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

The King and I
The King and I

The King and I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Heathers beyond criticism?

Heathers

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

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

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

Heathers

Heathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press and media type people

Press and media type people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The company of The King and I take a bow

The Company of King and I

The Company of King and I

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

https://kingandimusical.co.uk/

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A catch up with Cat from The Lieutenant of Inishmore: ‘It could have really gone tits up.’

Due to popular demand I caught up with Cat in between rehearsals for The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

The revival of Martin McDonagh’s play opens in the West End next month. It stars Poldark’s Aidan Turner and is directed by Michael Grandage.

Originally performed by the RSC in 2001, McDonagh’s black comedy is set in Ireland in the early 1990s, and satirises nationalism and terrorism in the modern day

Here is what happened.

Hello again. How are you?

I’m doing well. This weather is quite tedious; I find a quiet place in between rehearsals to cool – hot on the top, cold at the bottom, you know how it is.

Let’s not discuss our private lives. How are the rehearsals for The Lieutenant of Inishhmore going?

It is going very well. I have to confess I was pretty bruised that I did not feature in any of the rehearsal shots. I mean I would have liked some for my portfolio but the PR is wary of me, she’s threatened, she’s trying to ruin my moment. A bit petty in my opinion but what can you do.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Noel Coward Theatre

The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Noel Coward Theatre

The last time we spoke you mentioned that you thought that your co-star Aidan Turner may have allergies. Turner recently confessed that he is, in fact, allergic to cats. How has this impacted your working relationship?

It could have really gone tits up… Luckily, it has been fine. I adore Aidan, he spills over with emotion, continually taking the company in unexpected directions. His accent is exuberant and it helps that he is pretty buff and it has been a joy to take him to the theatre as my guest.

Interesting. I know that you are close to Nick Hytner; have you been to The Bridge?

I saw Nightfall recently; the whole thing seemed like a lot of effort for not much reward. It wasn’t my cup of tea, to be honest. I think the two Nicks are trying to find their War Horse or Curious Incident; I’m not sure anything else in the current programme really fits the bill. I have a feeling that in a few years we’ll probably look back on the first ten years as the Nicks finding their feet, and it’ll be the second decade that really make the most sense. If it isn’t a Pret a Manger by then.

Have you seen Orlando Bloom in in ‘Killer Joe’?

I know Katy Perry very well so we attended the dress rehearsal together. I am usually wary of star vehicles and stunt casting. Mind you, I think it can be a good thing for theatre because it so often brings new audiences through the door who may have never been to that theatre before. Sometimes, though, all I crave to see is a really good actor. But I thought that Bloom was quite good, so critics are invited to sit the fuck down.

What most drives you to be brilliant – fear of failure or thirst for success?

I try not to take this industry too seriously. I constantly want to outdo the last thing I’ve done.

With Harvey Weinstein being arrested and the #MeToo movement finally having its Hurricane Katrina moment. How widespread is abuse and bullying in theatre?

The thing is, most of the people in power who work in this industry are total bell-ends. I am currently working on an initiative: #MiaowToo – It is important that cats are afforded the same watershed moment to expose theatre-land thugs; I was at an audition recently. I was picked up, stroked and dropped on the *concrete* floor without consent. Anyway, it is mostly men in power abusing that power, habitually and with the belief that they will never be revealed. This careless grooming has to stop.

Do you lead or follow?

I definitely lead.

Is it hard work doing all that leading? It must be a lot easier to just sit around copying people.

No, it’s not hard work, it’s part of who I am. I love to strive to do things differently. That’s part of why I love what I do.

Are you in this for the long run?

I’ve just done an interview with The Guardian with a ‘fresh new voice’ that has replaced Lyn Gardner. Don’t get me started… I’m still furious about it. Anyway, ‘How long do you think you’ll do it?” asked the fresh new voice; I can’t remember her name, I think they used to be a stand-up comic. “A year?” Maybe I’ll stretch it to two, I purred.

Finally, is there anything that you’d like to add?

I’d like to say that The UK’s theatre exports are pretty much restricted to Sonia Friedman, James Graham, Michael Grandage and Caryl Churchill. I am currently looking at a KickStarter to supply emergency subsidies to any theatre company developing half-decent UK theatre talent. Also, please come and see The Lieutenant of Inishmore; it boasts an outstanding cast. It is superbly cast, written and acted with ruthless and icy force. There are no weak links. Martin McDonagh squeezes every gorgeous horrible drop out of the violence. Cheers!

The Lieutenant of Inishmore runs at the Noel Coward Theatre 23 June – 8 September 2018

Read the first interview with Cat from ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ HERE

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Lyn Gardner & The Guardian: the end of an era?

Lyn Gardner
Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner Photo credit – Pamela Raith

Like a phantom itch from an amputated limb, the Guardian have decided to call time on critic and journalist Lyn Gardner writing about theatre. It is one of the stupidest things it’s ever done.

The writing has been on the wall for some time. Last year, the idiots who run the Guardian cut her weekly theatre blog,  as a result of cost-cutting measures; saving them £13,500.00 annually. She was then appointed associate editor at The Stage, following the cancellation of her theatre blog contract.

The Guardian stated today, “We have decided to look to add some new voices to our arts coverage. Our commitment to coverage of the theatre remains absolute.” Lyn’s contract, which ends on June 1, comprised of 28,000 words of features & up to 130 reviews a year. Removing Gardner’s voice is not absolute, or progressive or smart. It’s none of that. It’s none of anything. It’s just loads of nothing. It is the short-sighted sound of the end of an era.

Who are these new voices? It may not seem like it, but it’s actually a comparatively small selection of critics who keep arts coverage going. None of them are up to the challenge of replacing Lyn.

Gardner is one of the few arts journalists who don’t subscribe to navel-gazing or hysterical right-on agendas. Her dedication to children’s theatre, new work and regional theatre is unrivalled. Last year she was presented with a Total Theatre Award as a result of significant contribution for her journalism work on the fringe. (I’m not even going to go into the devastating loss of her Edinburgh Festival Fringe coverage. I’ll literally lose control.) She was also awarded a UK Theatre Award for her outstanding contribution to British Theatre.

To most people theatre criticism is now a joke. I don’t think it’s very funny. In such hopeless circumstances, the best we can do is cancel our subscription to the Guardian and/or email the editor Katherine Viner: [email protected] our despair. While you are at it subscribe to The Stage and pay for your journalism.

It feels like theatre is finally facing up to its shameful diversity problem, though, when it comes to who is writing about theatre and in spite of the economic woes of the mainstream media. Critics of Colour was recently launched for people of colour who write about theatre and to support the development of critics from BME backgrounds.

Anyway, as long as there is theatre and culture there will be critics responding. But the responsibility cannot fall solely to bloggers plugging this particular void. Blogging is not good for your mental health. I’ve run a theatre website for about two years and if I am totally honest, it might have prompted me to have a quiet cry once or twice. Keeping on top of it all is an almost impossible task and it is just not sustainable.

I guarantee you, though, no matter how bleak this is for the arts community, Lyn will be back. Gardner has a new website http://www.lyngardner.com and will continue her work at The Stage, no doubt in a wider capacity. Bring it on. 

Lyn Gardner, Me & Mark Shenton at Theatre Craft, 2017

Lyn Gardner, Me & Mark Shenton at Theatre Craft, 2017

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An American in Paris’ Leanne Cope: ‘You may be surprised that you do, in fact, like ballet.’

Leanne Cope
Leanne Cope

Leanne Cope

Leanne Cope created the role of Lise Dassin (Christopher Wheeldon’s award-winning An American in Paris) for Théâtre du Châtelet and on Broadway. A major North American tour continues now and a new production will open in Tokyo in January 2019.

An American in Paris is being beamed into cinemas worldwide on May 16 and so I thought it would be good to talk to Leanne, a couple of days after the Olivier Awards, about the impending cinema release.

Here’s how the chat went…

Hi Leanne, how are you?

I’m very well thank you.

Being the ruthless ‘journalist’ that I am, I DM’d your former co-star Ashley Day asking him for help to terrorise you and he replied: “Oh you can’t! She’s the loveliest, kindest, delicate, talented, understated, beautiful women alive.” That’s nice isn’t it.

Ha! I remember when I first met Ashley at An American in Paris audition, I happened to be in London. I recall him walking in the room and him being the most handsome man that I had ever seen; we did the Liza scene together and I turned to the audition panel and asked: ‘Can he dance?’ they said yes and I said: I don’t think we should see anyone else today. A couple of weeks later I got the message that he was to be my Jerry Mulligan and we went to dinner at Joe Allen’s in New York. We were there for five hours. It is nice to do that before you step in the rehearsal room; with Robbie, I didn’t know him at all but we spent months in a rehearsal room. I knew with Ashley that it would be wham-bam-thank you, mam and straight into show mode; I learnt so much from Ashley Day. He’s truly amazing.

Ashley Day and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

Ashley Day and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

An American in Paris will be screening in cinemas around the world this month to tens of millions of people. How did you feel about the process of filming the show for film?

It was nerve wracking, if I’m honest. When I was in the Royal Ballet we did do live cinema relays. But what was nice about this process was knowing that we had three takes. We also had two pick-up shot days where they could do close-ups on stage. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work but it all came together. The film is beautiful and they have captured the dance so well. I think that’s down to the genius of our director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. I was worried about how the scenery would look on film but when you see the glorious design by the Olivier Award winning 59 Productions, it almost looks like we are walking through Paris. I attended a screening recently with the cast and creatives. Seriously, I watched a lot of it through my own fingers – like when you watch a horror movie – however they’ve done a brilliant job and I am very proud of it.

Were there any major alterations in the filming of the show for film?

The blueprint of the show pretty much stayed the same. Christopher changed minimal things; he gets bored very quickly. So, every time he would come to the show he would make minor changes. It was nice for him to address all those little details niggling away I guess. The biggest adjustment for myself and Robbie Fairchild and to learn so much from them during the filming. It was a remarkable process.

Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

Great! What are you up to at the moment?

I’m taking a bit of a rest, doing eight shows a week of An American in Paris was quite gruelling on the body. I’ve had a couple of auditions and I have some meetings coming up. I’m hoping to stay in the musical theatre world. I did 12 years at Royal Ballet too. An American in Paris kept me employed for nearly four years, which was ideal. I am excited about the future.

Why do you think people should come and see An American in Paris in cinemas then?

If you have a love for Gershwin’s music, classical ballet or breath-taking design then this is the show for you. There is so much in there at such a high standard. I’d come along anyway because you may be surprised that you do, in fact, like ballet. That’s what we found so amazing on the journey with this show; it’s a new interpretation and if you love the movie or the show in town then this is also a worthy companion.

Who or what are your musical influences?

John Travolta in Grease! I think I saw Saturday Night Fever and Grease way too young – things like Flashdance and Dirty Dancing made me want to be a dancer. The first musical I saw was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the London Palladium made me want to do musicals. I didn’t see a ballet until I got older.

An American in Paris is quite prescient in its representation of a gloomy Europe and a world in chaos. It feels fresh. Do you agree?

I think that theatre should always reflect what is going on in the world. Now has huge parallels to what was going on during World War 2. The fact we can rebuild ourselves, that cities can regenerate themselves to blossoming and into a city of light again. Each of these characters going through the effects of war, love and loss. Lise losing her parents, Milo Davenport trying to bring culture back to Paris. If we dressed ourselves in modern costume and changed the city this could have been written now. I don’t think it has a time span in it. What she learns from them and what they learn from her changes them all and for the better. It is a story of love and hope. I mean, what more can you want from a movie musical?

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

I went to the Olivier Awards recently and I personally feel that dance is not represented very well at all. It is not seen as equal to acting and singing and the fact that Clare Halse was not nominated for her performance in 42nd Street or similarly Robbie Fairchild for An American in Paris, them not being nominated is a crime. Perhaps they could create a different category. Triple threat, maybe?  Not many people can do what Robbie did in An American in Paris. It doesn’t have to be a male or female category, someone who can do all those things in a show and to that standard, should be recognised and celebrated. That’s all.

Tickets for An American in Paris are on sale at AnAmericanInParisCinema.com.

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How bad can Strictly Ballroom be? Spectacularly.

Strictly Ballroom

Strictly Ballroom

The first in Baz Luhrmann’s “red curtain trilogy”, Strictly Ballroom became the sixth most successful film of all time in Australia. The show is based on Luhrmann’s musical film of the same name. If this sort of brainless commercialism is one of the great enemies of light entertainment then the other is definitely excessive Drew McOnie (In the Heights, Bugsy Malone, On the Town). McOnie is an accomplished choreographer – he is not a very good director, which is a shame.

Certain things happened during the jaw-droppingly messy musical version of Strictly Ballroom, at the Piccadilly Theatre that I don’t wish to dwell upon, mainly involving Will Young, wasted talent and a misjudged ode to ballroom dance, it is with deep regret that I must report that the resulting two and three-quarter hours are not ideal.

It’s the oddest thing I’ve watched this decade, though, and has been the top of my to do list ever since I saw Will Young had washed up in it. Unfortunately, his dreadful over-acting really is terrible.

Part jukebox, part movie musical then. What this means is that McOnie has taken songs such as Mambo Number 5(!), Love Is In The Air and I Wanna Dance With Somebody & stripped them of their merit. He then puts the songs in the mouth of Pop Idol winner Young, who is reduced to standing around and/or sitting on a stool.

The strange thing is, though, someone has actually planned it this way, because they think it is entertaining and therefore consider it entirely appropriate for a top price ticket to be £129.00. The wigs are dicey, the costumes don’t fit and the show has nothing to say.

One or two moments are really worth recalling for posterity, though.

The first is Will Young whizzing around the stage in roller skates like a slug; falling over during key moments of the story and the unforgivable caricatures (racist) Spanish parents. You or I, in this situation, might have asked: “what the fu**” Or suggested: “Just close your eyes and pretend it isn’t happening.”

At the end the day, it is one of the worst musicals I have seen in the last five years. Soutra Gilmour’s ghastly design made me lose sleep and the costumes bring a Worthing Rep quality to the West End – last seen in Spice Girls’ car crash musical: Viva Forever.

Some of this might just be forgiven if the musical had any flair at all, but it is dire in vision and execution and quite inane and reductive in the way it reduces all women to being desperate to please idiotic men, succeed and portrays them as a bunch of hysterical, image-obsessed neurotics.

It’s about making money. Avoid.

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Salisbury Playhouse’s boss Gareth Machin: ‘There is a desire to demonstrate that the city is open for business, that it’s moving on & that it doesn’t want to be defined by what’s happened here.’

Gareth Machin is the artistic director of Salisbury Playhouse in Wiltshire. He is also the director and writer of Moonfleet, a new British musical based on the well-loved novel by J Meade Faulkner. Set amongst the cliffs and caves of 18th century Dorset and is the story of a young man’s search for adventure and fulfilment. Haunted by the ghost of the marauding pirate Blackbeard, Moonfleet is a village of intrigue and drama where shadowy smugglers lurk. “Writing musicals is clearly very complicated because so many elements come into play,” he explains. “Also, generally they are very expensive to produce. Russell (Hepplewhite) and I have been working on it for an awfully long time and there have been a lot of challenges to adapt it for the stage.”

GM

Gareth Machin

Moonfleet-for-press-1

During rehearsals for Moonfleet an international espionage drama has played out in the narrow lanes and shopping precincts of the small cathedral city, after the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It must have been unsettling; how would he describe the mood of the city? “It has been a challenging few weeks and there has been a lot of uncertainty,” he says. “But there has also been incredible resilience and we have been able to continue the work that we are doing here. Our audiences have remained very loyal, for which we are very grateful. There is a mood in the city that although this isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination, there is a desire to keep demonstrating that the city is open for business, that it’s moving on and that it doesn’t want to be defined by what’s happened here.”

1DB0FA5C-5B87-4A81-879D-236867A24A0A.jpeg

The cordon around the bench in Salisbury where the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, collapsed.

Following a successful bid for joint national portfolio funding from Arts Council England (ACE) the merger of the three arts organisations in the same postcode: Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury Arts Centre and Salisbury International Arts Festival have collectively become ‘Wiltshire Creative’, and will commission, develop and produce cross-artform. What does this mean for the identity of the three – very different – organisations? “It’s a huge opportunity for the arts in Salisbury,” he says. “With public funding inevitably being very challenging, it is an incredible vote of confidence from the Arts Council, in the quality of the artistic offer, in what is a relatively small city like Salisbury. The level of investment that had been going to three organisations has been retained and consolidated in one large pan-arts organisation. It feels like we now have a more sustainable model, in terms of finance. But it also means artistically we will be a far more resilient company, artistically in so far as we will be working across different art forms, commissioning artists across different art forms. We will create a much more coherent and straightforward offer for Salisbury and the wider region.”

Unsurprisingly, at the 2011 census the population of the civil parish was 95.73% white. To his credit, he doesn’t subscribe to 50/50 gender quotas; when it comes to selling tickets, choosing suitable artists must continue to matter more than gender? “Sometimes the most obvious ways of defining diversity are not necessarily the most interesting way to define diversity, in a city like Salisbury,” he says simply. “But we want the broadest representation of voices and people within this organisation that is genuinely reflecting our wider community. We will never get this absolutely right because it will be a continual process. I think the fact that it is so high up the agenda now is incredibly useful.”

On the subject of the ongoing revelations of abuses of power and sexual harassment within the industry he muses: “We have had to look at the procedures and processes that we have in place, so that if ever a situation arose here, we are confident that our systems are robust enough to be able to properly deal with a situation should it ever arise. It has been a very useful opportunity for us to review and have that conversation with our wider staff.”

What, I ask, are the qualities that make a good artistic director? “That’s the hardest question you’ve asked,” he says. A pause. “It’s not that far away from what qualities you need in a rehearsal room. You need to be comfortable bringing people in who are a lot cleverer than you, know a lot more than you and be comfortable with managing them and their ideas and be able to listen and be able to respond. Your job ultimately is to bring the best out of other people and to shape a lot of people’s different ideas and shape them into something that is coherent and strong. That’s what you do in a rehearsal room and that is how you are running a building.  In terms of vision and ego it is a balance because you have got to have a bit but if you have too much, it’s a problem.”

More than most, Machin is aware that his theatre can’t live on past glories. “I think there are a lot of lazy preconceptions about Salisbury audiences,” he says defiantly. “One of the great joys being here as long as I have, is that the audience still consistently surprise me at what they are up for. When I started here, the idea of doing new plays on the main stage was pretty scary. Whereas actually Barney Norris’s Echo’s End or Worst Wedding Ever, which we did a couple of years ago, are two of the best-selling shows in the time that I have been here. That in itself is hugely encouraging; we are allowed to swear on the main stage and people don’t walk out,” Machin says, smiling.

“With Moonfleet, I feel like we are developing a piece that we are all very proud of and we want to tell everybody that it is happening.”

Moonfleet runs at Salisbury Playhouse from Thursday 19 April to Saturday 5 May. The production is supported by Salisbury Playhouse’s Commissioning Circle.

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So I went along to the launch of Company

On reading the phrase ‘An invitation to the official launch of Elliott & Harper’s revival of Company at Joe Allen with director Marianne Elliott & cast members Rosalie Craig, Broadway legend Patti LuPone and Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyctogether in one sentence you know you’re in for quite a treat.

I mean, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to join 87 other strangers over breakfast with ‘critically acclaimed’ musical theatre people and Mel, is it?

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Photo by John Nguyen

So, with some degree of excitement I made my way to Jo Allen, and here are some things I noted.

To kick things off, David Benedict, Sondheim’s official biographer hosted an alright discussion with Rosalie Craig who will play the re-gendered lead role of Bobbi, Patti LuPone plays Joanne & Mel Giedroyc takes on the role of Sarah. All four ladies were on top form. Somebody’s phone went off during this bit and LuPone criticised Uma Thurman for her questionable turn in The Parisian Woman on Broadway.

The launch included an exclusive first performance of Being Alive by Rosalie Craig. And what she did was great. Slick, cool and laid-back, As well as the song being amazing on its own merits, Being Alive (aka one of the 1000 greatest songs of all time) sounded bloody good live from a female perspective and the crowd reacted quite positively to it, i.e. they clapped like loons.

Modern technology permitted me to catch the moment with a twitter vid (is that what we call it?) and I’ve placed it below these words. I even put on a shiny filter to create an ‘intimate’ feel. You’re welcome.

The next thing I knew, I found myself with various members of the press at a round table interview with Marianne Elliott and Mel Giedroyc. I took the opportunity to ask them how they feel about Stephen Sondheim originally stating that, with Company, he wanted a show “where the audience would sit for two hours screaming their heads off with laughter, and then go home and not be able to sleep.”

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Ladies Who Launch etc —  L to R LuPone, Craig, Elliott & Giedroyc. 

“Oh God… It is a very funny piece. But I suppose ultimately it is a serious subject,” Elliott says. “Look at the news recently about the pay gap between genders that revealed men are paid more than women, which is unbelievable. The reason for it is that women are not in managerial positions; they are staying at home, they are looking after kids or thinking about going part-time or starting a family. I know a lot of women in that situation – I was in a similar situation myself. It is a very serious issue for women in their mid-30’s because they probably know that if they want to have a family then the clock is ticking.”

What does Mel think? “I love the idea of an audience laughing a lot throughout a show. But I don’t like the idea of them not sleeping – they must laugh and then sleep,” Giedroyc says simply. “But not in the theatre! They must laugh until they are so tired that they go home and then they sleep.” Righty ho.

Company is shaping up to be one of the theatrical highlights of 2018. Well done all.

There were various pastries and refreshments and that was that.

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Company will run at the Gielgud Theatre from September 26 to December 22.