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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.

Full casting announced for The Lady In The Van at Theatre Royal Bath

Lady In The Van

Lady In The Van

Lady In The Van

Theatre Royal Bath Productions announces full casting for Alan Bennett’The Lady in the Van, directed by Jonathan Church, which today began rehearsals ahead of its run at Theatre Royal Bath from Thursday 17 August to Saturday 2 September.

Olivier Award-winner Sara Kestelman will star as Bennett’s beloved character Miss Mary Shepherd. Kestelman will be joined by Sam Alexander as Alan Bennett, William Gaunt as Underwood and James Northcote who will share the role of Alan Bennett. The full cast will also include Emma AmosLia Burge,Paul HickeyGabrielle LloydDavid Shaw ParkerSteve Simmonds and Cat Simmons.

In 1974, Miss Mary Shepherd, a homeless woman, temporarily moved her clapped out Bedford van into Alan Bennett’s front garden at Gloucester Crescent, Camden. She remained parked there for the next fifteen years.

Sara Kestelman’s (Mary Shepherd) extensive theatre credits include Filthy Business and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (Hampstead Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC), Michael Frayn’s award-winning Copenhagen (National Theatre/West End) and her Olivier Award-winning role as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret (Donmar Warehouse).

Sam Alexander (Alan Bennett) was most recently seen in the RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing. Other credits include Lawrence After Arabia (Hampstead Theatre), The Christmas Truce (RSC) andOne Man Two Guvnors (National Theatre / Theatre Royal Haymarket).

William Gaunt (Underwood) is best known for his roles as Bob Marriott in Sergeant Cork, Arthur Crabtree inNo Place Like Home and Richard Barratt in The Champions. Stage credits include Richard II (Shakespeare’s Globe), The Crucible (Old Vic Theatre) and The Family Reunion (Donmar Warehouse).

James Northcote (Alan Bennett) has recently starred in films including A United Kingdom with Rosamund Pike and The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch. Theatre credits include Pride and Prejudice(Sheffield Theatres) and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Chichester Festival Theatre).

The production will have design by Robert Innes Hopkins, lighting by Tim Mitchell, music by Matthew Scott and sound by Mike Walker.

The Lady in the Van will conclude Jonathan Church’s inaugural season as Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Bath’s 2017 summer season. The programme of five plays opened on 21 June with David Hare’s Racing Demon, followed by Sand in the Sandwiches by Hugh Whitemore from Tuesday 11 July – Saturday 15 July. The remaining productions in the season will be the UK Premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, adapted for the stage by Carolyn Burns from Friday 21 July – Saturday 12 August and Looking at Lucian by Alan Franks from Thursday 3 August – Saturday 2 September.

UPDATED LISTINGS

THE LADY IN THE VAN
By Alan Bennett
Directed by Jonathan Church

Theatre Royal Bath, Sawclose, Bath, BA1 1ET

First performance            Thursday 17 August
Final performance           Saturday 2 September
Press performance           Wednesday 23 August, 7pm
Performance schedule    Monday – Saturday7.30pm; Matinees Thursday & Saturday2.30pm (No matinee 17 August)

Box office details
website                                www.theatreroyal.org.uk
telephone                            01225 448844

Prices  from                         £15

Facebook:                            TheatreRoyalBath
Twitter:                                @TheatreRBath