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£400 tickets for West End Cock? No thanks.

Well….

The cynic, as Oscar Wilde put it, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. For commentators, that switches into reverse: indifferent to price, we are expected to deliberate value. 

Full disclosure, I am privileged to not have to usually pay for tickets. Occasionally, though, I despair. I feel there is no place for the working class in theatre. This is by no means my first rodeo, either.

This week, premium tickets for Mike Bartlett’s play Cock – starring Jonathan Bailey and Joel Harper-Jackson – were put on sale with ticket prices that had been spiked to £400.

If you thought that was bad, though, add the additional burden of ATG’s booking fees, the total came to £460. £460!  A sorry state of affairs.

Let’s do a brief summary: Cock is directed by Marianne Elliott and made headlines after understudy Harper-Jackson stepped into replace Taron Egerton who left suddenly due to ‘personal reasons’ having fainted during the first preview.

A spokesperson for the 90-minute play defended the unprecedented ticket prices as the result of “supply and demand.” That’s showbiz, honey. However, following backlash producers Elliott & Harper subsequently reduced the cost of the seats significantly.

Photograph: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The world may be shifting, but we must remind commercial producers – especially those recently in receipt of three rounds of significant Culture Recovery Funds – the value of accessible and affordable tickets, and a sense of the very real dangers should they discard it.

The risk of knowing the price of everything is that you can end up forgetting about its value.

Nevertheless, 15% of tickets sold have been at £20 and there is a daily lottery with tickets at this price point. Ambassadors Theatre is also a small house with only 444 seats. But most of these £20 tickets require a degree of flexibility not compatible with most people’s lives.

Still, the West End is a supply-and-demand business – and if there is escalating demand, there will be little pressure for a ceiling on what producers and theatre owners will seek to earn from. Even so, accessible tickets equal sustainability, as fair ticket prices encourage theatre-going generally and are key to the creative industries survival.

Data collected by the Society of London Theatre for 2019 found that the average ticket price for its member venues, which include all of the commercial West End and London’s major subsidised theatres, was £52.17. 

Anyway, Cock briefly became the most expensive play in West End history, thanks to dynamic pricing. First developed for the retail sector, dynamic pricing software uses algorithms to tell a theatre what they can get away with charging. It felt like a tipping point.

Photograph: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Top-price Cock premium seats are now £175. Ones that had been greedily priced at £350 are now £150, additionally £300 tickets are now on sale at £125 plus booking fees. Quite frankly, still absurd for a 90-minute play.

In reality, however, inflated ticket prices – particularly West End ticket prices – risk alienating an entire generation of future audiences as increasingly unaffordable tickets further limits audiences to very rich white people – whose wealth largely surged during the pandemic.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) have predicted the UK will fall into recession this year. What’s more, an estimated 1.5 million households across the UK will struggle to pay food and energy bills, as rising prices, and higher taxes squeeze budgets. This, coupled with the ongoing decimation of cultural education in our state schools, is a theatre time bomb. Potential audience members now face the choice between heating and eating, rather than whether to have an interval ice cream.

Yet the ever more pressing wider issue is that theatre’s future, and indeed recovery, rests entirely on the next generation of theatre-goers. Price them out at your peril. Habits are changing fast; with disrupted education, rising rents and low wages.

Photograph: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Producers Elliott & Harper have stated that they will not be commenting further, but this outcome speaks for itself.

This U-turn was not just a people-power social media victory: this was direct action. A historic watershed.

That is all.

Cock is at the Ambassadors theatre, London, until 4 June

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Olivier Awards 2022: Life of Pi & Cabaret storm the night

So there we go! Cabaret triumphed at the Olivier awards last night, with Eddie Redmayne winning best actor in a musical for his turn as The Emcee. The show won seven of the 11 categories in which it was nominated, including best actress in a musical for Jessie Buckley.
Age and reason, however, isn’t going to stop me saying I really enjoyed the live performances, I thought Steph McKeon came closest to holding a tune and reckoned Jason Manford did his best.

Nor will it shake my belief that the key moment of the night came when, to general murmurs of agreement, Manford and Society of London Theatre president Eleanor Lloyd reflected on “the total clusterfuck that was live theatre during a global pandemic”. ‘Cos that’s the back-to-front world we live in right now.


Back to the Future: The Musical won Best New Musical, while genius Pride and Prejudice (Sort Of) won Best Entertainment or Comedy.
Hurrah!

Back to The Future the musical

There was a triumphant moment when Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Kseniia Nikolaieva performed her country’s national anthem.

There were also a few debatable decisions, of course, but many others that just seemed downright mystifying, such as Get Up, Stand Up winning Best original score or new orchestrations, Constellations winning, and a ‘eco’ green carpet.

But Life of Pi – the stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker-winning prize novel – won five awards, including a first for the Olivier’s; the seven cast members who expertly operate the puppet of Richard Parker.

Life of Pi’s Richard Parker walks the green carpet

It is a wonderful play, a thrilling journey into the imagination through trauma, all but defying gravity in its staggering stage design and jaw-dropping puppetry with profoundly moving moments. It is superbly acted, unbearably moving and visually electrifying. It was the evening’s real winner.

Best revival

A Number – Old Vic

Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville theatre – WINNER!

The Normal Heart – National Theatre

The Tragedy of Macbeth – Almeida

Best entertainment or comedy play

The Choir of Man – Arts theatre

Pantoland at the Palladium – London Palladium

Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) – Criterion theatre – WINNER!

The Shark is Broken – Ambassadors theatre

Isobel McArthur (centre) was presented with her trophy by Hamilton Giles Terera and & Juliet’s Cassidy Janson

Best musical revival

Anything Goes – Barbican 

Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre – WINNER!

Spring Awakening – Almeida

The Royal Albert Hall

Best costume design

Jon Morrell for Anything Goes – Barbican

Christopher Oram for Frozen – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Tom Scutt for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre

Catherine Zuber for Moulin Rouge! The Musical – Piccadilly theatre – WINNER!

Best sound design

Ian Dickinson for 2:22 A Ghost Story – Noël Coward theatre

Carolyn Downing for Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre

Nick Lidster for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre – WINNER!

Gareth Owen for Back to the Future: The Musical – Adelphi theatre

Best original score or new orchestrations

Anything Goes – New Orchestrations: Bill Elliott, David Chase and Rob Fisher 

Back to the Future: The Musical – Composers: Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard; Orchestrations: Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook 

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical – Orchestrator: Simon Hale – WINNER!

Life of Pi – Composer: Andrew T Mackay

The cast of Get Up, Stand Up

Best theatre choreographer

Finn Caldwell for Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre
Julia Cheng for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre
Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes – Barbican – WINNER!
Sonya Tayeh for Moulin Rouge! The Musical – Piccadilly theatre

Best actor in a supporting role

Seven actors who play the Tiger for Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre – WINNER!
Dino Fetscher for The Normal Heart – National Theatre 
Nathaniel Parker for The Mirror and the Light – Gielgud theatre
Danny Lee Wynter for The Normal Heart – National Theatre

Best actress in a supporting role

Tori Burgess for Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) – Criterion theatre
Liz Carr for The Normal Heart – National Theatre –WINNER! 
Christina Gordon for Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) – Criterion theatre
Akiya Henry for The Tragedy of Macbeth – Almeida

Liz Carr accepting her award

Best set design

Tim Hatley for Design and Nick Barnes & Finn Caldwell for Puppets for Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre – WINNER!
Tim Hatley for Design and Finn Ross for Video Design for Back to the Future: The Musical – Adelphi theatre
Derek McLane for Moulin Rouge! The Musical – Piccadilly theatre
Tom Scutt for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre

Best lighting design

Neil Austin for Frozen – Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Isabella Byrd for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre
Tim Lutkin for Back to the Future: The Musical – Adelphi theatre
Tim Lutkin and Andrzej Goulding for Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre – WINNER!

Best actress in a supporting role in a musical

Gabrielle Brooks for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical – Lyric theatre
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for Cinderella – Gillian Lynne theatre
Carly Mercedes Dyer for Anything Goes – Barbican 
Liza Sadovy for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre – WINNER!

Best actor in a supporting role in a musical

Clive Carter for Moulin Rouge! The Musical – Piccadilly theatre
Hugh Coles for Back to the Future: The Musical – Adelphi theatre
Elliot Levey for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre – WINNER!
Gary Wilmot for Anything Goes – Barbican

Best actor in a musical

Olly Dobson for Back to the Future: The Musical – Adelphi theatre
Arinzé Kene for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical – Lyric theatre
Robert Lindsay for Anything Goes – Barbican
Eddie Redmayne for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre – WINNER!

Best actress in a musical

Jessie Buckley for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre – WINNER!
Sutton Foster for Anything Goes – Barbican 
Beverley Knight for The Drifters Girl – Garrick theatre
Stephanie McKeon for Frozen – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Best actress

Lily Allen for 2:22 A Ghost Story – Noël Coward theatre
Sheila Atim for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville theatre – WINNER!
Emma Corrin for Anna X – Harold Pinter theatre
Cush Jumbo for Hamlet – Young Vic

Best actor

Hiran Abeysekera for Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre – WINNER!
Ben Daniels for The Normal Heart – National Theatre 
Omari Douglas for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville theatre
Charles Edwards for Best of Enemies – Young Vic

Best director

Rebecca Frecknall for Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse theatre – WINNER!
Michael Longhurst for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville theatre
Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes – Barbican 
Max Webster for Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre

Outstanding achievement in affiliate theatre

10 Nights – Bush Theatre
Folk – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
The Invisible Hand – Kiln theatre
Old Bridge – Bush theatre – WINNER!
A Place for We – Park theatre

Best new play

2:22 A Ghost Story – Noël Coward theatre
Best of Enemies – Young Vic
Cruise – Duchess theatre
Life of Pi – Wyndham’s theatre – WINNER!

Best new musical

Back to the Future: The Musical – Adelphi theatre – WINNER!
The Drifters Girl – Garrick theatre
Frozen – Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical – Lyric theatre
Moulin Rouge! The Musical – Piccadilly theatre

Five special recognition award winners

Lisa Burger
Bob King
Gloria Louis
Susie Sainsbury
Sylvia Young

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Olivier Awards nominations 2022: Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club leads the pack 

After a virtual ceremony in 2020 and no ceremony last year, the Olivier Awards are back this year with an in-person event, you may have heard. The nominations were announced today by Sam Tutty and Miriam Teak-Lee.

Some quick thoughts: Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club tops the Olivier Award nominations. The odds are in its favour. Lily Allen feels like a makeweight on this list – a so-so entry playing a hysterical wife in a contemporary haunted house-chiller. Where is Saoirse Ronan?

Frozen was mostly snubbed. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella was left out in the cold, with one nomination to its name: not even a nod for that fitful score. Back To The Future – The Musical, a new stage adaptation of the hit 1985 film, landed seven nominations, which was surprising.

On the play front, single nods for Anna X and The Shark is Broken feel kind of stingy. The ‘7 actors who play a tiger’ in Lolita Chakrabarti’s majestic Life of Pi nomination is amazing, the show secured 9 nods. 

Jessie Buckley photo credit: Marc Brenner

The Best Actress in a Musical must be the closest fought. Jessie Buckley gives a superb and utterly unique performance in Cabaret. Sutton Foster was totally totally mesmerising in Anything Goes. Not backing Anything Goes in the Best Revival of a Musical is a practically treasonable offence, but Cabaret inches into pole position on nearly every category. These two productions are toe-to-toe, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. 

Anyway, let’s have a recap of the nominees plus a guide to who should win each category.

Cunard Best Revival

A Number at The Old Vic

Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

The Tragedy Of Macbeth at Almeida Theatre

Who should win: The Normal Heart 

Who will win: The Tragedy of Macbeth 

Noël Coward/Geoffrey Johnson Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play

The Choir Of Man at Arts Theatre

Pantoland At The Palladium at The London Palladium

Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at Criterion Theatre

The Shark Is Broken at Ambassadors Theatre

Who should win: Pride and Prejudice (*Sort of)  

Who will win: The Shark is Broken 

Magic Radio Best Musical Revival

Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Spring Awakening at Almeida Theatre

Who should win: Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club   

Who will win: Anything Goes 

Best Costume Design

Jon Morrell for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Christopher Oram for Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Tom Scutt for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Catherine Zuber for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Who should win: Tom Scutt for Cabaret 

Who will win: Tom Scutt for Cabaret

Sutton Foster photo credit Tristram Kenton

d&b audiotechnik Award for Best Sound Design

Ian Dickinson for 2:22 A Ghost Story at Noël Coward Theatre

Carolyn Downing for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Nick Lidster for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Gareth Owen for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Who should win: Carolyn Downing for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who will win: Gareth Owen for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Best Original Score or New Orchestrations

Anything Goes – New Orchestrations: Bill Elliott, David Chase and Rob Fisher at Barbican Theatre

Back To The Future – The Musical – Composers: Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard; Orchestrations: Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook at Adelphi Theatre

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical – Orchestrator: Simon Hale at Lyric Theatre

Life Of Pi – Composer: Andrew T. Mackay at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who should win: Anything Goes  

Who will win: Life of Pi   

Best Theatre Choreographer

Finn Caldwell for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Julia Cheng for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Sonya Tayeh for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Who should win: Cabaret 

Who will win: Cabaret 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

7 actors who play the Tiger for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Dino Fetscher for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

Nathaniel Parker for The Mirror And The Light at Gielgud Theatre

Danny Lee Wynter for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

Who should win: 7 actors who play the Tiger

Who will win: Dino Fetscher

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Tori Burgess for Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at Criterion Theatre

Liz Carr for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

Christina Gordon for Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at Criterion Theatre

Akiya Henry for The Tragedy Of Macbeth at Almeida Theatre

Who should win: Tori Burgess

Who will win: Tori Burgess 

Blue-I Theatre Technology Award for Best Set Design

Tim Hatley for Design and Nick Barnes & Finn Caldwell for Puppets for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Tim Hatley for Design and Finn Ross for Video Design for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Derek McLane for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Tom Scutt for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre 

Who should win: Life of Pi 

Who will win: Life of Pi 

Life of Pi Photo: Johan Persson

White Light Award for Best Lighting Design

Neil Austin for Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Isabella Byrd for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Tim Lutkin for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Tim Lutkin and Andrzej Goulding for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

 Who should win: Cabaret 

Who will win: Frozen 

Best Actress In A Supporting Role In A Musical

Gabrielle Brooks for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at Lyric Theatre

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for Cinderella at Gillian Lynne Theatre

Carly Mercedes Dyer for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Liza Sadovy for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Who should win: Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

Who will win: Carly Mercedes Dyer

Best Actor In A Supporting Role In A Musical

Clive Carter for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Hugh Coles for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Elliot Levey for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Gary Wilmot for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Who should win: Elliot Levey 

Who will win: Elliot Levey 

Eddie Redmayne photo credit: Marc Brenner

Best Actor In A Musical

Olly Dobson for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Arinzé Kene for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at Lyric Theatre

Robert Lindsay for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Eddie Redmayne for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Who should win: Eddie Redmayne 

Who will win: Eddie Redmayne 

Best Actress In A Musical

Jessie Buckley for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Sutton Foster for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Beverley Knight for The Drifters Girl at Garrick Theatre

Stephanie McKeon for Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

 Who should win: JESSIE BUCKLEY

Who will win: JESSIE BUCKLEY

Best Actress

Lily Allen for 2:22 A Ghost Story at Noël Coward Theatre

Sheila Atim for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

Emma Corrin for Anna X at Harold Pinter Theatre

Cush Jumbo for Hamlet at Young Vic

Who should win: Emma Corrin 

Who will win: Lily Allen 

Best Actor

Hiran Abeysekera for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Ben Daniels for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier 

Omari Douglas for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

Charles Edwards for Best Of Enemies at Young Vic

 Who should win: Hiran Abeysekera

Who will win: Ben Daniels 

Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director

Rebecca Frecknall for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Michael Longhurst for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Max Webster for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who should win: Rebecca Frecknall 

Who will win: Rebecca Frecknall 

Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre

10 Nights at Bush Theatre

Folk at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

The Invisible Hand at Kiln Theatre

Old Bridge at Bush Theatre

A Place For We at Park Theatre

Who should win: Folk at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Who will win: 10 Nights at Bush Theatre 

Best Family Show

Billionaire Boy at Garrick Theatre

Dragons And Mythical Beasts at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

What The Ladybird Heard at Palace Theatre

Wolf Witch Giant Fairy at Royal Opera House – Linbury Theatre

Who should win: Billionaire Boy at Garrick Theatre

Who will win: Billionaire Boy at Garrick Theatre

Best New Play

2:22 A Ghost Story at Noël Coward Theatre

Best Of Enemies at Young Vic

Cruise at Duchess Theatre

Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who should win: Cruise 

Who will win: Best of Enemies 

Mastercard Best New Musical

Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

The Drifters Girl at Garrick Theatre

Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at Lyric Theatre

Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Who should win: Moulin Rouge! 

Who will win: Moulin Rouge!  

And there we have it. 

The 2022 Olivier Awards take place on Sunday April 10 at the Royal Albert Hall.

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Top 5 Shows of 2021 (according to me)

2021. The year that tried to one-up 2020. Truly.

(I think being a neurotic, worrisome person slightly prepared me for it)

An extraordinary year for British theatre. Anyway, for my final blog of the last rollercoaster 12 months, I present my Top 5 shows of the year: 

1) Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club- Playhouse, London 

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club made every moment ring with significance and was brimming with menace and threat. Rebecca Frecknall’s starry and immersive production of the Kander and Ebb classic was, in short, theatre heaven. 

Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee and Jessie Buckley as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club / Marc Brenner

The in-the-round reconfiguration of London’s Playhouse theatre was kind of amazing. Eddie Redmayne as Emcee pulled the audience into a hedonistic milieu. 

Jessie Buckley’s vulnerable, edgy take reinvented Sally Bowles as a frightened and angry child. Then things got dark. 

A rising talent, Omari Douglas, shone. There’s also a wonderful performance from a pair of older actors as the ill-starred lovebirds Elliot Levey and Liza Sadovy as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. 

Alas, this was an unbelievable and electric occasion, only overshadowed by the sky-high £300 top-price tickets

Cabaret is at the Playhouse theatre, London, until 1 October 2022

2) Anything Goes – The Barbican, London 

Broadway star Sutton Foster starring as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s classic musical at the Barbican was just what the doctor ordered. 

Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney / Tristram Kenton

Gorgeous songs and dance and feisty performances from a brilliant cast made the screwball plot into an enchanting musical escape. 

Anything Goes was of the most entertaining shows I have ever seen and going by standing ovations (plural), it was for everyone else around me, too.

Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, who won a Tony for her 2011 Broadway staging, this new London production was a flat-out triumph. 

A lavish, joyful, and memorable piece of musical theatre, with solid turns from Robert Lindsay, Felicity Kendal and Gary Wilmot. 

Anything Goes is playing on BBC Two on Boxing Day at 6.40pm. 

3) South Pacific – Chichester Festival Theatre 

This was a glittering, intelligent and radical reappraisal of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Daniel Evans’s production burst with energy as it foreground an anti-racist message, it marked the return of theatre in superb style. 

The company of South Pacific at Chichester Festival Theatre / Johan Persson

A strong cast was led by Julian Ovenden as the plantation owner Emile de Becque, and a pregnant Gina Beck. Rarely had the drama of the score sounded more immediate or more moving.

Evans directed an enchanted, threatening evening.

South Pacific will embark on a UK tour in 2022. 

4) The Play What I Wrote – Bimingham Rep 

Tom Hiddleston at Birmingham Rep was one of the most compelling events of my theatre year.

The A-lister provided palpable shock on opening night of this madcap revival. In the play, tensions arise between double act Dennis and Thom, as their aspirations start to diverge. During act 2 a surprise guest star arrives to be roasted by the pair. 

Thom Tuck as Thom, Tom Hiddleston as himself, and Dennis Herdman as Dennis

In this case, Hiddleston proved to be an extremely good sport, (“You might have seen my Coriolanus?”) and putting on a pink and blue dress with bows and a hoop skirt, along with a baroque style wig as he danced across the stage. 

A heartwarming tribute to Morecambe and Wise – the play was co-written 20 years ago by Sean Foley – the show generated the kind of hysterical laughter of which our theatre has lately been starved. 

At Birmingham Rep until 1 January.

5) Our Ladies of Blundellsands – Liverpool Everyman

Jonathan Harvey’s deliciously dark play featured an impeccably excellent Josie Lawrence as an agoraphobic Merseyside Norma Desmond. Nick Bagnall’s production was fast-paced and very funny without losing the pathos of guilty family secrets. 

Tonally, Our Ladies of Blundellsands cut an elegant path between humour and pathos. 

Josie Lawrence in Our Ladies of Blundellsands

In a strong ensemble, it was fascinating to realise that it is Harvey’s sublime dark wit that sheds more light on human desperation than anything else – it also emerges as Liverpool’s most entertaining and moving play for years– you could feel how much the creative team loved the material.

Frankly, I felt the same way. 

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THERE were, however, three shows I wish I’d taken a hand grenade to: Frozen the Musical (Theme Park theatre), Carousel at Regents Park Open Air Theatre (Skiffle band), and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella (Creatively bankrupt). 

For me, this year has been many things, but as we say goodbye to 2021 let’s just choose to remember it as a load of shit with some decent theatre. 

Have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year. 

Let’s see how 2022 pans out, shall we? Cue violins.

Carl x 

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Our industry is in crisis – again – the government must act now to save it

December 2021. 

A Covid tidal wave is crashing into us. Theatres are faced once again with critical and tough restrictions despite robust measures in place to keep their staff and audiences safe. The situation is dire and deteriorating.

The number of Covid cases reported on Wednesday was the highest yet during the pandemic. You read that right: the highest ever during these long two years. 

In the meantime, Twitter is just a series of cancellations scrolling across the screen while a voiceover recites the words “brink … precipice … abyss … void …” repeatedly.

Speaking of voids, Nadine Dorries has been charged with safeguarding the nation’s cultural heart at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Culture Wars Minister who once said lefties are “dumbing down panto”.  Nadine, despite several days of training on I’m A Celebrity for her new role, gives an immediate impression of total skulduggery. Where is she?

The RSC Matilda The Musical
The RSC Matilda The Musical

Like a section of cliff face crumbling into the sea, West End shows including Hamilton, The Lion King, Cabaret, Six and many more across the UK have had to cancel performances owing to variant Omicron outbreaks among cast and crew. This week the National Theatre cancelled a preview of its Christmas show Hex, which is based on Sleeping Beauty, after one of its lead actors caught Covid.

In a statement, the National’s artistic director, Rufus Norris, wrote: “You will no doubt be aware of the impact that Covid has been having on productions across the industry (none of ours over the last year have escaped entirely) but the impact on Hex has been considerable, with several members of the company including one of our leads being taken ill during the technical and preview period, and fresh bad news on that front again today.”

The government is frightening everyone into staying home but not providing support for affected businesses.

Our post-apocalyptic Prime Minister’s shambolic messaging (“Think carefully before you go…”) is costing the entertainment and hospitality industry billions of pounds during a period that should nurture audiences, provides work for freelancers and enable venues’ other activities. 

Even so, no additional support has yet been offered to the sector. Without intervention, we’ll lose more talent as well as theatres. And everyone seems angry, all the time. Hell, one audience member was handcuffed and arrested during an Adam Kay show at Rose Theatre on Tuesday night after he refused to wear a mask properly. 

Dear dear.

Vital industries continue to be let down. Again. When grilled on the ongoing ineptitude the government point to their ‘unprecedented support’ for the culture sector through the £2bn culture recovery fund. That money has long been and continues to be burnt through. 

The crisis is far from over; it seems unfathomable that the abandoning of restrictions on so-called Freedom Day and 20 months of Covid chaos has left us at five minutes to midnight. But here we are.

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Cabaret, review: the show of a lifetime


Stunningly designed by Tom Scutt, London’s Playhouse Theatre is transformed into the Kit Kat Club – and Eddie Redmayne is its emcee – for this jaw dropping – expensive (the lowest price in the top two ticket price bands is £120)- production.

Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley in ‘Cabaret’
(Marc Brenner)

In this grand, in the round space, these Kander and Ebb songs recall, rather strangely, the toughest emotional moments of opera, and powerfully re-render them.

The devil is in the detail.

I don’t think I have ever seen a more demented Emcee. I fell headfirst into Redmayne’s shape-shifting approach here. There was a strange menace to his otherworldly appearance, standing alone, facial features altered by extraordinary makeup.

In his party hat and Bowie attire, Redmayne resembles some kind of pale, alien clown being. Staking the stalls and swinging from the circle – you can’t take your eyes off the Oscar winner. His crumpled physicality is a marvel. 

Like a first-rate evil clown, he twists his impish body and tongue around the slippery role. He also has a beautiful singing voice.

Eddie Redmayne as Emcee / Marc Brenner

This A list casting might have triggered a frenzy, but make no mistake, this is director Rebecca Frecknall’s production — and it’s a radical reinvention with real political intent. Each possibility is laid out with complete clarity and assessed.

Her Cabaret is one of the most visually and atmospherically expressionistic productions I’ve ever seen, of anything, ever. The creative team’s theatrical ambitions are astute and dense.

Mind you, supporting cast (including an outstanding Anna Jane Casey as Fraulein Kost) may have big names to lean on but they make it look effortless; everyone is on magisterial form.

With Liza Minnelli erased from memory and Fosse’s iconic choreography stripped from this production, the audience are forced to confront the dark heart of the material. Julia Cheng’s twitchy choreography sweeps over the stage in waves. The gender-fluid ensemble frequently make you gasp. 

Omari Douglas and Jessie Buckley / Marc Brenner

Sardonic, seductive, uniquely done. This Cabaret is an distinctive, shattering, deeply humane evening. It is also genuinely cathartic, in the great, transcendent tradition of classic tragedy.

In a superb piece of acting, Jessie Buckley plays an anti-Sally Bowles; her subdued rock star approach to ‘Maybe This Time’ reduces the audience to hushed awe. But her voice rings out clear and she in total command.

Buckley gives her character a bewitching vulnerable finish that makes Sally both more life-size and broken than she’s ever been before. Her nervous breakdown performance of title song ‘Cabaret’ is distressing to watch.

Her voice is full of charm and hurt, an elemental howl that appears to affect the fabric of time. Towards the end, she roars with unruly splendour. 

Omari Douglas plays Cliff / Marc Brenner

But Omari Douglas! Holy smoke, what an actor! It would be easy to forget he is up on stage amidst the pandemonium and moments of rising fascism. But keep looking up, because occasionally there will be a scene he is in, and Douglas will be up there on the stage, apparently doing not much more than speak. Douglas gently presents the bisexual American novelist, Clifford Bradshaw.

As it is, the fact this triumphant production has been achieved 20 months into an ongoing medical emergency is nothing short of miraculous. 

Kind of amazing, I came out stunned into submission, admiring the musical more than ever: the accustomed world had shifted.

Cabaret is at the Playhouse theatre, London, until 1 October 2022.

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Guest Blog – iampro: “The Online Drama School”

Online Drama School

In the age of Covid-19, there is comfort in knowing that you can still access interactive drama classes and theatre online.  

What is an online drama school?

An online drama school is one that runs classes virtually, usually in the form of live tutorials, performances, or pre-recorded masterclasses. An online training environment can be beneficial as it gives aspiring actors and actresses the chance to practice and hone their skills from the comfort of home, at their very own pace. 

Although the concept of an online drama school may seem foreign for many, it is something that is increasingly becoming popular. With many having got to grips with all things digital over the past couple of years, bringing drama online is a natural step forward.

Benefits of an online drama school 

With the performing arts industry under increased pressure, now more than ever we must ensure that everyone, whatever their financial circumstances, has access to a rich and stimulating cultural education. Online drama schools can help bridge the gap between those wanting to learn how to perform and those struggling with the practicality of getting to a performance studio in the current climate. 

Many parts of the arts industry are becoming increasingly digitalised. Aspiring actors are finding that remote castings are now the norm and many drama schools that went online during the pandemic are still offering virtual lessons. An online drama school gives its attendees the opportunity to meet and engage with others who they may have never otherwise had the chance to meet in person (due to them living further away, or even in another country). With no geographical restrictions, online classes make it easier to share ideas with and connect with new people. 

For many, the flexibility of online drama classes is the most appealing thing. They give you the opportunity to establish a disciplined routine where it becomes easier to attend classes. Students are not held back by things out of their control such as travel or unexpected restrictions caused by Covid-19, such as another lockdown. 

Another benefit to online drama school is that you can learn entirely at your own pace. Practising when you want to, on your own terms, is something that is both satisfying and rewarding. It gives the aspiring actor or actress autonomy over their own personal development. 

Where can I find an online drama school? 

Many drama schools offer a handful of online courses nowadays. It is a very convenient choice for those who may find it difficult to make it to the studio or theatre on a regular basis. Online drama school iampro, founded by actress Charlie Brooks, is helping to make acting and performing more accessible for all. Led by industry specialists, iampro helps aspiring actors and actresses to develop critical skills and increase confidence.

This online drama school offers a range of on-demand short courses, weekly live classes, and celebrity masterclasses. In addition to this, there are industry opportunities, such as the monthly ‘get seen’ event, and regular Q&As with professionals. These interactive classes are social and encourage group discussion and networking. It is important to have a collaborative community for an online school as it encourages students to connect outside of the workshops and classes, and develop their skills even further. 

The future of drama schools

There is undoubtedly a future for online drama schools and performance classes. Digital opportunities make it easier and more accessible for talented individuals to begin acting and ultimately realise their potential – this is something that should be celebrated. 

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Stephen Sondheim was a genius – we shall not see his like again

I never thought Stephen Sondheim would die.

Oh, I know we all do eventually, but he carried with him such an aura of invincibility that if anyone could cheat the passage of time, I assumed it would be musical theatre’s God. (The New York Times even once ran a story on the phenomenon, asking if Sondheim and God had ever been seen in the same place).

Sondheim, the maestro who reinvented musical theatre has passed at his home in Connecticut suddenly at 91.

His attorney, F. Richard Pappas, also confirmed the composer’s death: “The day before, Mr. Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner with friends in Roxbury,” Pappas said in a written statement. “And he spent all day Wednesday seeing the matinee and evening performances of Dana H and Is This a Room — doing what he most loved to do.”

West End theatres will dim their lights on Monday 29 November at 7.00pm for 2 minutes. This tradition is reserved for the industry’s most celebrated figures and last occurred over here in 2018, following the death of trailblazing choreographer Gillian Lynne.  

In truth, what mattered to Sondheim, widely considered the most influential composer-lyricist in the American musical theatre of the 20th century, was his art, in all its guises. His legacy is eternal.

Stephen Sondheim

Six of Sondheim’s musicals won Tony Awards for best score, and he also received a Pulitzer Prize (Sunday in the Park), an Academy Award (for the song Sooner or Later from the film Dick Tracy), five Olivier Awards and the Presidential Medal of Honor. In 2008, he received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. 

He was born into a Jewish family in New York City, and his career began in the 1950s, a decade in which he wrote the lyrics for Broadway classics Gypsy and West Side Story. For his fans, his audience, this is a moment of infinite sorrow. 

Looking back, I finally got Sondheim musicals– there’s cynicism, endless philosophy, and pure emotion in his work – when I turned thirty.

Seeing Dominic Cooke’s Follies and Marianne Elliott’s gender flipped Company within months of each other, it’s fair to say, hit me during a life affirming period of reflection and recalibration. 

The West End company of Company
© Brinkhoff Mogenburg

Think of modern musicals like Hamilton and even Fun Home and you’ll find the composers owe their style, as well as the roof over their head and the food on the table, to the genius of Stephen Sondheim. 

All in all, losing Sondheim in 2021 is all the more surprising after he so joyously attended the current revival Company on Broadway earlier this month. A ripple of murmurs and a rapturous standing ovation greeted the masked nonagenarian as he emerged from a side entrance shortly before showtime, walking along the fifth row to his aisle seat. 

Stephen Sondheim attends Company on Broadway

He was a keen teacher and mentor and used his talent always to make a difference. Art isn’t easy.

I asked Robbie Rozelle, A&R Director at Broadway Records for a few words on Sondheim’s legacy and impact. He said: “Taking the foundation that Oscar Hammerstein laid for him, Sondheim proceeded to become the greatest architect of musicals. He was also an important teacher, who worked with people to stretch the form even further – Jonathan Larson, Jason Robert Brown, so many. He was the bridge between the Golden Age of musicals and the new form of musical, and what a beautiful bridge he was.”

Sondheim was also generous with his time, and with his encouragement, just very, very giving. 

An unsurpassed musical theatre super-hero. 

In short, he was an insightful, shrewd operator who could spot a contradiction at 50 paces. The irony of this, and the debt we all owe him, is not lost on me. He is survived by his husband, Jeffrey Scott Romley, whom he married in 2017.

“You have to work on something that makes you uncertain – something that makes you doubt yourself,” 

“If you know where you’re going, you’ve gone, as the poet says. And that’s death,” Sondheim said in 2017.

I’d like to propose a toast. Stephen Joshua Sondheim, may peace be upon you.

Steve

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David Hare’s self absorption is simply overwhelming

October 2021.

Plan B is on the table, domestic shortages galore and we are literally up Shit Creek without a paddle.

On Sunday, though, I read an article in the Observer about playwright David Hare being furious at the BBC after it rejected his Covid play Beat The Devil – starring Ralph Fiennes. Not a euphemism.

The monologue brought to life by Academy Award®, Golden Globe® and BAFTA® nominee Ralph Fiennes details Hare’s experience with Covid-19, during which he lost 8kg in a week.

Also, Fiennes is set to play New York City power broker Robert Moses in the London world premiere of writer David Hare’s Straight Line Crazy at Bridge Theatre, London next year.

What are the chances then, I wondered, of millionaire Hare being furious that the BBC rejected his Covid monologue.

A sure bet, apparently,

“I am being silenced” said Hare in an interview to promote his autobiographical work.

Ralph Fiennes and Sir David Hare

Which is a bit rich coming from a bloke who has been commissioned by the National Theatre three times over the past five years.

“Everyone was very keen on the show at the BBC until it went upstairs. Suddenly, mysteriously, something they were very keen to show, they became less keen to show.

The BBC declined to comment.

He continued: “Anyone who saw Jack Thorne’s film Help, about the care home crisis, will know that actually you can make very timely and urgent work about Covid-19 and people will want to watch it.”

MOAN MOAN MOAN MOAN.

And yet it seems all is not lost for the state of the nation scribe, Beat The Devil is being broadcast by Sky Arts on November 11.

Confused? Don’t be.

It is called PR. At the heart of it all, this flight of fancy is nothing more than an over-entitled and fragile ego-driven response to rejection.

Broadcasting house is right to pass.

Certainly, Hare often takes aim at the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers and their systematic failings … And we now know Britain’s early handling of the ongoing pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history.

How those of us who have survived the past year
and not concluded that we all deserved much, much better from the government I still don’t know. Yet its deeply healthy approval ratings suggest that British people didn’t think they did.

If you want to catch a real decent gem of Covid drama watch Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy let rip in the 90 minute two hander tour de force Together on BBC IPlayer – a sensational compression of lockdown hell.

Anyway, Hare performed a public service; I haven’t felt a sector roll eyes like this for ages.

Beat The Devil is on Sky Arts on November 11

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British Theatre Is Facing A Covid Tragedy

July 2021. UK Theatres are in limbo. By now, of course, you know the latest facts, because you live in them. 

In no particular order, over 62% of British adults are now fully vaccinated. And 84% have had one dose.

A new production of Jersey Boys is set to begin at the Trafalgar theatre next month

But the Indian or Delta variant (which is ultra-infectious, so infectious that one person may infect up to six others) has resulted in the UK having the highest infection rate in Europe. New research suggests ‘scarily fleeting’ contact could infect, and that places with high jab rates are susceptible.

Fortunately, we now have one of the lowest death rates because of the astounding vaccine programme. Indeed, now stadiums, shopping centres and theatres have joined the “grab a jab” campaign in England in a bid to boost vaccine uptake.

However, even by late August, only 39 per cent of under-40s are set to have been fully vaccinated, opening a generational divide and zero chance of foreign summer travel should vaccine passports become a thing. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock may have resigned but his successor Sajid Javid has his hands full with an NHS struggling to cope with a vast backlog of operations, treatment and surging cases.

Either way, according to the latest official figures, more arts, entertainment and recreation businesses were still suffering last month than in any other industry.

Felicity Kendall & Sutton Foster in Anything Goes rehearsals

But the show must go on, right? Major West End shows including Anything Goes and The Lion King have started rehearsals, with more set to follow; contracts have been signed, audiences have rebooked tickets (as many as four times) and the consequences of another delay beyond July 19 are unthinkable.

The pandemic has exposed the Tory government’s insulting attitude to theatre: a mixture of apathy and hostility. Despite generating billions pre-pandemic, London theatre owners and impresarios for example, claim regularly they are now “on the brink of ruin”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Howard Panter – owner of the second-largest operator, Trafalgar Entertainment, said the situation in the West End was “intolerable”.

In the meantime, tempers (and sanity) are fraying; Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Sonia Friedman launched legal action to force government to publish Events Research Programme pilot results.

A masked usher awaits The Mousetrap audiences

A stretch of the imagination that might have dumbfounded me pre-pandemic, but Lloyd Webber certainly seemed to be speaking from the heart when he went on LBC recently: “Public Health England officials don’t have a clue about theatre and how they’re operated. We’ve somehow been made a sacrificial lamb.”

Alas, the long awaited report – which was released promptly after a Court order – said there were “no substantial outbreaks” identified by public health teams and their surveillance systems around any of the events.

Unfortunately, it also demonstrated that the testing regime of the Events Research Programme was pointless and incompetent, meaning it clear the government is repeating their own mistakes at a colossal cost to everyone else.

But weary theatres still need insurance to safeguard against the possibility of Covid-based cancellation, however the pandemic means that the private market will not provide it. This would help thousands of freelancers return to the industry and reassure producers, venues and artists alike.


The major issue for theatres from the West End to Liverpool Everyman is that rehearsals, preparation and planning take months not weeks and often costs thousands and thousands of pounds, and the current question marks hanging around hospitality and entertainment venues are making such work impossible or loss-making. Regional theatres dependent on income from tours will lose the very shows that might help them survive.

Temperature checks outside a west end theatre

Of course, Slytherin Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden would refer to the generous £1.5bn culture recovery fund, even if the rescue funds left the actual freelance workforce – musicians, photographers, actors, artists, dancers, choreographers, designers out in the cold. In fact hundreds of cultural organisations have still not received promised funds leaving some worse off than when they applied.  

The delaying of Step Four of the road map is a final straw for many: confidence in reopening has been shattered, despite the vast sums invested in venues to restrict Covid transmission. The creative sector must now be allowed to cautiously trade their way – at full capacity – out of difficulties and contribute to our national recovery.

It is completely stupefying that we have spent 66 weeks being told to “take responsibility” and “use common sense” by a government religiously incapable of either.

Anyway, July 19 is yet another ‘not before date’ and this week came rumblings of future winter lockdowns amid warnings from scientists. So, don’t rule out another delay to the ‘cautious but irreversible’ easing of lockdown restrictions. In fact, don’t rule out restrictions being completely ditched before a murderous third wave, subsequent U-turn and more mutant strains.

Frankly I’m not sure we will ever reconcile the impact that Covid, Brexit and the ‘streaming economy’ are having on the sector in my lifetime.

Continuing to allow galleries, art centres, opera, communities, theatres and independent cinemas to wither away is an act of profound cultural vandalism.

A socially distanced audience at the London Palladium

Hell, if a whole generation of talent goes to the wall, no one wins, the whole country will be poorer for it.

Something’s got to change. Fast.