What’s Hot in London: July 30-August 5

Special Features   What’s Hot in London: July 30-August 5
London’s theatrical wizardry continues to dominate headlines, Ben Brantley spends a month in London, and the Edinburgh Festival begins.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

Harry Potter’s online queue and play script release
Just as Hamilton dominates the New York theatrical conversation, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is now officially the most talked about and most coveted ticket in town. A new batch of 250,000 tickets was released for sale this week, and at one point a friend who joined the online queue told me there were 187,427 people ahead of him, which meant that he was unlikely to get them.

Of course, he could now simply buy the script, which is actually on sale at the front counter of the leading London newsagent chain WH Smith. But there’s been a peculiar fan backlash against this: as the Daily Telegraph reported, they're outraged that the Cursed Child script is, in fact, a script. Comments that they are making include: “Rowling, you owe your fans a BOOK! I like to rename this Harry Potter and the great scam” and “Can't read this script version. Very disappointed—didn’t know this script version was what I was going to get. Hope I can find a non-script version.”

Ben Brantley takes an extended London theatre trip
The chief theatre critic of the New York Times has been in London for two weeks already, and he’ll be here for another two. Not that there’s much for Ben Brantley to cover on Broadway—he only missed the return of Cats—but he’s been here since coming to cover Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which opened, he said, in “a blaze of outrageous enchantment”). And he's staying through the opening of Groundhog Day at the Old Vic on August 16.

He’s been filing regular reports to the New York Times (but no longer the daily Arts Journal blog entries he used to do) and also answering reader questions. Here we found out that he’s really looking forward to Kenneth Branagh’s The Entertainer that opens at the Garrick Theatre August 30: “I have high hopes for it. When he was first establishing himself as a classical stage star in the late 1980s, it was fashionable to say—as we all love to define people by their celebrated predecessors—that Mr. Branagh was the heir to Laurence Olivier. And of course the original production of John Osborne’s The Entertainer at the Royal Court Theater opened a new and vital chapter in Olivier’s career. So I suppose you could say that in taking on the role of the title character, the seedy music hall performer Archie Rice, Mr. Branagh is picking up a largely discarded gauntlet that most people have by now forgotten, which gives it an extra frisson.”

When I interviewed Branagh last year, he told me of Olivier, “For anyone of my generation, he’s been a big part of everyone’s career. He almost single-handedly carved out the pre-eminent position as actor with positions of prominence in theatre and stage and film, and the space he occupied was massive in the lives of every generation that came after him.” But he added ruefully, “I think the cultural memory doesn’t apply in the same way anymore—simply because time passes so quickly now, it seems. I was aware of this when I played him in My Week With Marilyn—my assumption that everyone knew exactly who he was was wrong.”

(Some) roads lead to Edinburgh
If it’s August, goes the arts mantra, it must be Edinburgh—and it will probably be raining, too, if you get there, goes the usual weather one. Actually, neither of those are necessarily true—it is possible to live in the world without going to Edinburgh (and it may not actually rain if you do go!).

But it’s also a fact that it’s a daunting prospect, whether as audience member or performer. On the fringe alone, there are some 3,269 productions to choose from, giving a total of 50,266 performances.

The official Edinburgh International Festival, a curated event that’s open only to productions that are specially invited to be there, is much more manageable. In the drama programme, Cherry Jones will be reprising her performance as Amanda Wingfield in the transfer of John Tiffany’s 2013 Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie, newly joined by British actress Kate O’Flynn as her daughter Laura (replacing Celia Keenan-Bolger) and Broadway actor Michael Esper as her son Tom (replacing Zachary Quinto). It is running now at the King’s Theatre through August 21.

Also in the International Festival: Alan Cumming will be reprising his cabaret Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs that he originally did at New York’s Café Carlyle (running late nights at the Hub, from August 6-27). I recently caught the show in Provincetown and was wowed by it. As he recently told The Guardian of the experience of touring it with his three musicians, “Oh, I love it. Every so often, the four of us find ourselves in some weird city somewhere in the world, with a room of strangers, and we do this show. It’s a lovely little cocoon.”

London production and casting news
To lose one Romeo is misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. The Kenneth Branagh company’s current Romeo and Juliet (playing at the Garrick through August 13) saw Richard Madden, playing Romeo, sustain an ankle injury that took him out of the show; but then his understudy Tom Hanson also injured his leg. So Freddie Fox, who recently played the role in a different production in Sheffield, was parachuted in to share the role with Madden as he recovered; but it has now been announced that Madden will not return, and the role will be played by Fox for the remainder of the run.

(5) Jon Jon Briones in a scene from the London production of MISS SAIGON.  Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy HR.jpg
Jon Jon Briones Matthew Murphy

According to a statement, “Although Richard is expected to make a full recovery, the injury to Richard’s ankle has not healed as quickly as hoped, and as a result his doctors have prescribed further rest which makes it impossible for him to return to the stage before the production closes.” (Madden can still be seen in encore screenings of the live broadcast of the production in cinemas in the U.K. and internationally).

The 25th anniversary performance of Miss Saigon—filmed live at the Prince Edward Theatre in 2016—is to be screened in cinemas October 16, ahead of a DVD release. The cast is led by Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris, Hugh Maynard as John, Tamsin Carroll as Ellen and Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi. There is also a special finale that sees the 25th anniversary performance cast joined onstage by original cast members, including Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga and Simon Bowman.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 14-minute musical 21 Chump Street, based on a true story from the series This American Life, is to receive its British premiere at Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden as part of a series of workshops and readings of new musicals in November.

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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