Classical Theatre in London
Michael Billington, the long-standing chief theatre critic at The Guardian, recently accused the National Theatre of “a staggering dereliction of duty” in neglecting the classic repertory after artistic director Rufus Norris announced his programming for the next year. But in fact, there is no shortage of classical theatre in London right now, including at the National itself. Twelfth Night is currently on offer at the National, and the Young Vic has just opened a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The coming week will bring Hamlet to the Almeida (opening February 28, with Andrew Scott in the title role) and Othello to the Sam Wanamaker (opening March 2). Each are directed by a younger generation of fast-rising directors: Simon Godwin, Joe Hill-Gibbins, Robert Icke, and Ellen McDougall respectively.
London theatre season kicks into gear
The London theatre season has finally kicked into gear with two major openings this week—in addition to the classics already mentioned: The London premiere of Michael John LaChiusa’s version of The Wild Party, which inaugurates a new era for the Other Palace Theatre—formerly the St James,—now owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and intended as a home for new and developing musicals (with producer Paul Taylor-Mills appointed as its artistic director); and The Girls, a new stage musical version of the 2003 British film Calendar Girls co-written by its original screenwriter Tim Firth and Gary Barlow, who scored Broadway’s Finding Neverland. The show opened at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre to mostly rave reviews.
Verdicts: The Wild Party
With a company that includes Tony winners Frances Ruffelle (Les Misérables) and Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line), along with West End and Broadway regular John Owen-Jones (Les Misérables), Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, and Simon Thomas in principal roles, The Wild Party has been given a luxuriously cast London premiere that opened February 20. In my own review for The Stage, I wrote: “The show is driven by ecstatic, elastic movement from director/choreographer Drew McOnie that perfectly complements its restless, relentless narrative journey. A stunning cast of musical theatre veterans bring each character to bracing and bruising life.”
Writing for The Independent, Paul Taylor wrote that it was a “bold, stunningly well-cast UK premiere“ and said of the show: “LaChiusa’s take on the material gives a dazzling, dizzying, darkly comic edge to the debauchery and a sizzling sense of coked-up horniness that should set off police sirens.” And he concluded, “Watching thesps being divinely decadent all over the place can sometimes excite in me the desire for a nice month in monastery. Not this time. “I’ve been to a marvelous party“ sang Noel Coward. Could one claim the same here? Let’s just say that I left exhausted and rather exhilarated and resolved to accept further invitations from this rejuvenated joint.“”
And in the Evening Standard, Henry Hitchings wrote: “Sassily directed by Drew McOnie, it’s packed with bold choreography. The jazzy tunes are energetically performed by Theo Jamieson’s eight-piece band, and the score has moments of feral unpredictability. Frances Ruffelle is a slippery, throaty, vampish Queenie, and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt smolders as her snakelike best friend Kate. But in truth the whole cast is rivetingly committed, with Dex Lee, Donna McKechnie and Lizzy Connolly providing especially striking support.”
Verdict: The Girls
The new stage musical version of the 2003 film Calendar Girls, already previously a hit West End play in 2009, opened at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre February 21 under a new title The Girls, co-produced by David Pugh, Dafydd Rogers, and the Shubert Organization.
In The Guardian, Michael Billington suggests that, after its previous incarnations, “rather than seem like a piece of cynical exploitation, the show suggests the story has now achieved its ideal form.” He goes on to say: “Part of the reason is structural. In the movie, the collective disrobing happened at the beginning. In the play, it was the first-act climax, which meant the story had nowhere to go. In the musical, however, it is the culmination of a hard-won struggle to overcome private doubts and inhibitions.”
In The Independent,Paul Taylor agrees, calling it “a fresh and joyous attempt to reinvent the material rather some tired rehash with songs.” He writes that it “clearly demonstrates how energized [Firth] and Barlow have been by the challenge of a creating a musical makeover and by the real opportunities it affords for contributing something new to a familiar tale.” Of the music, he says: “The lovely melodies in Barlow’s beguiling score sometimes have a distinctively British sound as though he’s been channeling the Parry of “Jerusalem” (which we hear in blasts) and mid-period Beatles.”
Casting and Production News
London’s Vaults, the subterranean venue beneath Waterloo Station, will be transformed into an immersive 60s venue for a new production of the musical Hair beginning October 4. Originally seen at Manchester’s Hope Mills Theatre last year, the production will include 60s-themed pop up restaurants and themed drinks, as well as stalls selling vintage and tie dye clothes, 60s smiley badges and memorabilia, hippie wigs, and flower headdresses.
This summer, Alan Ayckbourn will premiere his latest play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Yorkshire city of Scarborough which he calls home. Called A Brief History of Women, it will begin performances September 1. Described as a comedy in four parts about an unremarkable man and the remarkable women who loved him, left him, or lost him over sixty years, the production will be directed by the veteran playwright himself. He will also direct a revival of his 1979 play Taking Steps.
An all-female version of Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh, originally set in an all-male University drinking club and adapted into the film The Riot Club, is to be staged at London’s Pleasance Theatre from March 29, featuring Game of Thrones actress Hannah Murray.
A new West End production of Christopher Hampton’s early play The Philanthropist will begin performances April 3 at the Trafalgar Studios, with actor-turned-director Simon Callow at the helm, directing a cast of young TV stars. In a press statement, Callow commented that when Hampton’s play “first burst onto the world, he was 23; the play was really about his contemporaries, but neither then, nor ever since, has it been cast at the right age. I’m very excited, not only to be doing the play, which I think one of the funniest, sharpest plays in the English language, but to be doing it with a group of brilliantly witty and original young actors who will reveal the play as it’s never been seen before.”
Sienna Miller is to return to the West End to star as Maggie the Cat in a new production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, at the Apollo Theatre from July 13. She will be joined by rising British film actor Jack O’Connell as Brick.
For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com and follow me on Twitter @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.