 17.

For more updates
Follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen! And keep checking the international section of playbill.com for major stories.

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