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London Theatre is a flickering tealight of hope: Allelujah! Bat out of Hell, Fun Home & King Lear

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

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

Allelujah

Allelujah Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Old people singing and dancing sweetly– check.

Two original ‘History Boys’ – check.

A sub-plot involving immigration and Brexit – check.

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

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

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

BAT OUT OF HELL

BAT OUT OF HELL

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

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

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

FUN HOME

FUN HOME

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

KING LEAR

KING LEAR

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

Unmissable. Truly.

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

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

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

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