What’s Hot in London: May 1-7

Special Features   What’s Hot in London: May 1-7
A leading director calls the West End corrupt and claims ticket prices are too high, and a leading actor is applauded for championing free speech.
Hugh Bonneville, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Nominee as "Robert, Earl of Grantham" in <i>Downton Abbey</i>, shown here with the cast.
Hugh Bonneville, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Nominee as "Robert, Earl of Grantham" in Downton Abbey, shown here with the cast.

Jamie Lloyd fights back against West End prices and celebrity casting.
The West End director Jamie Lloyd, a former associate at the Donmar Warehouse who is currently represented by Dr Faustus at the Duke of York’s Theatre, has fired a broadside against the presiding culture of the West End, which he has labelled “corrupt,” telling the U.K trade paper The Stage that celebrity casting had created a “massive problem” in relation to ticket prices. “There are a lot of companies and producers out there who will… effectively exploit the profile of actors in a show by charging tickets that are soaring way past the £100 mark, which I think is outrageous. If you have a big house, and if you’ve got a lot of seats, then your tickets should come down, they should not go up.” He added that “allowing tickets to go up to £140 or more and then announce you are recouping after eight or nine weeks” is “corrupt and it needs to be addressed.”

Uzo Aduba
Uzo Aduba

His own productions have regularly used profile actors, including his recent production at the Trafalgar Studios of Genet’s The Maids that featured Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba, while Dr Faustus has Game of Thrones star Kit Harington in the title role. Top ticket prices for Dr Faustus are £85, though the theatre is also advertising a £100 “blue package” that includes “choice of variety box, welcome drink and ATG Theatre gift.”

Hugh Bonneville returns to the theatre stage in Chichester’s An Enemy of the People.
The Sun, Britain’s biggest selling tabloid newspaper, has taken a particularly keen interest in a production of an Ibsen play that opened this year’s summer season at Chichester Festival Theatre. It stars Hugh Bonneville, best known as Lord Grantham in TV’s Downton Abbey, who last appeared onstage in 2004 in Cloaca, the opening production of Kevin Spacey’s tenure at the helm of London’s Old Vic.

In its report of An Enemy of the People, The Sun wrote: “Forget the staid Earl of Grantham of TV’s Downton Abbey fame; this Bonneville character throws himself headlong into the fiercest of battles against lies and deceit with admirable determination. The truth and who deserves to hear it, no matter what cost to reputation and image, is an age-old question as relevant today as when Henrik Ibsen posed it in 1882, and the Norwegian playwright could have wished for no better advocate than Bonneville… TV fans of Downton’s slow-paced period drama might be surprised by the red-hot fervour the actor is capable of in his pursuit of satisfaction.”

Other papers have also given the show prominence, offering a picture of the finger-wagging actor under the headline “Bonneville, champion of free speech.” It’s a theme that Quentin Letts, in his review for the Daily Mail, also warms to: “Hugh Bonneville playing a champion of truth, outraged by suppression of free speech? This is the intriguing casting down at Chichester where Mr. Bonneville, fresh from his lordly turn in TV’s Downton Abbey, abandons the aura of privilege to give a watchable performance as naive, high-minded man of the people Dr. Stockmann.”

Interviewed by The Stage, Bonneville was asked how he selects his roles from the ones that are on offer. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever met an actor who ‘manages’ their career. Most of us just lurch. But I’m blessed with having had the same agent for 25 years. She tells me how it is and, more often, how it isn’t. Enemy of the People is my first theatre work for 12 years, so I’d say that the balance between stage and screen has been decidedly lop-sided for a long time. It’s been good to redress it.”

The cast of <i>Finding Neverland</i>
The cast of Finding Neverland Carol Rosegg

Finding Neverland plans spring 2017 West End bow.
The announcement that Finding Neverland is to shutter on Broadway August 21 was accompanied by the promise that the show was London-bound. Producer Harvey Weinstein told the New York Times that he is also planning a national tour of the show, beginning in Buffalo, this fall, and winding up back on Broadway, while a third production is proposed for Asia in 2018. He also said he intended to make a film version of the musical.

Weinstein’s first foray into musical theatre as a lead producer saw him try it out at the U.K’s regional Curve in Leicester in 2012, but virtually its entire creative team—including director/choreographer Rob Ashford and writing team Allan Knee (book), Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics)—were made to walk the plank. The version currently on Broadway—and presumably now intended for the West End—is directed by Diane Paulus, and has a new book by James Graham and songs by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. It debuted at Cambridge’s A.R.T. in 2014 before transferring to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in March 2015.

No West End theatre has been announced for its London bow, but the stage version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is exiting the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane January 7, 2017, so would be looking for a new high-profile tenant.

Other Broadway musicals lining up West End bows at the moment are the already announced An American in Paris, in which Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope are set to reprise their Broadway roles at the Dominion Theatre in March 2014, with Hamilton also heavily tipped to be arriving at the newly-refurbished Victoria Palace next year.

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

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