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Remembering the worst idea of all time: StageCon

StageCon
StageCon

StageCon

Make it through the first nine circles of hell and you’ll find a bunch of average theatre people, in Shoreditch Town Hall, over a weekend taking selfies with millenials – for £160.

An idea, surely, no one in their right mind would pass off as entertainment or fan engagement.

The inaugural and ironically, probably last ever ‘Theatre Convention’ was just stupid and criminally naive. Looking back now, it’s obvious that in 2018 the industry is caught in the strange no man’s land between commercialism and exploitation.

StageCon, announced in August, was due to take place in November 3 and 4 at Shoreditch Town Hall in London. Sharon D ClarkeCarrie Hope FletcherMichael Xavier and Christina Bennington were among the stars set to appear, but today after backlash the organisers said some of the contributors had to pull out due to offers of professional work.

Translation: they got a better offer too.

The whole thing was not good. In fact it was the opposite of good. It was very, very bad.

Shed no tears, though, for StageCon or the rats jumping ship. Spread out over a long weekend, the point of StageCon was completely lost on me, but our interest was meant to be held by an ‘exciting programme of events.’

Where are we now? Well, this week Michael Xavier pulled out, for starters, the event was pulled from Shoreditch Town Hall’s website and today was officially ‘postponed’ until 2019.

Woah there, folks. Back up the truck.

True to form, It fooled absolutely no one, of course, least of all me. Of all the irritations that came with StageCon over the summer, it was the cost, partnership with the WhatsOnStage and smugness that got me the most.

Additionally, now United Theatrical will now be the sole organiser of the event. All ticket holders have been contacted and offered a refund or the option to transfer their ticket to next year’s StageCon, apparently.

A spokesperson today said: ‘The organisers are also keen to engage with those who have previously shared their feedback, in order that the community has the chance to contribute to an event created for the community, and that it has every opportunity to become a regular and celebrated fixture on the UK’s theatre calendar.’

That’s why the organisers kept defending, deflecting and denying any incentive to cash in. They got dumb and greedy, and quickly discovered, as was inevitable, that supply had outstripped demand.

This is not just my opinion, obviously. Almost everyone who has looked at the nuts and bolts of StageCon have concluded it’s not good enough.

Anyway, StageCon will be postponed until next year after feedback from fans. Don’t, however, rule out the possibility of a last-minute redemption.

I’m not exactly holding my breath here, though.

We live in nutty times.

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Theatre Diary: Sweet Charity, SIX The Musical, Abigail’s Party & Eugenius!

It’s a popular misconception, and one frequently held by opportunists, that low quality, no-redeeming-features musicals are easy to palm off on theatre fans. See: Heathers / The Band.

Far from being guaranteed to rock your world, EUGENIUS! is guaranteed to bore you rigid. It is with deep regret that I inform you this sci-fi super hero show is not a good musical in any world.

There are moments you feel the show wants to get out of first gear; when the bizarre dancing fish people appear. Aaron Renfree’s choreography is perfectly satisfactory. Oh, and he was an S Club Junior as well.

This production has been tottering around London for 2 years now – originally staged as a concert at the London Palladium in 2016. But it is 2018 and Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ 80’s inspired show is back at The Other Palace. It has very few redeeming features, aside from Rob Houchen. He plays the lead role of Eugene well.

Most of the music doesn’t work, but it scores a palpable hit with ‘Comic Book Kind Of Love’. Every other line, every other character, seems mechanical. It just doesn’t know what it is or who it is for. I also take issue with the grossly stereotype homosexual character – played by Scott Paige. It’s just not funny to have an effeminate individual just for their gayness. Basic.

The Warwick Davies produced musical starts off being far better than you might have expected, ends up being far worse than you could ever have feared. Sadly, it swerves anything meaningful and hurls itself into a sort of risible parody of a parody affair with basic gender stereotypes, a ropey design and misguided sexual politics, which is a bit disappointing but, well, it’s 2018 isn’t it. Avoid.

Life in prison for Warwick and the other two, please.

At Nottingham Playhouse, Rebecca Trehearn demonstrates how Sweet Charity should be done. Everything glides by like a dream.

As Charity Hope Valentine Rebecca Trehearn enters like a ditzy lioness in Bill Buckhurst’s triumphant revival of the 1966 Broadway hit – the first musical produced by the Playhouse in over a decade. Everyone is in most assured hands with choreographer Alistair David, master of clever choreography that animates everything. Sizzling stuff.

SWEET CHARITY

SWEET CHARITY

Things soar with a dazzling interpretation of Big Spender and Buckhurst brings his particular gifts to the show: nimble direction, razzle-dazzle, pinpoint characterisation. Yes, it goes on a bit, at nearly three hours long. Nonetheless, an evening of many enchanting charms with a winning vitality.

Another year, another revival of Abigail’s Party. Douglas Rintoul’s treacle slow production both stages and stays faithful to Mike Leigh’s acidic comedy about 1970s social norms at Queen’s Theatre, HornchurchMelanie Gutteridge is beautifully contained as the ghastly host Beverley, though. Her delivery of: “Laurence, Angela likes Demis Roussos. Tony likes Demis Roussos, I like Demis Roussos, and Sue would like to hear Demis Roussos: so please, d’you think we could have Demis Roussos on?” brought a wide smile to my face. Brilliant.

There are plenty of quietly enjoyable moments. But everything lacks depth that would give it savour. The design helps; Lee Newby’s smartly 70’s kitch work frames the action acutely.

But this is a safe evening: a retrieval rather than a rediscovery, it adds nothing new. The greatness of Leigh’s play lies in its unspoken wish that aggressive suburban consumerism might itself one day have the courage to confront reality.

A new British musical that’s as brilliant as it is absolutely daft, Six The Musical has made the last few years of Arts Theatre, London worth all the hassle.

Managing to be an inspiring piece about female empowerment without being trite and generally shit, SIX The Musical enjoyed a sell-out run at Edinburgh Fringe this year and arrives in town evolved with a real buzz.

Cheers all round for a resounding bunch of queens. A royal affair, sassy performances and a show-making all-female crew stir in tinselly costumes. This concert-style show about the six wives of Henry VIII is a real joy.

SIX

SIX

Yes, the message here is probably as substantial as Girl Power once was / is, but this is stompy musical theatre perfection nonetheless. There’s a strong sense of ‘imperial phase Little Mix’ in this musical, which is to say it’s close to pop musical perfection. There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Eugenius! is at The Other Palace until 21 October.

Sweet Charity is at Nottingham Playhouse until 22 September.

Abigail’s Party is at Queens Theatre Hornchurch until 22 September, then touring. 

SIXthe Musical is at Arts Theatre, London until 1 December.

 

 

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Kiln Theatre: why the north London theatre rebrand is cause for celebration

Indhu Rubasingham

Indhu Rubasingham

The Tricycle is no more: earlier this year Indhu Rubasingham relaunched it as the Kiln theatre.

Before going any further, let’s nail this idea that Kiln Theatre is a mistake. It’s a dangerous half-truth which seriously underestimates artistic director Rubhasingham. So it should be pointed out as a matter of urgency, that it is not the end of the world.

This week, though, former artistic directors and board members of the north London Theatre, are urging the venue to revert to its previous name, the title it held for 38 years.

In a letter to The Observer 15 people signed a letter in the Observer criticising the decision. The list includes all three previous chairs of the board – Andree Molyneux, Patricia Macnaughton and Stephen Phillips – as well as the theatre’s original architect Tim Foster, and others.

In the letter, they say: “The Tricycle was a landmark in London, and a brand locally, nationally and internationally. In our view this change of name throws away a valuable legacy and history.”

I’m kind of over this obsessive and credibility-destroying campaign. Yes, renaming Tricycle Theatre has misfired. But it is the opposite of an attempt at demolishing an old identity.

Understood? Good. Then let’s proceed in an open-minded fashion with the Trike, the focus group years, where there is a £7 million capital development programme, not dissimilar programming to before and a new name: Kiln Theatre.

A Kiln Theatre spokesperson said “Theatre is not, and never has been, primarily about preserving a legacy. Theatre by its nature is ephemeral and impermanent, it’s about reflecting the world around us, provocation, and ultimately change. We are representing the theatre for today as we embark on the next stage of the company’s story in the newly refurbished building we have worked incredibly hard to deliver over the past five years, and one that we are futureproofing for the next generation.”

Elsewhere, Michael Billington also put the boot in this week. Writing in The Guardian, he says: “Even the restructuring of the building is no reason for changing the name. In recent memory both the Bush theatre in Shepherd’s Bush and the Orange Tree in Richmond have moved from spartan rooms above pubs into more spacious premises, but they retained their original names.”

Thank God, then, for Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton who sent a letter into The Guardian urging ‘everyone who professes to have loved the Tricycle’ to support its new name and its artistic director’

I asked a few people for their thoughts on the debacle. Slung Low’s Alan Lane said: “I have some sympathy with Kiln. We’ve a small group of men in Holbeck who when ever they get the chance denounce us as communists and sodomites and all sorts of things. The criticism is occasionally aimed at us by others that we haven’t brought the whole community with us. And of course we havent. I don’t care what the place is called and I’m bored of this little cabal of dickheads who keep theatre stuck in this dreary relationship with the past and with money and with community. We’re meant to be the dangerous art.” Amazing.

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

On the other side of the fence is critic Dominic Cavendish: “I can’t quite see the point in the name-change, you need innovation and continuity when you effect a major exercise in rebranding. As someone who writes for the Telegraph, I’m fairly used to the anachronism of the ‘title’ I work for – and for some the name itself might suggest a newspaper that hasn’t kept pace with modern technology; but even if there are things a paper, or a theatre, can do to widen its appeal and demographic, I think there’s something self-defeating about a name change; all theatres are built on legacies; unless those legacies are completely toxic, embrace the ghosts of years gone by! The Tricycle programme as was is, incidentally, nothing any artistic director should feel the need to disown, which some might infer is the subtext.”

On the surface the rebrand has misfired badly and people have lined up to throw bricks at the decision, but I think it’s just cosmetic. Which seems like a shame. If we ever needed someone to shake up a staid theatre industry, it’s now.

Cynics be damned – there’s an uncomplicated reason why Indhu Rubhasingham has had so many hits and secured a £7 million facelift for the building. It’s that people like really good theatre, and she makes it happen.

Kiln Theatre is a cause for celebration, a new era – and it’s exactly what 2018 needs.

Give her a break, folks.

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StageCon. No. Just, no.

STAGE CON

I have been getting slowly obsessed with StageCon. Not because it’s any good – it is, of course, utterly dicey– but because of the shamelessness of it. Events featured will include live performances, sing-a-longs, discussions, cast reunions, panels, games, previews, workshops, meet and greets and showcases. 

As you may have noticed, StageCon was announced and Twitter lost its mind. I suppose an outrage is the new zeitgeist and can generally be more useful than total indifference, though the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the public.

You expect this reaction, obviously, during the summer: theatre’s silly season. 

A raft of musical theatre stars including Michael XavierLouise DearmanCameron Blakely and Stuart Matthew Price have been announced. So, you knew, long before you clicked to see who else will be in attendance that the elusive Carrie Hope Fletcher would be involved. 

I was surprised, though, to see Sharon D. Clarke in this questionable line-up; very obviously, the best theatre person not just from that selection. 

The really depressing thing is, though, that the ‘first ever UK theatre convention’ is presented in association with WhatsOnStage. Oh, and Day tickets for the event cost £85 and a Weekend ticket costs £160. In 2018 extra opportunities for theatre lovers to engage with their favourite musical star will continue to seduce theatre fans. 

STAGE CON

STAGE CON

Just how watered down is StageCon going to be? Well conceptually, even, StageCon is just a ripoff cousin of New York’s theatre convention: BroadwayCon

‘A portion of profits from StageCon will be donated to The Royal Theatrical Fund’. The organisers say: StageCon approached Royal Theatrical Fund as it is a charity that does a lot of great in supporting the Theatre community and so will support it with a portion of profits from ticket sales. This is an arrangement both parties are happy with.

That’s that then. 

It is a shame then that the pricing is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning. The ticket prices are not ideal, they are targeted for the privileged. The organisers have failed to realise there is only one simple rule to be observed when producing these kinds of events: Make it accessiblefools

Even if we ignore the fact that they have assumed that there are this many people who will part with this much cash, to attend a theatre convention in Shoreditch, something pretty staggering is going on here.

But it is important to remember that there’s room for everything, and such events are just moments of funWe are living in an age of boundaries being demolished: teenagers would rather have a selfie with a star than their autograph. It is no longer necessary to wait like a fruit-loop outside a stage door as Kelli O’Hara flees from another exit: you can book an appointment to meet her in the time it would take to arrange a visit to the dentist. It would quite possibly be the same price, and there’s every chance you would get a cupcake. 

More names and events will be announced in due course, incidentally, and there will be more Olivier-worthy action from StageCon and their forward-planning department next month, I’m sure. 

StageCon is at Shoreditch Town Hall in November 

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Bloody hell: A Monster Calls, The King and I, The Jungle, Bring it On and Young Frankenstein

A Monster Calls

Sally Cookson’s brilliant and touching staging of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is currently at the Old Vic, London. There were many moments of genius, in the direction and delivery of this gorgeous production. It’s another lovely, solid effort from one of Britain’s most enduring directors. There is something seriously lovely about the coiled rope and choral beauty that explodes into propulsion and colour – and its ambition is matched only by its beauty. Take Kleenex.
THE KING AND I

THE KING AND I

The Tony-Award winning Lincoln Center Theater production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein epic The King and I is currently gracing The London Palladium for a limited engagement. Powered by the lung-busting magnificence of Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe’s star-power, respectively. The show-within-a-show in the second half does drag. But the dazzling spectacle and the skill of the performers on display is enveloped in designer Michael Yeargan and costume designer Catherine Zuber’s glorious work. I haven’t seen this much Gold Leaf since Follies.
Millennials will have only experienced the musical via the 1956 film. Yes, inert, and yes, problematic, yadda yadda, and, indeed creaky at times but at the heart of the sumptuous story is the struggle between modernity and tradition and production values. This is a unique showcase for the talent of many young actors of Asian ethnicity, too. The King and I is epic, timeless and superb.
Fun fact: the tiniest child in the small army of the King’s children is less than a metre tall. Adorable.
THE JUNGLE

THE JUNGLE

Is there a show that has had as much critical acclaim as The Jungle? First seen at the Young Vic last year, this vibrant migrant-crisis drama has moved into the West End. Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin’s production gets straight down to business placing us in the heart of an Afghan Café. Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s remarkable, rackety play is cleverly conceived; distinctively different. To that end, this kind of theatre is hard to get right but they do and the incredible company of performers bring the refugee crisis closer to home, making it more personal and difficult to ignore.
The essential grit in the oyster, though, is that towards the end, the whole narrative occasionally overestimates how much of a damn normal people give about politics and the charity appeal isn’t as clever as the creative team imagines. In fairness, none of that really matters, The Jungle is a harrowing reminder that everyone has a story worth telling.
I really tried to hate Bring it On – The Musical, but resistance is futile; it had me at “Being a cheerleader is like being a marine: you sign your life away.” It’s hard to resist this giddy musical based on the cult teen comedy. With songs by Lin-Manuel-Miranda and Ewan Jones’s choreography and direction give the whole show a lift. This originally premiered in 2011 on Broadway and the now the British Theatre Academy have brought it to Southwark Playhouse. Many of these bright young things will certainly go into the profession.
The chief glory of the show is Robyn McIntyre as Campbell, the captain of her high school team and vows revenge on her rival. A first-rate ensemble bless things with a remarkable energy, excellent comic timing and touching vulnerability. A predictable feelgood story but Bring it On is a blast, simply.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

I will miss Young Frankenstein. The show has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks, and tells the story of Frederick Frankenstein who inherits his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania.
Both times I’ve watched it – Brooks’ horror movie spoof has felt grotesquely pertinent to the #MeToo whirlwind. Last year, I found it a poignantly contemporary antidote to the endlessly offended culture; this time, I laughed harder without discomfort at the naughty satire on the politics within the piece. Hadley Fraser undoubtedly does a marvellous job as Dr Frankenstein. Lesley Joseph, I have to say, is really quite splendid and relishes the role as scene-stealing Frau Blucher. Also, I really rate Diane Pilkington who is consistently excellent as Elizabeth. The rather fantastic live cast recording has also just been released; so check it out.
Complaining about unsubtlety is beside the point with material like this. In fairness, this show is extremely funny so the individuals who took issue with Young Frankenstein are credulous individuals who take everything at face value and with hindsight, make the Creature look smart.
Overall: some people like Young Frankenstein, some people do not. The latter people are wrong.
Young Frankenstein is at Garrick Theatre, London until 24 August.
A Monster Calls is at Old Vic, London until 24 August.
Bring It On is at Southwark Playhouse, London, until 1 September.
The King and I is at the London Palladium until 29 September.
The Jungle runs at the Playhouse theatre, London, until 3 November.
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London Theatre is a flickering tealight of hope: Allelujah! Bat out of Hell, Fun Home & King Lear

There is a special furnace in theatre hell reserved for rubbish state-of-the-nation plays, so I’ll keep it brief. You thought Young Marx was dull? Try staying awake through Alan Bennett’s new play, where the substance is so lacking that it prompted me to leave at the interval. Since the NHS is never out of the headlines and affects nearly all of us, we have long been crying out for a new play on the subject.

Unfortunately, Nick Hytner’s Allelujah! is not it. Generously described by Michael Billington as a “hospital drama”, rather than virtue signalling mediocrity. Not Bennett or Hytner’s finest hour, if we are honest.

Allelujah

Allelujah Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Old people singing and dancing sweetly– check.

Two original ‘History Boys’ – check.

A sub-plot involving immigration and Brexit – check.

I attempted to discover, once and for all whether Bat out of Hell was good. I can now announce my findings: no, it is nowhere near as dreadful as The Band.

This is exactly what, I think, consumers of Jukebox musicals – shows created out of the existing back catalogue of popular hits – want to see.

From musical to album to musical again, the mind-blowing scale of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell; robot bats, motorbikes and a Cadillac is quite something to behold. I loved the nonsense of it all. The main source of fascination, though, is how cunningly constructed and gloriously sung it is.

BAT OUT OF HELL

BAT OUT OF HELL

This Jukebox musical is so meticulously crafted, with entertainment in mind, that it becomes disorientating to watch.  

Sometimes you see a show and you can’t quite pin it down. I loved Fun Home at the Young Vic, the Tony-Award winning musical is based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 striking graphic novel memoir about growing up gay. I know what you’re thinking, another Broadway musical making a long-awaited debut in London. But, if anything, the accolades attached to this show understate the level of theatre sorcery going on here: kids tap-dancing on a coffin, a lesbian protagonist and a closeted gay father. Absolutely ideal.

An intelligent book and an inventive score combine with  often unbearable-to watch emotional performances that are so neatly done. Part of a fine ensemble, Jenna Russell is a cut above the rest. I haven’t seen as concise and uplifting a musical all year. Bit special.

FUN HOME

FUN HOME

Just when you thought you’d had enough Shakespeare, along comes Ian McKellen’s victory lap as King Lear at Duke of York’s Theatre. Jonathan Munby’s monumental production began life at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2017. McKellen is, of course, sublime at least in terms of unassuming lucidness: you will not see such another dignified Lear this year. A brilliant Sinead Cusack add further class to an evening that combines with something more mystic and mythical.

KING LEAR

KING LEAR

79 year-old superstar McKellen shines solidly for 3 hours 40 minutes, in what may be his last major Shakespearean role on stage. We’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Unmissable. Truly.

Allelujah! is at Bridge theatre, London, until 29 September

Bat out of Hell is at Dominion Theatre, London until January 2019 (link https://batoutofhellmusical.com/)

Fun Home is at the Young Vic, London, until 1 September.

King Lear is at Duke of York’s until 3 November and will be broadcast live on 27 September via National Theatre Live.

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 Is ‘The King and I’ the most problematic musical of all time? Yes and No

The King and I
The King and I

The King and I

Most lavish and exciting musical revival of 2018, so far? No contest: The King and I.

67 years on from its Broadway debut, whatever our differences elsewhere, I hoped there’d be one thing which we’d all agree on. The King and I is a timeless classic and this is a show of considerable quality. This is an evening of full-blown spectacle with swankingly grand West End production values and ranks as one of the most entertaining nights out at a theatre that I have had for quite some time.

An opinion confirmed when I took my seat at The London Palladium this week. Kelli O’ Hara, making her west end debut quietly commanded the stage and wrestled with the complex score and glorious melodies unfurled before me, which, for a theatre fan, is like finding the source of the Nile. The kids are gorgeous, the storytelling is delicate, forceful and ambiguous.

Anyway, this golden age musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein is about a 19th Century British widow who travels to Siam (now Thailand) to tutor its monarch’s many children; think of it as a more nuanced version of The Sound of Music. (interestingly, The King and I was written eight years before The Sound of Music)

I don’t expect you to watch it, obviously, but if you have the time and money, then do. It’s as funny, heart-warming and brilliantly structured as a musical can be. But the most remarkable thing is, major elements of it are now considered politically incorrect. Sure, it is dated, lengthy and teeters on imperial condescension. But for me it is about status, and the old embracing the new. The story and characters are racist in our time but isn’t in its own and occasionally becomes stuck and unable to transcend from that place. Hmm.

If nothing else, though, we can all agree that The King and I is flawed and certain elements are offensive. If you are someone who deplores slavery and colonialism, which is to say you are a sensible person, then well done. As the reviews quickly demonstrated, ranging from three to five stars. Certain critics, and columnists, have of course, leapt on the show and its ‘problematic’ material.

Reviewing the production, which won four Tonys in 2015 for the Broadway revival, the Guardian’s Michael Billington said The King and I “seems to endorse the idea of the civilising influence of the west on the barbaric east.” Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski labelled the musical “kind of racist… like an elderly relative who you make allowances for on grounds of age.” Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish calls the show “one of the most problematic musicals of the 20th Century American canon.”

But do we write The King and I out of history? Surely it is better to present it in all its ‘problematic’ detail and fire the minds of the twenty-first century theatre goer so that such things don’t ever happen again. It should be planting new conversations.

Nevertheless, condemning the unease with which the discourse around this show is something that we should all be doing. The majority of the reviews, interviews and ‘buzz’ having been written by white men who would not dream of admitting that this great liberal democracy has afforded them all the most extraordinary privileges in life, including, an expensive private education, for which without it they would swiftly have no point, purpose, job or income, obviously. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The King and I runs at the London Palladium until 29 September.

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Is Heathers beyond criticism?

Heathers

I’m quite intrigued by the recent revelations that Heathers is beyond criticism.

In recent times, the traditional press night has  become ever more nebulous. I got an email last week saying that there would be no press night for Heathers. It sounded like a theatre bulletin from another planet: who wouldn’t have a press night for an off-broadway hit, coming to town, in 2018?

This week, Andrezj Luwkowski wrote in The Stage: ‘This production has virtually sold out on the strength of the Heathers name, it scarcely needs reviews. But when you’re unashamedly charging your audience top dollar (top price ticket: £75), inviting scrutiny – or explaining why you’re not – feels like a politeness to them, as much as anything.’

Heathers

Heathers

We all understand the pressure that producers face and that everyone has to do advertising deals. We understand that in a world that contains The Band, critics probably aren’t at the top of the list like they might have been a few years ago.

Last night, though, there was a Gala evening. Baz BamigboyeOfficial London Theatre,WhatsOnStage were in attendance. Call me cynical, but this is not conducive to anything other than cheerleading.

It is the producers and PRs stage-managing the narrative and ‘buzz’ within an inch of its life. It’s kind of maddeningly admirable.

The mixed messages continue.  Heathers is a ‘work-in-progress’ and not a full scale production. However, producer Paul Taylor-Mills said: ‘‘I’m thrilled that within a year of The Other Palace we have a project that has gone from workshop to a fully realised production.” Confusing, right?

But it isn’t just the critics that are relegated to the theatre dead-zone. Glancing at social media it becomes increasingly clear that anyone who has an opinion to the contrary that Heathers is the greatest musical in 2018, is shot down in flames or called a troll and/or hater.

I suppose the cocktail of Carrie Hope Fletcher and Heathers is a fandom that ranks among the most uptight on the internet but, also, if for whatever reason you’re a fan of a show or a performer, it’s unpleasant to see them being criticised. I get that.

You only need to look at the comments under the West End Live performance (that has racked up 150,000+ views) to realise that Heathers is a cult show, driven by cult personalities.

Perhaps some of the vagueness comes from a place of insecurity, and perhaps they’re more aware than they care to admit that the entire operation is questionable. The mind boggles.

I think it is terrific that Heathers is in London, I admire the commercial-nous. But I just wish more people could see it at an affordable rate, with more transparency and a regard for the critical community.

Heathers the Musical at The Other Palace from 9 June to 4 August.

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So I went along to the launch of The King and I yesterday

Bartlett Sher’s Broadway hit musical The King and I is heading to the London Palladium for a limited 14-week engagement, before a tour that will see the show visit Asia.

I went along to the launch. There were goodie bags and bucks fizz and it was frankly amazing. Here is what happened.

Press and media type people

Press and media type people

Doors opened at 11.15 am but I didn’t want to look too eager, so I arrived at WAC Centre, Belsize Park at about 11.20am. The invite promised breakfast and while there was no porridge on offer I did find some miniature sausage rolls, and mixed berries on cocktail sticks.

After a while we were led into a rehearsal room for a presentation and cast Q&A.

Sir Howard Panter – lead producer-  appeared and made some amusing comments.

Original Broadway cast members Kelli O’Hara, who won a Tony award for her portrayal of Anna, and Japanese movie star Ken Watanabe file into the rehearsal room with various cast members and give us a look at several of the show’s toe-tapping numbers.

The orchestra fire up and O’Hara storms the space like a celestial being with ‘Getting To Know You’. What a voice. What. A. Woman.

Several numbers from the show are performed and then we are gifted, from the theatre Gods, an excerpt of ‘Shall We Dance’. Incredible scenes.

There was a huge round of applause and I went off to chat to Na-Young Jeon (Les Miserables) and Dean John Wilson (Aladdin) who will play the young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha.

How do they think the morning went? “It was nice to have an audience because we’ve been playing to a blank space for four weeks. It’s nice to get a round of applause at the end of things. We’re super excited,” he says.

What, I ask, can this production of The King and I say to modern audiences about feminism. “People might not come and see the show because they may think that it is dated. But I really want to say because it is Rodger’s and Hammerstein it is so beautiful and sweeping you will love the music. It is also a very modern revival; I think especially now with Me Too movement and so many strong women alongside strong men saying that we deserve the same rights it is relevant. So, I hope that fifty years later The King and I will still be timeless and people will think we’ve achieved something,” she says.

“Right now – what a time to put a show on like this – the way that society is going. It is an old story but it is so relevant to today. It is a timeless story,” he says.

Here is a photo of us after our chat. Don’t we look happy.

Left to right - Dean John-Wilson, Me & Na Young-Jeon

Left to right – Dean John-Wilson, Me & Na Young-Jeon

Anyway, it is a golden time for diversity on our capital’s stages, it feels like a significant overdue moment for BAME representation in the West End with shows like Tina, Kinky Boots, Lion King, Hamilton, Dreamgirls & Motown the Musical.

So, I suppose the big question is this: why revive The King and I? Why now?

A sixty-seven-year-old musical about a mid-twentieth century schoolteacher teaching Victorian values at the court of the King of Siam could be problematic. Will this production interrogate Orientalism? Are the gender and race politics, in abstract terms, outdated and harmful? Food for thought, ladies and gentlemen.

Either way it was an 10/10 sort of morning full of feeling and I cannot wait to see this exceptionally gifted company bring a bit of class back to the West End. Let us hope they put a fresh spin on a familiar tale…

The company of The King and I take a bow

The Company of King and I

The Company of King and I

The King and I runs at the London Palladium from June 21 until 29 September

https://kingandimusical.co.uk/