What’s Hot In London: October 22-28

News   What’s Hot In London: October 22-28
Artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe will leave after only two seasons, director Howard Davies dies at 71, casting announcements and more.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

Emma Rice to depart Shakespeare's Globe after only two seasons.
When Emma Rice was appointed artistic director at London'’s Shakespeare’s Globe—a recreation of the original Shakespearean theatre that was the life project of American theatre-maker Sam Wanamaker—in succession to Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole, eyebrows were raised in some quarters. She had only previously directed one Shakespeare play (Cymbeline), and in an early interview after she was appointed, she admitted that she was not familiar with the full Shakespearean canon, saying, “I have tried to sit down with Shakespeare, but it doesn't work. I get very sleepy and then suddenly I want to listen to The Archers,” referring to a long-running British radio serial.

Emma Rice
Emma Rice Joseph Marzullo/WENN

She had also revealed plans to address issues of gender imbalance at the theatre and intentions to make it more family-friendly, saying she hoped to make it “the most accessible and inviting space in London,” with parents encouraged to bring children and babies. “I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider, and theatre is a great saviour for those of us who are outsiders. So the more people we bring in from the cold, the better.”

But now, after a sometimes controversial first season, breaking with the tradition of performing the plays by 'shared light’, in which audience and actors could see each other in a single lighting state that was created for the theatre, Rice has been officially shunted into the cold herself, and it was announced this week that she will be stepping down after her second season.

Neil Constable, the theatre’s cheif executive, remarked, “In breaking the mould, this latest season has generated productive debate concerning the purpose and theatrical practice of the Globe, in relation to the use of sound and lighting technology within our theatre spaces. Following much deliberation and discussion, the Globe Board has concluded that from April 2018, the theatre programming should be structured around shared light productions without designed sound and light rigging, which characterised a large body of The Globe’s work prior to Emma’s appointment.”

The theatre industry quickly rallied to Rice’s defence. In a joint statement, the RSC’s artistic director Gregory Doran, executive director Catherine Mallyon and deputy artistic director Erica Whyman commented, “We are dismayed and disappointed to hear the news of Emma Rice’s departure from Shakespeare’s Globe. Emma is a vital force in British theatre and we have found her artistic programme, her productions and her spirit to be genuinely innovative and wonderfully refreshing. She has been a long-time collaborator with the RSC and is a bold, thoughtful and generous theatre artist who has always placed the audience at the heart of her work.” It continued, “It is a great shame that her energy and thrilling new approach will now not be given the time and support it takes for any new artistic direction to be fully realised and understood. We look forward very much to working with Emma again in the future.”

As arts commentator Alice Jones remarked in The Independent, “The Globe’s pursuit of ‘authentic’ Shakespearean performance has always been equal parts important, fun and daft. If one is to take its purist stance to its logical conclusion, though, then what does the post-Rice era hold? No female performers? Prostitutes at the gates? A ban on toilets?”

For her second and final season, Rice has announced a slate of productions under the season title of the “Summer of Love,” marking the 50th anniversary of the summer of 1967. It will include a new production of Romeo and Juliet (to be directed by Daniel Kramer, recently also appointed artistic director of English National Opera), the return of Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn (that subsequently transferred to the West End) and Twelfth Night (to be directed by Rice), amongst other new productions.

Howard Davies dies at 71.
Howard Davies, former associate director at the National and long-time director at the RSC (where his credits included the original production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that subsequently transferred to Broadway in 1987), passed away October 25, aged 71, after a short battle with cancer. The final production he worked on (Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the National) was taken over by Jeremy Herrin after he fell ill. Davies was due to helm a revival of Michael Frayn’s Wild Honey at Hampstead Theatre in December.

Howard Davies
Howard Davies Manuel Harlan/Chichester Festival Theatre

The theatre world was immediately generous with its tributes, Hamspead's artistic director Edward Hall and executive director Greg Ripley-Duggan commenting, “The world of theatre has suffered a huge loss with the passing of Howard Davies. Hampstead was lucky enough to collaborate with Howard over the last few years on several extraordinary productions and we will feel his absence keenly. A man of huge skill, fierce determination and quiet modesty who changed the face of British Theatre.”

The National Theatre issued its own tribute as did its artistic director Rufus Norris added, “His work—particularly on the American, Russian and Irish canons—was unparalleled. His reputation amongst actors, writers, directors and designers alike was beyond question, and has been for so long that his name has become a byword for quality and depth.”

Reviews: Amadeus
Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus, originally premiered at the National’s Oliver Theatre in 1979 with Paul Scofield. Now it has returned to its original National Theatre home in a new production directed by Michael Longhurst, and starring Lucian Msamati as Salieri, which opened October 26.

The reviews have mostly been raves. In a five-star notice in the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish wrote, “Now it has returned to its home, the National, in a note-perfect production by rising director Michael Longhurst that gives it a fresh, vital and musically inventive new reading, one which fully confirms its classic status.”

As Michael Billington notes in a four-star notice in The Guardian, the production “turns it into an epic piece of music-theatre. ... What is startling about Longhurst’s production is that the band is fully integrated into the dramatic action.”

And in another five-star review in The Independent, Paul Taylor dubs it “a thrillingly fresh and imaginative revival.“

Original Broadway cast members (L-R): Roger Bart, Sutton Foster and Christopher Fitzgerald.
Original Broadway cast members (L-R): Roger Bart, Sutton Foster and Christopher Fitzgerald. Paul Kolnik

Casting and production news
Mel Brooks is to bring a revised version of Young Frankenstein to the U.K., again helmed and choreographed by Susan Stroman as it was on Broadway, to open at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal from August 26, prior to an anticipated transfer to the West End.

Patrick Marber’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, currently running at the Menier Chocolate Factory through November 19, is to transfer to the West End’s Apollo Theatre, from February 3.

Luke Treadaway, who created the roles of Albert and Christopher in the original National Theatre productions of War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time respectively, is to return to the London stage. He joins Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill in a new production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter Theatre form February 22.

F. Murray Abraham, the Oscar-winning star of the film version of Amadeus returns to the U.K. stage to star in the English premiere of Daniel Kehlmann’s German play The Mentor, beginning performances April 6, 2017, at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, in a version translated by Christopher Hampton.

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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