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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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Jerusalem returns

If life does indeed come down to just a single moment, mine probably arrived last week on Easter Monday when I witnessed Mark Rylance on stage as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron in Jerusalem. His combination of theatricality and verbal vivacity is extraordinary.

First staged at the Royal Court in 2009, Jez Butterworth’s seismic play about national identity has returned to the West End for a limited 16 week engagement. Following record-breaking runs in 2009, 2010 and 2011, as well on Broadway in 2011, this stint is set to rake in £14 million.

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem on Broadway

Sonia Friedman’s globe conquering revival tells the story of a freewheeling man that faces eviction for unauthorised encampment in a Wiltshire wood on the day of the local fair.

Butterworth said that when he first saw Rylance as Rooster it was “the closest thing to magic I’ve ever seen”. Reader, I can corroborate this claim, Jerusalem is the purest form of theatre gold and Rylance is hypnotic. Underneath the rich and decaying leafy Brechtian design by ULTZ live chickens, a tortoise, a goldfish, and various lost souls. It is a totally spellbinding, haunting and unforgettable evening. 

Jerusalem at the Apollo

A tatty 30ft St George’s Day flag drop curtain greets you as you take to your seat. Butterworth’s epochal writing, it’s fair to say, hit me with the same force; in the character of “Rooster” Byron, we find an emblem of both England and the English language, like Falstaff on acid. “I dreamt all night of waterfalls,” Rooster says at the start, “Riches. Fame. A glimpse of God’s tail… Comes a time you’d swap it all for a solid golden p— on English soil.” 

Theatre’s all about timing, and with enthusiastic audiences flocking to auditoriums, Ian Rickson’s extraordinary production has returned just at the right time. Rooster’s bonkers tales about giants on the A1 take on a spiritual believability under Rylance’s stagecraft, but they’re also very, very funny. In any case, ambivalence is the key word here, I think. 

There is something mesmerising about a man living in a wood who hasn’t woken up yet to the tragedy of his predicament, who is still left beating the same old drum. Literally, culturally, and politically. 

The elephant in the room here is, of course, Rooster’s Romany heritage – the “gypo” slurs, the gold jewellery, the fair, the violence, the caravan in the woods and the drugs. (Butterworth’s play owes much to the time he spent with a retired Romany builder called Micky Lay). Stronger efforts to improve outcomes and representation for these severely disadvantaged communities are overdue. To this end, and following minor tweaks, Rylance’s portrayal never feels offensive or clumsy. 

Real-world politics cast a subtly different light on proceedings; this restaging reveals a yearning for a bygone Britain that never really existed. The Englishness which Jerusalem supposedly explored is now an even knottier concept than it was in 2009. 

Ian Rickson and Jez Butterworth

And anyway, Butterworth is adamant that critics still miss the point. “If this is any way a state-of-the-nation play, then I have failed abjectly,” he said at a recent event. 

He added: “You know how much I give a monkeys about the ‘state of the nation’, adding that Englishness was not a concern of his, explaining: “I don’t feel very English… The reason it is back is my daughter Bel never got the chance to see it.” 

Amazing. 

We need to celebrate and enjoy Jerusalem now so we can remember there was a time, before the cripplingly dull, joyless, and inflexible wave of new writing that engulfed everything, when going to the theatre used to be so much fun. 
Jerusalem is old-fashioned (3 hours, two intervals) and its return wonderfully sticks a bonfire under the problematic theatre echo chamber that caused the great British sense of humour failure of 2012-2020

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem

A theatre moment to cherish for ever. 

Jerusalem is at the Apollo theatre, London until 17 August.

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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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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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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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Bat out of Hell rocks Manchester Opera House

Bat Out of Hell is the first big musical to be staged at the theatre and it’s a night of delirious entertainment.

It’s a tale of unrequited love from different sides of the track, with a parent determined to keep them apart. Story wise, it is post-apocalyptic Peter Pan.

Jay Scheib’s totally electrifying production re-imagines the jukebox musical for these mad times.

If you saw the show in London you won’t be disappointed –  the flames, the cameras circling the stage, the video screen capturing and magnifying the action are all here. There’s no expense spared.

What’s more, this talented and vibrant cast navigate the luminescent and fast-paced production with high stamina and real flair. The songs are gloriously sung and the occasion allows everyone to let their hair down.

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby lead as Strat and Raven respectively, and are electric together. 

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby

Incredibly, Meatloaf’s three Bat Out Of Hell albums have sold a staggering 100 million copies globally. This lively and quirky show has been perfectly reconfigured for a UK Tour and features all the hits: Out Of Hell, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.

Jim Steinman’s soaring rock n roll anthems and Jon Bausor’s anarchic designs offer an extravagant sense of occasion, as well as a show with extremely high production values. The lighting and sound are world class here. 

It was great to see people having fun, and this high voltage and good-natured mega show is the perfect tonic to reinvigorate regional theatres and attract audiences back after a miserable 21 months. 

Vegas? Don’t bet against it. 

Bat Out of Hell runs at Manchester Opera House until 2 October and tours the UK through to November 2022.

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Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

An actual show at the theatre. Wow indeed.

Financially, theatre is unviable. Yet at the Barbican in London right now, it’s never looked so enticing, beautiful and well produced.

Helmed by three-time Tony-winning director Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes is the real deal.

Cheeriness is contagious, folks.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

It has been a long time coming, but Cole Porter’s Anything Goes is the biggest new musical to open since the lifting of social distancing curbs on July 19.

Felicity Kendal is genuinely hilarious and brilliantly camp in her non-singing role. Gary Wilmot is thoroughly entertaining – that man is kind of amazing – throughout and theatre legend Robert Lindsay is cleverly funny as Moonface Martin – America’s 13th Most Wanted Man.

He is perfectly matched by chipper and demure Broadway star Sutton Foster making her UK debut as Reno Sweeney, who gets to sing some of Porter’s greatest songs including I Get a Kick Out of You and Blow, Gabriel, Blow

Reprising the role that won her a Tony Award a decade ago, from beginning to end Foster blazes through this feel-good show. She is full of jagged gestures. 

The story is nautical farce, but this is inconsequential. Even if you have never seen the musical, you know the songs.

However, if your main anchor is being offended by everything, then you must stay at home. The source material can, obviously, feel jarringly out of date.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Basically, the gangsters are sex-crazed, women are leggy and there is a repressed aristocrat that sings about having ‘a bit of gypsy’ in him. 

In fact, the lines leading into song The Gypsy in Me have been tweaked, thankfully. 

Unworthy critics will fail to ruin the magic of a magnificent production like this. We all know that these glitzy shows are from another era.

The dancing here is exceptional. When did you last experience the truly awe-inspiring sight of two mid-show standing ovations? 

Having said all that, this is a triumphant, world-class, rousing piece of musical theatre. 

This magnificently starry production proves most captivating, while ultimately raising a toast to the redemptive power of theatre. It is pure escapism.

Basically, Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

Anything Goes runs at the Barbican until 31 October 2021