What’s Hot in London: June 4-10

Special Features   What’s Hot in London: June 4-10
Harry Potter debuts in London with a live owl, who has already withdrawn, The Deep Blue Sea is revived at the National and Michael Crawford and Titanic each return to the West End.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

Wizardry takes hold in the West End—and reviews already start appearing.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—without question the most eagerly anticipated play opening in 2016—began public previews June 7, and already a couple of British national newspapers have checked in—one outlet even billed it as a review.” This breaches the long-established protocol in which reviews are held off until the opening night, in this case on July 30.

<i>Harry Potter and the Cursed Child <a href="https://twitter.com/HPPlayLDN">@HPPlayLDN </a> </i>
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child @HPPlayLDN

But since the review in the Daily Mirror has been accompanied by a five-star rating, will the producers complain? The review itself even acknowledges the breach: “The official opening night is still a month away but hundreds of fans packed in London’s Palace theatre for the first night of previews for the first of the two parts of the production.”

Referencing Harry Potter creator JK Rowling’s personal video plea for people not to give anything away, the review states, “suffice to say, the extraordinary world she brought to life in the best selling books and hit films is evident in every scene on stage too.”

It adds, “Yes, of course, there are dozens of in-jokes and nods for the super fans. But even a complete Potter novice who doesn’t know their expelliarmus spell from their Hogwarts house could enjoy every minute of the show.”

Other outlets, including Time Magazine (http://time.com/4360683/harry-potter-cursed-child-reaction/), have simply quoted vox pops of the first preview audience, including one tweet that articulately stated: “So. #CursedChild part one was. Er. Wow. Er. Wow. So”

I hope that the critics manage to describe it better than that. But one of the dangers of early reactions is that things are liable to change, and do. Baz Bamigboye, the Daily Mail’s show business correspondent, tweeted on the night:

But now it has been reported that the owl has been let go, in other senses. The producers stated, “The production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently in its preview stage, with the process designed to allow the creative team time to rehearse changes or explore specific scenes further before the play’s official opening. As part of this process, earlier this week the decision was made not to feature live owls in any aspect of the production moving forward.”

I’m sure the unexpected escape was part of the decision. But, it also follows a protest from animal rights campaign group PETA, which said the use of live owls in the production “goes against every message of respect and kindness that JK Rowling’s wonderful books taught us.” PETA director Mimi Bekhechi also commented, “It goes completely against [owls’] nature to be subjected to crowds of people and bright lights from theatre productions. Having endured a life of human handling and ‘training’ does not remove their innate fears, temperaments or basic welfare needs, and theatre conditions have the potential to cause them tremendous stress.”

The Deep Blue Sea is revived at the National with Helen McCrory.
The other major dramatic event of the week was the return of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea to the National Theatre. The production reunites actress Helen McCrory and director Carrie Cracknell, who previously collaborated there on a landmark production of Medea in 2014.

The play, which chronicles a woman’s desperate affair with a former RAF war pilot that runs aground, is one that literally changed my own life when I saw it as a 14-year-old and became a lifelong theatre fan as a result. As I wrote in my review for London Theatre Guide, “I’m not quite sure how or why the play—which deals eloquently with the pain of unrequited love and co-dependency—resonated so powerfully on someone who had not yet had the life experience to draw on to know how deeply truthful it was, as I would find out for myself in the years to come. But the writing is so personal and so full of reservoirs of wrenching feeling and the survival instinct that keeps us alive in the face of the worst kind of pain, that I fell in love not only with this play but the theatre itself.”

And this production does it full justice: in a review for The Guardian, Michael Billington declares, “Terence Rattigan’s best play has been long overdue for revival at the National. Fortunately, it gets an impassioned production by Carrie Cracknell that illuminates Rattigan’s psychological understanding and boasts a shining performance from Helen McCrory.”

In a five-star rave for Time Out, Andrzej Lukowski delcares, “The telling thing here is not that this is a radical production, but the mix of reverence and fresh life that hip young(ish) thing Cracknell has applied to it. It’s a beautifully judged, exquisitely sad production that remains faithful to Rattigan’s period setting, but subtly enhances it with Peter Rice’s remarkable ambient sound design, which makes Tom Scutt’s yawning, semi-translucent block of flats set feel like a huge, lonely living creature, a giant shadow of McCrory’s phenomenal Hester.”

Michael Crawford returns to the West End.
Another theatrical wizard Michael Crawford—who last appeared on the West End stage in the title role of The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium—has returned to the London stage this week, in a new British musical The Go-Between that was first premiered in regional theatre five years ago and has now reached Shaftesbury Avenue, thanks to his presence.

Michael Crawford
Michael Crawford Dan Wooller

Based on a celebrated novel by LP Hartley and featuring music by Richard Taylor and a book by David Wood, the show itself has got mixed notices. Still, there’s a lot of admiration for Crawford, playing the older version of a man who revisits his childhood self and the role he played in facilitating an affair between an aristocratic woman and a farmer. In The Guardian, Michael Billington writes, “Crawford, exuding a desiccated sadness, sings Taylor’s score beautifully and sculpts each line carefully.” while in The Independent Paul Taylor declares, “Crawford, now 74, delivers a remarkably moving and sensitively sung performance.”

In my own review for The Stage, I state, ‘Michael Crawford makes a welcome late career return to the West End stage. It’s not just star casting; he haltingly and hauntingly registers as a man re-visiting his youth. Unlike Tommy Steele, who at the age of 79 recently impersonated Glenn Miller (who died at age 40) onstage with no sense of the ridiculousness of it, Crawford here has been cast to his strengths. It’s a performance of gravity and dignity.”

A chamber version of Titanic returns.
Finally, a chamber version of Maury Yeston’s 1997 Tony winning musical Titanic has also returned to London. Director Thom Southerland’s production was first seen at Southwark Playhouse in 2013 and subsequently travelled to Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre last year. It has now been revived to launch a new season of four consecutive musicals at Charing Cross Theatre that will be bookended by another Maury Yeston musical, the British premiere of Death Takes a Holiday.

In a five-star rave for The Times, Dominic Maxwell admitted to seeing the show twice within 24hours—he went to a critics’ preview, then returned the next afternoon to see it again! The Daily Telegraph’s Lucinda Everett was similarly impressed, referring to “many moments of magnificence”, while The Guardian’s Michael Billington, says that it “offers the best piece of musical staging you will find in London.”

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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