What’s Hot in London: Feb. 18–24

London News   What’s Hot in London: Feb. 18–24
New management at Chichester, farewell to a landmark London theatre bookshop, and the latest casting news.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

The appeal and reach of Chichester
Chichester is a cathedral city in the Sussex countryside, near the South Coast, reached by train from London in a little less than two hours. The Chichester Festival Theatre is not strictly speaking a London theatre, but such is its impact as well as its charm, that it has become one of the primary summer addresses for London theatregoers and theatre makers.

HR - Ian McKellen.jpg
Ian McKellen

The theatre was founded over fifty years ago by Laurence Olivier as a regional home for the National Theatre that he had just established. This year, there is a new artistic director and executive director at the helm: Daniel Evans (the Tony-nominated star of the Menier Chocolate Factory production of Sunday in the Park with George that transferred to Studio 54), and Rachel Tackley, respectively.

They’ve got a tough act to follow, as the previous double act of Jonathan Church and Alan Finch ran a highly successful theatre that regularly transferred shows to London, from Church’s own production of Singin’ in the Rain to Jonathan Kent’s productions of Sweeney Todd (with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton), Gypsy, with Staunton again, and now rumored to be Broadway-bound, and a trilogy of early Chekhov plays that were presented under the umbrella title Young Chekhov which transferred to the National Theatre last year.

Successors Evans and Tackley have lined up an exciting opening season, that includes the U.K stage debut of Tony and Oscar-winning star Marcia Gay Harden in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, Sir Ian McKellen revisiting the role of King Lear in a brand-new studio staging, and new productions of the Broadway musicals Fiddler on the Roof (with U.K television and stage comic Omid Djalili as Tevye) and Caroline, or Change (with Olivier-winning National Theatre regular Sharon D Clarke starring). There are also new plays by celebrated Irish novelist and playwright Edna O’Brien, James Graham (whose credits include the book for the musical Finding Neverland and the play Privacy that transferred from the Donmar Warehouse to the Public), and Deborah Bruce.

Farewell to another London institution
New York still has the Drama Bookshop on West 40th Street, offering the theatre community a valuable drop-in and browsing center for the latest theatrical books, and for the last 187 years, London has had the Samuel French bookstore, located on a quiet street in the upscale London area of Fitzrovia, near Tottenham Court Road.

The store, which has been in its present premises since 1983, is to shut, and the company will continue selling online only. In an interview with U.K. trade paper The Stage, managing director Douglas Schatz attributed the bookshop closure to an “unsustainable rental increase,” stating that these had increased by about 200-300% over the last five years.

The main destination for browsing for theatre books in London will now be the National Theatre, whose recently revamped foyer space has seen a substantial increase in its bookshop’s business.

Miranda Hart as Miss Hannigan
Miranda Hart as Miss Hannigan Matt Crockett

Production and casting news
Miranda Hart—a big U.K television star for her partly autobiographical comedy series— is to play Miss Hannigan in a West End transfer of a recent touring production of the classic 1970s Broadway musical Annie. The show will begin performances May 23 at the Piccadilly Theatre. In a press statement, Hart called it “a dream role,“ before stating, “I never thought it would be a reality. But here we are and I have a newly found musical theatre-esque spring in my step!”

The previously announced new production of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage, that Trevor Nunn will direct at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is set to star stage veterans Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman. Performances will begin May 4.

Veteran stage and screen actor Edward Fox, now 80, is bringing his latest solo show Sand in the Sandwichesthat celebrates the life and work of former poet laureate John Betjeman—to the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket from May 30 to June 3 only, as part of a national tour.

West End stars, including Samantha Barks (Eponine in the film version of Les Misérables, who has also played the role on the West End), Tim Howar, Oliver Tompsett, and Hannah Waddingham are to star in a concert of musical theatre songs called The Sound of Musicals that will play concert halls in Birmingham, Manchester and London from May 11-13.

For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com and follow me on Twitter @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.

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