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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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Review: Oklahoma! — beguiling, brave & occasionally contentious

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical is no cinch to sell to a modern audience. So fair play to Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s stirring Tony-winning production for shooting for something new.

Oklahoma! Photo credit: Marc Brenner

It does so by bringing bring to the stage a most wonderful selection of songs; it does so in a stark and dynamic version and an ending that needed special negotiations with the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate. 

This is a modern, edgy and disquieting take that injects adventure and sexuality into a classic musical, making it fresh-minted.

Yet, in some ways, not everything works. Some artistic choices are obtrusive and clunky. No overture?

Still, the result is a beguiling, brave and occasionally contentious 3 hours of flying corn, racial tension and lust. Lots of lust. 

Using Daniel Kluger’s plucky arrangements, the nimble 7-piece band keep things ticking over. There’s stunning dance and startling close-up video projection work.

Oklahoma! photo: Marc Brenner

Then there is the design, or rather the anti-design, by Laura Jellinek and Grace Laubacher. They set everything in a sort of sun-soaked village hall with trestle tables and the audience traverse on two sides. There is light – a lot of light. And then sudden darkness. 

For her part, lead cow girl Anoushka Lucas is a star. Her Laurey, stunning to watch is torn between guitar wielding Curly (Arthur Darvill) and shy Jud (Patrick Vaill). 

While containing the giggling frisky Ado Annie (Marisha Wallace), the “girl who cain’t say no”, tears the roof off the Young Vic with her number. 

The Oklahoma! company

Having said all that, this revisionist production is a mixed blessing, but it is a masterful reinvention that should win new fans. The American Dream wins, but at what price?

The Young Vic continues to be an essential theatrical destination.

At the Young Vic, London, until 25 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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Normal has walked the plank & theatre is in flux

January 2022

As we await the known unknowns of Omicron, one’s sanity becomes an object of speculation among one’s acquaintances. 

I am fed up. Jaded. Exhausted. None of this is normal. Normal has walked the plank.

Life of Pi

I tell you this not as aimless revelation but because I want you to know, as you read this, precisely who I am and where I am and what is on my mind.

Alas, The Music Venue Trust, which represents grassroots music venues around the country, has warned of combined losses of £22 million by the end of January – effectively undermining “the entire ecosystem that is the bedrock of a £5 billion world-leading music industry”.

Crisis management, particularly in a health emergency, demands leadership that’s firm, fast, decisive and calm. This government have failed us.

More than 150,000 people in the UK have now died within 28 days of a positive Covid test since the pandemic began 22 months ago. Every one of those 150,000 lives lost leaves its own story, and grief, behind. 

Unfortunately, hopes of building a fairer society and improving the lot of key workers are being trumped by a wish to return to normal.

The winter has been a disaster for hospitality and entertainment venues. Christmas – the time that institutions rely on for 40% of their annual income – was a wash out for the second year on the trot for most UK theatres. Omicron and Plan B turmoil emptied our auditoriums as audiences stayed home and creative teams self-isolated.

The industry continues to face insurmountable challenges. 

Nightclubs are shut in Wales
, with limits on hospitality, sports events and who people can meet.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has ordered capacities for seated indoor performances are cut to 200 and social distancing is back for at least three weeks.

In the past month, theatre producer Sonia Friedman has cancelled more than 158 shows and lost more than £4 million because of the continued uncertainty. “We are seeing drops in our box office of 25 and 50 per cent. There’s fear, despair and confusion all round,” she said in an interview with the Sunday Times. “The government think we are OK but we are not.” 

Still, in ‘normal times’ live events are estimated to be worth £70 billion a year, yet the Culture Recovery Fund largely failed to reach freelancers, who do the work. The government continues to stand by. 

Pride and Prejudice* (sort of*

Last week, critic Dominic Maxwell presented a vital summary of the state of play, with producer of Pride and Prejudice* (Sort of*) David Pugh stating: “I don’t know how long we can keep going. Some people are giving the impression that everything is fine. It really isn’t. It’s beyond serious.” The production will close in London next month and hopefully tour.

Meanwhile, in the same article, artistic director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris admitted that the institution will have to dip into reserves after the covid-cursed musical Hex was cancelled multiple times and will end the current run without a press night. “We are recognising that it is going to be grim over the next couple of weeks. But we will do whatever we can to keep open.” Norris says. 

In London’s West End Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye states that the lack of a robust central, unified voice of information is leaving audiences and the industry beleaguered and baffled. “The West End has a body, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), that’s supposed to represent theatre owners and producers. But it has been hopeless at communicating the changes that are affecting show schedules daily basis…” he says. “Come on, people, get organised! You’ve had two years. Productions are on a precipice. Thousands of jobs are on the line.”

Indeed, Julian Bird, the current chief executive of the SOLT and U.K. Theatre, has acknowledged his own gathering irrelevance by announcing he will step down from the position, effective May 2022.

Hex

Bird, who has been with the organisations since 2010, said: “It had always been my intention to think about moving on around the 10th anniversary of my time in the role, which would have been in November 2020. As with so much, the pandemic intervened in that.” 

Well, quite. 

Off West End, emerging work and young talent is once again under serious threat. Also last week, as you might have seen, The Vault Festival, an annual London fringe event was cancelled for the third year in a row. 

The Vaults is an essential part of the theatre ecology – roughly six hundred shows, featuring over 2,500 performances over several months – and is often a calling card for young, underrepresented, and diverse artists. The other benefits of appearing at the festival are incalculable. 

The official statement reads: “We have to make brave and proactive decisions to prioritise and protect the mental health, wellbeing and safety of our staff, artists, and audiences. We work with a lot of vulnerable people, for whom participating in the festival is no longer viable in light of the ongoing developments.”

The VAULT Festival sign above one of the underground venues

Nevertheless, the generosity and offers of advice to those affected from some sections of the theatre community have been nothing short of inspiring. More please, folks.

I have been buoyed by scenes of understudies, swings and covers saving the day – and everyone who has kept theatre going against all odds in recent weeks. Pandemic heroes.

Anyway, let us hope that new medicines and stronger vaccines are reasons for real optimism. Spring will come around and *there is a chance that* 2022 will be the year we live alongside the virus – a hope for an industry so savaged by lockdowns and government abandon. 

If you or your show have been affected by anything mentioned in this blog, need advice or help do not hesitate to contact me: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

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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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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane is incredible and scary as hell

What a triumph for the National Theatre to make a riveting nightmare out of this long-anticipated transfer.

Two years after The Ocean at the End of the Lane’s first staging, Neil Gaiman’s dark fairy-tale has returned, this time to the West End. 

The story from Gaiman’s award-winning book is about the escape a lonely child finds in fantasy worlds. In one of many extraordinary moments during Katy Rudd’s haunting production, the stage becomes a playground for the imagination. Anything can come to life; anything can be transformed. It is also occasionally unbearably chilling and poignant.

Leading the production, James Bamford as the Boy is commanding – at times heart-rending – as the distressed, gawky 12-year-old hero who is plunged into a confrontation with a wicked witch in his own home, screeching monsters and flapping creatures. Nia Towle is dynamic as Lettie, the farm girl who becomes his guiding friend. The magical realism is a pure spectacle. 

Nia Towle (Lettie Hempstock) and James Bamford (the Boy) / Manuel Harlan

Elsewhere, Nicolas Tennant as the Dad movingly portrays the messily human emotions of a family bereavement and subsequent trauma. The 16-strong cast work effortlessly to realise a slick and polished ensemble performance. Extraordinary moments abound. 

How do you stage unfurling forests, tunnels, witches, snapping demons, and action-packed drama so effortlessly? With the help of Joel Horwood’s nimble adaptation, a terrific team has found the way.  

Every small thing is beautiful; the creative team are chef’s kiss. Ian Dixon’s sound design turns innocent noises into explosions. In a triumph of theatricality, movement director Steven Hoggett, composer Jherek Bischoff and lighting designer Paule Constable pull out all the stops to ensure that the production soars; the dreamlike storytelling becomes the arena that the Boy makes his own. All this ensures that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a triumphant theatre event. 

The disparate and menacing electric 80s music by composer Jherek Bischoff deftly underscores the journey of a man returning to his childhood home, and is a work of art. Taken as a suite of music on its own merits, The Ocean at the End of the Lane‘s official soundtrack flows rather seamlessly—no small achievement.  Perhaps the most deft and frightening as hell touch is the use of synths to mimic a vaguely inhuman howling. 

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Sometimes a show comes along that is so inventive that you just can’t help but be in awe of everyone involved. Separating the very good from the excellent moments in Rudd’s dreamlike production is almost impossible. Fly Davis’s set has benches, doorways and props popping amongst a beautiful series of tunnels and abstract backdrops.

I should also say that I am delighted that west end theatre is waking up to the notion that it should take advantage of the great blossoming of children’s literature in the last few years – and by doing so luring in a new generation of theatre-goers.

If you have the chance, make sure you get along to the show because it is visually thrilling, moving and extremely special.  

The Ocean at the End of the Lane runs at the Duke of York’s theatre, London, until 14 May 2022. 

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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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Time to Act photographer Simon Annand: “This country’s main strength is culture.”

The cast of Hairspray, Shaftesbury Theatre, 2009

Theatre photographer Simon Annand has been capturing actors backstage for almost forty years. His latest book, Time to Act, is a collection of 234 portrait photographs, taken over the last 10 years, of some of the world’s greatest performers.

All the emotions from the theatre are captured within these pages and remind us what we have all been missing.

Annand’s point of view remains constant, his camera capturing the slightest shifts in mood and expression from dressing room to dressing room.

Speaking on Zoom from his home Annand tells me where the idea for Time To Act came from. “This book is out there to support artists and to encourage people to remember what it was like, and what we hope it will continue to be like again in the future,” he says.

Cate Blanchett, The Present, Ethel Barrymore theater, New York, 2017

He is chatty and philosophical company, some of these photos make up a virtual exhibition. This will be re-hung to show a changing selection of photographs from the collection together with a commentary on the images.

“I have three strands of my work, one is production photography, one is dressing room stuff and the other is headshots,” he says.

“The headshots are very different as they are a tool to give the actor to get the attention of casting directors, which reflect the allowance of key scenes and good scripts. So, they have to have the authority in their face to tell the story.”

With Time to Act, Annand explores the fascinating notion of vulnerability. An intimate and meditative, but never intrusive series of portraits of stars backstage.

“Each actor has their own unique way of spending time before curtain-up. It varies from inhabiting the character at all times, to the opposite, holding the fictional character back and releasing it at the last minute before entering the stage.”

A deceptively simple photobook that comprises of over 200 performers, Annand’s portraits have a sense of suspended time, as if the subtext of the subjects remain somehow elusive despite the deep fascination, he feels for them.

James Earl Jones, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Novello Theatre, 2010

“I’m not trying to catch them out. A photographer only finds what he or she is looking for,” Annand explains.

One close-up snap in Time to Act sees James Earl Jones before taking to the stage in the 2010 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Novello Theatre.

“I walked into that dressing room and that is what he was doing. He has size 16 feet, so when I came through the door, all I saw was those feet and he was flat out with a big fat cigar between his teeth and he said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t tell my doctor.”

In another close-up picture, David Suchet checks the mirror as he prepares to mesmerise audiences as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2015.

“You know, it was a bold and brave choice for David to go from Poirot to Lady Bracknell,” he says, smiling.

David Suchet, The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville Theatre, 2015

“That role was completely on his level. The photo really conveys him in his own terms; it is his agenda – I waited until he had his makeup and costume almost complete but he’s still in the dressing room so there’s still this unique element of him being David Suchet.”

“I suppose I am looking for the relationship that performers have with themselves, and their fictional characters,” Annand says.

Theatres from Shetland to the West End closed in March to slow the spread of Covid-19 with no date set for when venues can fully reopen as England continues to endure a second national lockdown.

“This country’s main strength is culture,” he says, exasperated.

Simon Annand, (credit: Snežana Popović)

“The problem is that the government is not sufficiently helping the thousands and thousands of freelance workers that our precious creative culture depends on,” says Annand, who is making a donation from the sale of every book in the UK to The Theatre Artists Fund.

What does he feel makes a great photograph? “It goes back to being strong and open – what I’m trying to avoid is fancy lenses or a fancy composition. A good photograph allows the viewer to hang their own story onto it.”

Time to Act is out now and the Time to Act: a virtual exhibition will run until Christmas. 

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Shakespeare’s Globe, Royal Exchange in Manchester, the Lady Boys of Bangkok are among the latest recipients of emergency government arts funding.

The Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester, The Mayflower in Southampton and Fabric nightclub in London are among the cultural institutions to receive at least £1m in the latest round of grants from the government’s £1.57bn cultural recovery fund.

In total, £75m will be given to 35 organisations, including theatres, museums, music venues and dance companies, among them Rambert (£1.28m), Sadler’s Wells (£2.9m) and the English National Ballet (£3m).

The arts sector has suffered significantly due to COVID-19 restrictions, with many venues closed and many creatives unable to work.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the “vital funding” would secure the recipients’ futures and “protect jobs right away”.

“These places and organisations are irreplaceable parts of our heritage and what make us the cultural superpower we are,” he said.

The culture secretary visited the Design Museum, another recipient, earlier this week

The government said the grants were being awarded “to places that define culture in all corners of the country”.

Grant recipients in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be announced separately by their devolved administrations.

More than £500m has now been allocated from the Culture Recovery Fund to almost 2,500 cultural organisations and venues.

But the £1.57bn emergency arts fund has come too late to save hundreds of talented people from losing their jobs.

Full list of performing arts organisations 

Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust – £3,000,000
English National Ballet – £3,000,000
Newcastle Theatre Royal Trust – £3,000,000
Norwich Theatre – £3,000,000
The Mayflower Theatre Trust – £3,000,000
The Old Vic Theatre Trust – £3,000,000
Shakespeare’s Globe – £2,985,707
Sadler’s Wells – £2,975,000
The ACC Liverpool Group Limited – £2,972,659
Royal Exchange Theatre Company Ltd – £2,854,444
Performances Birmingham Limited – £2,534,675
BH Live – £2,499,531
Leeds Theatre Trust Limited (Playhouse) – £2,381,547
Sheffield Theatres Trust Ltd – £2,246,000
Northampton Theatres Trust (Royal and Derngate) – £2,112,891
Theatre Royal (Plymouth) Ltd – £1,896,000
North Music Trust (Sage Gateshead) – £1,800,000
Adlib Audio Limited – £1,650,356
Hull City Council – £1,615,725
Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd – £1,545,163
Bill Kenwright Limited – £1,526,028
Fabric Life Ltd – £1,514,262
Birmingham Repertory Theatre – £1,380,023
Rambert – £1,283,835
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre 1982 Ltd – £1,187,530
Exchange Events Ltd (Gandey Productions) – £1,092,503
Lights Control Rigging Productions Ltd – £1,076,179
The Octagon Theatre Trust – £620,232