What’s Hot in London: September 17-23

Special Features   What’s Hot in London: September 17-23
Imelda Staunton cast in Albee’s Virginia Woolf?, Sheridan Smith will take Funny Girl on the road, plus reviews for No Man’s Land, the London premiere of Father Comes Home From the War and John Malkovich’s London directorial debut.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

Imelda Staunton and two-time Tony nominee Conleth Hill to Star in Albee’s Virginia Woolf?
In one of the many tributes to Edward Albee, who died September 16, Guardian critic Michael Billington wrote, “With America currently engaged in its own form of post-truth politics, now seems the perfect time to revive Albee’s enduring masterpiece about the danger of living in a world of illusions.”

The first major revival since Albee’s death will begin at the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre February 22, with Staunton in her first stage role since starring in Gypsy in the West End opposite two-time Tony nominee Conleth Hill (Stones in His Pockets, The Seafarer), under the direction of James Macdonald. Staunton and Macdonald previously worked together on an Almeida production of Albee’s A Delicate Balance in 2011. Reviewing that performance, The Observer’s Kate Kellaway remarked at the time, “Staunton’s Claire is a tiny, accordion-playing alcoholic who seems to have a bad smell under her nose and a bitter taste in her mouth. When drunk, she is queenly but, the morning after, is reduced to a smudge.” That seems like good preparation for playing Martha.

Sheridan Smith
Sheridan Smith Johan Persson

Sheridan Smith to take Funny Girl on the road.
Though Sheridan Smith missed around eight weeks of performances of the current West End run of Funny Girl at the Savoy Theatre—after withdrawing from the show to be treated for exhaustion, following what was described at the time as an erratic performance during which the curtain was brought down early—she is more than making amends now. She is set to reprise her performance as Fanny Brice at 12 regional cities, including Manchester, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Bristol, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Newcastle, Southampton, Bradford, Southend, Cardiff and Dublin. (The production will also tour to Stoke, Aberdeen, Woking, Canterbury, Glasgow, Nottingham and Llandudno, with casting for those dates still to be announced.)

As Alistair Smith, editor of the U.K. trade newspaper The Stage, put it in a recent editorial, “Smith has come in for some flak in the tabloid press recently, and it sounds as if her life away from the theatre has been difficult in the past year. So, she could have been forgiven for wanting to draw a line under the production after it shuts in the West End later this month. This makes it especially impressive and admirable that a young, in-demand star of stage and screen would commit to a tour. It would be great to see more stars of her calibre, in the peak years of their career, following Smith’s example. If the whole theatre industry is going to thrive, the very best of it needs to be seen across the UK—not just in London.”

Reviews: No Man’s Land.
In 2013, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen first performed the respective roles of Hirst and Spooner in Harold Pinter’s 1975 play No Man’s Land on Broadway in repertoire with a previous production of Waiting for Godot they had originated in London in 2009; now, London is getting the chance to see No Man’s Land, too, as the two veteran actors, now 76 and 77, respectively, are playing it at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre—coincidentally the West End home, too, when John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson transferred from the National to the West End in the original production.

It opened officially September 20, and Benedict Nightingale—now retired from The Times—came out of retirement to assess it for London’s Evening Standard and, in a five-star rave, declared, “Can two of our era’s theatrical knights bear comparison with their great predecessors? The answer given by Sean Mathias’s revival is, yes, they certainly can... what I’ll remember is a last tableau: two very different but equally broken old men jointly staring into an irrecoverable past. Gielgud and Richardson. And now, superbly, McKellen and Stewart.”

In The Guardian, Michael Billington—an acknowledged expert on Pinter who was also his biographer—who was also at the play’s 1975 premiere, wrote now, “This is not only the most poetic of Pinter’s plays, it is also one that offers great opportunities for actors which Stewart and McKellen richly seize. It is well-known that the names of Hirst and Spooner derive, respectively, from famous Yorkshire and Lancashire cricketers. Stewart and McKellen also hail from opposite sides of the Pennines which makes for an intriguing vocal blend. But they also play off each other beautifully.”

Reviews: Good Canary.
John Malkovich has previously appeared on the London stage in the British premiere of Burn This at Hampstead Theatre in 1990 and again, more recently, in The Infernal Comedy at the Barbican in 2011; but now he has made his directorial debut at the helm of the English language premiere of Zach Helm’s Good Canary at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, where it opened officially September 21.

Malcovich, who previously directed it in French and Spanish versions in France and Mexico, told the Evening Standard, “Principally, initially, everything in London starts with the writing and the writers. There has just been an incredible long, strong and profound tradition of great theatre writing. It just goes on and on. Every year there’s another discovery or two or three or five. There are wonderful directors and actors and designers and technicians here, many of whom I have worked with over the years and it’s a great tradition. If I get the chance to direct again in London I absolutely would want to do that too.”

Malkovich’s contribution drew praise from the critics, with Michael Billington declaring in The Guardian that his staging is “immaculate” and going on to say, “The designs by Pierre-François Limbosch are a thing of beauty: they use projections of New York streets and cafes with painterly precision. The acting is also exemplary.”

Noting that it was directed by John Malcovich, Daily Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish exclaimed, “OMG! THE John Malkovich” and dubs him “the great Malko,” saying that he “ushers in pleasing shivers of excitement at the start by voicing the switch-off-your-phones announcement with creepy politesse.”

Father Comes Home From The Wars_prod_HR
Roger Robinson in Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) Craig Schwartz

Reviews: Father Comes Home from the Wars.
Suzan-Lori Parks’ 2014 Father comes Home From the Wars, which originally premiered at the New York Public Theatre in 2014, has now arrived in London, opening officially September 22 at the Royal Court, again directed (as in New York) by Jo Bonney. In The Guardian, Michael Billington wrote, “It runs for three hours, and I found it totally compelling… It may be an unfashionably long evening—but it captures the complexity of a civil war where black Americans found themselves fighting on opposing sides and where, although freedom was the ultimate goal, its achievement was fraught with hazards that continue to this day.”

In the Independent, Paul Taylor called it “an immensely arresting and impressive piece of work.”

Production and casting news:
A new production of Richard Harris’ play Stepping Out—which subsequently became a feature film starring Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters—is to be revived in the West End, when musical-theatre-actress-turned-director Maria Friedman’s new production, premiering in Bath from October 12, transfers to the Vaudeville from March 1… Jeremy Irvine, who starred in Steven Spielberg’s film War Horse, is to join Ed Harris and Amy Madigan in the West End transfer of the New Group’s production of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, at Trafalgar Studios from November 14… While a new production of Rent will mark the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere in London in December at the St James Theatre, Anthony Rapp—the show’s original Mark Cohen—will be playing in the downstairs St James Studio, from December 5-17.

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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