What’s Hot in London: May 28-June 3

News   What’s Hot in London: May 28-June 3
Harry Potter gets ready to cast a new spell on the West End, Rufus Norris denies revenge against theatre critics, and the London reviews are in for Jesse Eisenberg’s The Spoils.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

Harry Potter mania kicks off.
Expectations build with just days to go before Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—the eighth story in the series, but the first to be conceived for the stage—begins performances June 7 at the West End’s Palace Theatre. We’re being given glimpses of what’s in store, as production portraits of the actors in costume have been released.

Jamie Parker (Harry Potter), Sam Clemmett (Albus Potter) and Poppy Miller (Ginny Potter)
Jamie Parker (Harry Potter), Sam Clemmett (Albus Potter) and Poppy Miller (Ginny Potter) Charlie Gray

News is being made out of anything and everything to do with the show. The Guardian reported that “West End audiences have been asked to arrive an hour early for performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and have their bags searched on arrival before the two-part shows.” It quotes a spokesman for the producers saying these measures are “for the benefit of our audiences and patrons and are clearly outlined in advance as part of the ticketing information.”

But what is so unusual about this? Bags are routinely searched before every and any performance in the West End or on Broadway. But will the cursory wave of a wand inside bags, in the case of Harry Potter, be about more than uncovering, as it does on Broadway, prohibited drinks and foodstuff to protect the revenues of the theatre bars?

And more importantly, what security measures are in place to keep London critics out? Some sections of the British press—notably the Times and Daily Telegraph —snuck into producer Sonia Friedman’s summer show last year (Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch) and reviewed the very first public preview. The Telegraph recently repeated this practice with other shows like the political satire A View from Islington North. How are they going to be able to resist being first with Harry Potter?

Rufus Norris denies revenge.
The National Theatre recently caused an upset amongst London theatre critics by sneaking in a change of policy to the standard practice that press are routinely afforded a pair of tickets to press performances and instead only being given single tickets.

The implementation of this new policy has now been delayed as the NT reviewed the publicity disaster that ensued. But Rufus Norris, the theatre’s artistic director, as well as chief executive, has been forced to publicly deny that the policy was implemented out of revenge for the negative reviews some of his choices have had, telling the London Times: “That’s absurd. Do people really think I sit vengefully in my ivory tower trying to get my own back? Nobody enjoys being slagged off, of course, but it’s ridiculous that an organisation as full of intelligent people as this place is would do something on the whim of a chief executive. We are frankly a bit more grown up than that.”

Instead, he said it was born of practical necessity. “Our press department has an allocation of 120 tickets per show, as they have done for the past 20 years. That isn’t changing, but with all the new print media, broadcast outlets and online writers and social media, they have to cater for a much bigger pool now. We can’t just double the press allocation; it wouldn’t be an ethical use of public money.”

Jesse Eisenberg declared a must-see by London critics.
The Spoils, Jesse Eisenberg’s third play that he stars, transferred from Off-Broadway to the West End in Scott Elliott’s production for the New Group. It opened at Trafalgar Studios June 2, and early notices indicate a hit with four star reviews from The Times, Telegraph, Whatsonstage and The Stage. (The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar and Annapurna Sriram, both reprising their original off-Broadway roles, newly joined by Olivier winner Katie Brayden and Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen join Eisenberg).

Jesse Eisenberg
Jesse Eisenberg

In the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish applauded it for featuring “a genuine must-see star performance at its centre”, adding, “Eisenberg is by turns tactile and needy, aloof and attention-seeking, flipping between cynical jest and highly-strung earnest. Endearing-infuriating, this gangling loser in a white T-shirt and jeans is a very modern and finally rather pitiable male misfit.”

Matt Trueman declares on Whatsonstage, “At its sharpest, Scott Elliott’s production has the car-crash quality of cringe comedy, with a real crackle to the performances – not least Nayyar’s nerdy Nepali and Brayben’s sympathetic, horrified Sarah. It’s easy to scoff at West End fare, but Eisenberg goes after something and goes after it hard. Even if not entirely victorious, he takes the spoils.”

In my own review for The Stage, I wrote that “Eisenberg pulls off [an] uneasy but compelling feat: The Spoils is about a mean-spirited rich kid trying and failing to find either love or a career, yet it also manages to be surprisingly warm-hearted.... As played by Eisenberg, with a hangdog vulnerability that has him playing constantly with the rubber band around his arm, there’s tension and tenderness here, too.”

Production and casting news
While Finding Neverland continues on Broadway, JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is returning to London: the National Theatre will transfer a production first seen at Bristol Old Vic, running from November 16. The National Theatre will also premiere a brand-new David Hare play The Red Barn, running from October 6. A one-night reading of his play, Stuff Happens, will bow July 6. The National originally premiered it in 2004. Stuff Happens follows the diplomatic process that led to the invasion of Iraq, and Hare directs this rehearsed reading to make the publication of the official Chilcot Inquiry into the invasion. Further casting has been announced for the West End premiere of Dreamgirls, at the Savoy Theatre from November 19. Joining the previously announced Amber Riley as Effie are Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell Robinson and Liisi LaFontaine (a finalist on NBC’s The Winner Is) as Deena Jones, to comprise ‘The Dreams,’ the fictionalised version of The Supremes in the show.

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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