What’s Hot in London: November 5-11

News   What’s Hot in London: November 5-11
Julian Fellowes to have a busy week of London openings, American transfers pack British theatres, and critics review Lazarus and Glenda Jackson’s stage return.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

Julian Fellowes has a busy week ahead.
Julian Fellowes, the Emmy award winning writer and creator of TV’s Downton Abbey and Oscar winner for Gosford Park, is about to have a break-out week. On November 14, School of Rock—the musical based on the 2003 Jack Black film of the same name with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater—opens officially at the West End's New London Theatre. On November 17, Half a Sixpence—a 1960s hit British musical he has completely overhauled with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe—opens at the Noël Coward Theatre, after premiering at Chichester earlier this year.

Julian Fellowes on opening night
Julian Fellowes on opening night Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

As he told me when we spoke recently for an interview for The Stage, “Of course there are plenty of people greater than I—like Ivor Novello and Noël Coward, for example—who've had lots of musicals running up and down the avenue at once, but I don't think anyone has ever had two open in the same week!”

As if that's not enough, this week it was also announced that a new musical version of The Wind in the Willows, for which he wrote the book to a new score by Stiles and Drewe (and which has just played an out-of-town run), will arrive at the West End's London Palladium next June.

A slew of American works hits London.
The National Theatre this week announced that the cast of the U.K. premiere of Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies the Bone, originally premiered at Roundabout Underground in New York last year, will be led by Kate Fleetwood. The Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actor, who appeared on Broadway in Macbeth opposite Patrick Stewart, will star in Indhu Rubasingham’s production at the National Theatre from February 22.

It has also been announced that the Orange Tree in South-West London is to offer the U.K. premiere of Pulitzer Prize nominee Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ OBIE-winning play An Octoroon, from May 18, 2017.

And in Manchester, the Hope Mills Theatre has announced that it will offer U.K. premieres for the Off-Broadway musical Yank! (from March 9) as well as the 2005 Broadway musical Little Women (from November 9), with a new British musical The Stationmaster in-between them (from September 7).

Meanwhile, the Broadway musical Hairspray is to embark on another U.K. tour, launching in Cardiff from August 16 in a production directed by Paul Kerryson and choreographed by Drew McOnie that originated at Leicester Curve in 2015.

Reviews: Lazarus

Michael C. Hall and Sophia Anne Caruso in <i>Lazarus</i>
Michael C. Hall and Sophia Anne Caruso in Lazarus Jan Versweyveld

Michael C. Hall, Sophia Ann Caruso, and Michael Esper all reprise their original roles from the New York Theatre Workshop production of David Bowie’s Lazarus, which opened at the King's Cross Theatre in London November 8—a theatre nearly four times the size of NYTW.

In a three-star review for The Guardian, Michael Billington characterised it thus: “How to describe this feted New York import by David Bowie and Enda Walsh? “Musical” seems inadequate. It is part sci-fi story, part rock concert, part video installation, part study in alienation. But, while the separate ingredients are fascinating to watch in Ivo van Hove’s kaleidoscopic production, I rarely felt moved.”

In a separate series of reviews by Guardian columnists, Hadley Freeman commented, “Lazarus is, really, a jukebox musical for people who think they’re too hip for We Will Rock You: alongside a few new songs, there are old reliables such as ‘Changes’ and ‘Absolute Beginners,’ shoved with varying degrees of awkwardness into the story. All of this could have been fun, were it not for the impenetrable plot, absurd dialogue and cringingly subservient female characters.”

In The Times, Ann Treneman dismisses it entirely, in a one-star review, as “pretentious rubbish”, and adding, “sometimes, you have to say it like it is.” But in a four-star notice for The Independent, Paul Taylor notes, “It’s sad to to reflect that Lazarus is simultaneously the first of his theatre projects to come to full fruition and his parting gift to the world (together with the album Blackstar). How consoling, though, to discover what a rare and mesmeric testament this is.... It’s all unforgettable. The piece lasts, without interval, for one hour and fifty minutes. I sat rapt throughout.”

Reviews: King Lear at the Old Vic
Veteran actress Glenda Jackson, now 80, has returned to the London stage after a nearly quarter of a century absence (during which time she has been a Labour Party MP in the House of Commons) to play the title role in King Lear at the Old Vic.

In my own four-star review for The Stage, I quoted Matthew Warchus, artistic director of the Old Vic, telling the New York Times,“If she was going to come back, she wasn’t going to tiptoe back into the business.” I went on to write, “But, thrillingly, there's no need to tiptoe around her achievement. Lear is a remarkable act of stamina, memory and emotional reserves for any actor. It becomes, in Jackson's initially ferocious and ultimately desperately vulnerable presence, a tour de force.”

Most of the other critics agreed. In the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish wrote, “Glenda Jackson is tremendous as King Lear. No ifs, no buts. In returning to the stage at the age of 80, 25 years after her last performance (as the Clytemnestra-like Christine in Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra at the Glasgow Citizens), she has pulled off one of those 11th-hour feats of human endeavour that will surely be talked about for years to come by those who see it.”

And in The Times, Ann Treneman exclaims, “What a comeback. She’s fearless here as Lear, hard as nails, furious, capricious but also frail and vulnerable. The sight of her big red-raw hands spread out before us as she rants in the sing-song of the crazy makes you quail. But then at one point she takes off her trousers (she’s not the only one to do so) and those frail stick-like legs poking out under her big white shirt makes you recognise, with a pang, that Lear may be a monster but also just old.”

In The Guardian, Michael Billington notes, “There is no doubting that she is tremendous in the role. In an uncanny way, she transcends gender. What you see, in Deborah Warner’s striking modern-dress production, is an unflinching, non-linear portrait of the volatility of old age. Jackson, like all the best Lears, shifts in a moment between madness and sanity, anger and tenderness, vocal force and physical frailty.”

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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