What’s Hot in London: May 8-13

News   What’s Hot in London: May 8-13
Sheridan Smith takes a leave of absence from Funny Girl, a London theatre injures audience members, and casting announcements for the London bow of Sideshow and more.
Sheridan Smith
Sheridan Smith Johan Persson

Sad Sheridan Smith takes leave from Funny Girl.
Sheridan Smith was absent from the production of Funny Girl, in which she is currently starring at the West End's Savoy Theatre, for three days May 9-11, before its producers formally announced May 12 that she would be taking a leave of absence for 2-4 weeks from the show.

After missing the performance on May 9, Smith had tweeted a public apology later that night with these words: "Well done press! U let down me, the cast & everyone who spent money to see me. I apologise profusely! Sorry! Sorry I'm not strong enough."

She had been nominated the night before on May 8 for the BAFTA TV Award for Leading Actress Award in the TV play The C Word for her role as cancer victim Lisa Lynch, but lost out to Suranne Jones. When The C Word also lost to Don't Take My Baby in the Best Single Drama category, she was challenged on Twitter and in the press for her reaction that was caught by a TV camera. She'd tweeted the next morning, “When will you stop bullying? I had the best night in memory of my girl Lisa Lynch.”

The absence follows controversy over a performance she began but did not complete April 28, when it was halted after 15 minutes, and failed to resume after what were attributed to technical difficulties. Amidst intense media scrutiny, it was widely reported that Smith had appeared drunk, which representatives of the actor denied. But BAFTA host Graham Norton alluded to this in his introduction to the awards, when he joked, “Let’s get things started because the sooner we get started, the sooner we can have a couple of drinks, or, as they say in theatrical circles, a couple of glasses of technical difficulties.”

The producers of Funny Girl have stated that her leave of absence is “due to stress and exhaustion,” and added, “The entire team at Funny Girl is thinking of Sheridan, and know she is getting the rest and support she needs during this very difficult and stressful time. We will all miss her enormously and send her our love and best wishes—and we are looking forward to her return to the show in due course.”

During her absence, she will be covered by her understudy Natasha J Barnes, who also stood in for her during the final week of the show’s run at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I happened to catch one of those performance, and in a column for The Stage, I wrote, “To borrow Julian Marsh’s famous declaration to Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, she may have gone out an understudy but she came back a star. She’s like a quirky, young Imelda Staunton, burning with a quiet intensity, heartbreakingly good acting and a singing voice that reminded me of the great, late Judy Garland.... Remember the name; you'll be hearing it again.”

Audience members at London‘s St James Theatre need hospital treatment after falls.
In separate incidents at London’s St James Theatre, audience members have fallen down the stairs of the steeply raked auditorium, both requiring hospital treatment.

Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber Monica Simoes

In a story in The Stage, the U.K industry paper, the theatre’s executive director Marc Brown was quoted as saying, “In each case an ambulance was needed, the first arriving very quickly, the second taking rather longer to reach us, meaning the second half of that evening’s production had to be cancelled.”

The theatre was recently bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which he intends to use as a home to develop new musicals.

At a recent performance of the musical Miss Atomic Bomb, that premiered there in March, a Broadway theatre insider quipped to me that the theatre’s auditorium was a “lawsuit waiting to happen.” Has it proved to the case already?

Ivo van Hove times four at the Barbican, times two on Broadway and soon at the National Theatre.
The Dutch director Ivo van Hove is very prolific: He has been represented twice on Broadway this season with plays by Arthur Miller (by the transfers of his London production of A View from the Bridge and the current new production of The Crucible), and later this year is staging a new production of Hedda Gabler at London’s National Theatre.

It has also been announced this week that the Barbican Centre will host a residency of his work, the centrepiece of which will be a new production of Obsession, based on the Visconti film of the same name. Starring Jude Law, it will run April 19 to May 20. Law has commented, “'I’d heard great things about Ivo van Hove, and when I saw A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic and then Antigone at the Barbican I knew he was someone I really wanted to have the opportunity to work with. And now I can’t wait to return to the Barbican, where I performed 22 years ago with the RSC, to take on the role of Gino, immortalised in the 1943 classic, Ossessione by Luchino Visconti, whose films I adore.”

Ivo van Hove
Ivo van Hove Pavel Antonov

The season will also include a reprise run for Roman Tragedies, van Hove’s epic six hour version of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, merged into one tautly edited, flowing six-hour performance (running March 17-19), and a double bill of After the Rehearsal and Persona, a re-imagining of two Ingmar Bergman screenplays for the stage (running September 27-30).

Further casting news
Also announced this week: casting for the London premiere of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s Sideshow at Southwark Playhouse (from October 21 to December 3). It will be led by Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford as conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.

Billie Piper is to star in Australian director Simon Stone’s contemporary version of Lorca’s Yerma, at London’s Young Vic, from July 28 to September 4.

Matt Smith, original London star of the stage premiere of American Psycho at the Almeida and best known as TV’s Dr Who, will be part of the cast of Unreachable, Antony Neilson’s latest play. It premieres at the Royal Court from July 2 to August 8.

Alex Gaumond, the Olivier-nominated star of the London production of Legally Blonde, will join Anne Archer in the London bow of The Trial of of Jane Fonda, running July 13 to August 20.

Amber Riley will play seven out of eight performances a week in the London premiere of Dreamgirls. She will be covered on the eighth performance by Ruth Brown (a semi-finalist on the U.K’s The Voice) and Karen Mav (a contestant in the 2015 series of The X Factor).

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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