Posts

, ,

Theatre to look forward to in 2023

Fine, I have compiled a list of shows that I am looking forward to this year.

GUYS AND DOLLS 

The legendary musical gets the full Bridge’s immersive staging, promising us the New York lights and Havana heat. Daniel Mays leads the pack as Nathan Detroit, alongside Marisha Wallace as Miss Adelaide. Nick Hytner directs, and Arlene Phillips choreographs this open-ended run.

MISS SAIGON 

Sheffield Theatre’s production of Boublil-Schönberg arrives at the Crucible this summer and promises to shift the story and characters and engender “big important conversations” about the shows problematic Asian stereotypes. Anyway, if you like the idea of shows somewhere between gender bending Company (2018) and burn-it-down Emilia, this is probably up your street.

CRAZY FOR YOU

This sparkling and infectious revival of the Gershwin’s musical arrives in the west end starring triple threat Charlie Stemp. Expect glorious dancing, note-perfect melodies, and some brilliant physical comedy. Pure class. 

SYLVIA 

Beverley Knight stars as Emmeline Parnkhurst in a kinetic new hip hop musical that fuses soul and funk at the story of Sylvia, “the lesser-known Pankhurst at the heart of the Suffragette movement. 

Originally a ‘work in progress’ dance show ‘Sylvia’ is back at the Old Vic as a full-blown dance musical. 

A LITTLE LIFE 

Ivo Van Hove directs this divisive production of Hanya Yanagihara’s mesmerising novel, it gets an English language adaptation.  The cast includes James Norton and Omari Douglas, as the acceptable face of self-harm and psychological pain. 

This is a long evening of theatre – though it has been trimmed down from the relentless four-hour Dutch version I saw in Edinburgh last summer – that follows the lives of four university friends. Think The Inheritance with masochism. 

OPERATION MINCEMEAT 

Following previous runs at the New Diorama Theatre in 2019 and Southwark Playhouse in 2020, 2021 and 2022, as well as an extended run at Riverside Studios last summer, Operation Mincemeat is set to win a much bigger following at the Fortune Theatre, replacing ‘The Woman in Black’ after 33-years.

STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE 

Following a sell-out return Sheffield run this show transfers to the National Theatre next month and must be seen.  

Got it? Good.

Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s brilliant Park Hill 2018 musical celebrates the communities that move through six decades of dilapidation, social change, and gentrification. 

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

The latest hit from smart Lynn Nottage, Pulitzer-prize winner for Sweat, whom writes the book for this musical featuring a group of rebel women in small-town 60s South Carolina. With music by Spring Awakening’s Duncan Sheik, this Almeida show is bound to be good. 

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF 

Tennessee Williams febrile masterpiece of family dysfunction and tremendous sorrow in the Deep South gets a revitalised staging by Roy Alexander Weise at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. 

SHIRLEY VALENTINE 

Sheridan Smith will take on the role of ‘theatre’s best-loved mum’ in Willy Russell’s play in London in February.The play, which was also made into a 1989 movie with Pauline Collins, tells the story of a working-class housewife from Liverpool which focuses on her dissatisfaction with life before a transformative foreign holiday.

LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS 

Jenna Coleman and Aidan Turner star in Sam Steiner’s smart two-hander about “what happens when we can’t say anything” after the government caps daily speech at 140 words per person. This 75 minute fringe hit is a little out of place in the west end but at this point let us be glad it is happening at all. 

IN DREAMS 

This is a new jukebox musical from the creators of & Juliet and it premieres at Leeds Playhouse in 2023. 

In Dreams uses the music of the late Roy Orbison to tell an original story about a female singer. The show is being described as a ‘lyrical and comedic exploration about legacy and how we would like to be remembered.’ 

Casting has yet to be revealed…

See you soon and ‘all the best’ for 2023!

Carl x

, ,

A Streetcar Named Desire is everything you want Theatre to be

Mescal, Credit…Marc Brenner


First things first, Paul Mescal is tremendous. He makes bully Stanley Kowalski terrifying yet sensitive, while Anjana Vasan as his wife Stella is magnificent – – blind to his brutality.

Kowalski is the epitome of toxic masculinity, a character devoid of empathy and kindness.

Alas, blue-collar Stanley sees that the unexpected sister-in-law Blanche DuBois is not what she appears to be, and sets out to destroy her. Patsy Ferran excels as the disintegrating dame in director Rebecca Frecknall’s grand production of the 1947 Tennessee Williams play. 

Ferran who stepped in to play Blanche last month when Lydia Wilson withdrew due to an injury, is completely mesmerising.

Madeleine Girling’s empty raised platform, under Lee Curran’s lighting, makes the in-the-round battle for territory fully absorbing. Frecknall honours Williams in not making it easy to take sides.

This seriously unsettling production with few props barrels along: the furious jazz drum score (designed by Peter Rice) sometimes becomes intrusive and occasionally makes the dialogue hard to hear.  

But on the whole the nerve jangling a capella singing, percussion and symphonic swells work to the play’s advantage: they punctuate Stanley’s rancour and Blanches downward spiral. 

As Blanche loses first her dignity and then her mind, an audience’s emotions is left in shreds. I wept as Blanche walked from the auditorium. 

This multi-faceted show lasts around three hours, but there isn’t a moment when the drink-fuelled tension drops or focus of the ensemble lapses.

Pasty Ferran as Blanche

The Almeida’s A Streetcar Named Desire – the play’s fifth major UK revival in the last 20 years – is everything you want theatre to be: vital, challenging, intellectually alive, visually stunning, emotionally affecting.

Yet my memories of this spiky production will be of lean, sexy and pitch perfect Mescal who roars like a goaded boar – “I’m king around here.” He mimicks a tiger, in the infamous show-down scene

It’s a savage tour de force not only from Mescal and Ferran but everyone involved, and awards will follow: a west end transfer has been announced

So if you haven’t got a ticket, try relying on the kindness of strangers.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs at the Almeida, London, until 4 February.

West End performers & stage management demand 17% pay rise

Stand Up for 17%
  • Equity’s Stand Up For 17% campaign launches tomorrow, focusing on West End performers and stage management’s demand for a 17% pay rise.
  • Working in the West End is meant to represent the pinnacle of a live performance career in the UK, yet inadequate pay and difficult working hours mean many are struggling with both their finances and their work-life balance.
  • Two thirds of West End members have considered leaving the industry.
  • 45% of West End members have a second job, with almost half who say they do reporting that this is because their West End pay doesn’t cover their living expenses.

Tomorrow (Friday 20 January), Equity – the performing arts and entertainment trade union – launch their ‘Stand Up For 17%’ campaign.

The campaign focuses on Equity members’ demand that West End theatre bosses raise the minimum weekly pay for performers and stage management by 17% – with social media activity (#StandUpFor17) going live in the morning, followed by members putting up campaign posters in their greenrooms across central London in the afternoon.

Equity can reveal that two thirds (61%) of West End members have considered leaving the industry due to terms, conditions and/or pay in the last three years (surveys detailed below*) – running the serious risk of a talent drain to the UK’s renowned live entertainment sector, especially when more money can be earnt in TV and film.

Meanwhile 45% of West End members have a second job, with almost half who say they do (48%) reporting that this is because their West End pay doesn’t cover their living expenses**.

Anthony, a performer in aWest End musical, says: “I’ve been performing in the West End for just over six years now, but when Covid hit I couldn’t work and fell into debt. I took on two part-time sales jobs which I still have to do today alongside my West End work, as the one performing job alone just doesn’t pay enough to cover the cost of living in London and my outgoings. At the moment I work seven days a week non-stop and struggle to find a work-life balance, so am now at a crossroads where I’m thinking if I left the show – gave up on my dream job – and upped my hours on the other jobs that aren’t really my passion, I could earn more money and live more comfortably.”

The minimums are not enough

Working in a West End play or musical is meant to represent the pinnacle of a live performance career in the UK, with years of training needed to gain the required skills – not to mention talent and, in the case of performers, a daily dedication to maintaining performance abilities and physical fitness. Yet inadequate pay and difficult working hours mean many are struggling with their finances and work-life balance.

Ella, stage management in a West End theatre, says: “Because the property I live in with my partner has mould, we’ve both been sick and need to move out. But as we’re both self-employed and work in the performing arts, our combined salary doesn’t pass the affordability check threshold and we’ve not found a landlord that will have us. We also struggle to keep our electricity meter topped up during the winter not only because energy bills have gone up, but also because we both work unsociable hours and sometimes don’t have a chance to get to the shop.”  

What’s more, an Equity survey has shown that rather than the union minimum wages being the lowest threshold for pay, more than half of West End performers and stage management are being paid at these minimums (more details below***). The union’s research shows that the public perception of the West End as a glamourous place where high pay is the norm just isn’t true, with existing pay and conditions presenting huge challenges to talent retention and diversity in the industry.

For example, the minimum for a performer working in a Category C theatre (up to 799 seats, the smallest tier of West End theatres) is currently £629.41 a week (full minimum rates listed below). While that adds up to £2,517.64 a month, once tax (roughly 20%), agent fees (12%) and pension payments (3%) are applied, that leaves these performers with roughly £1,636.46 a month to spend on renting in London, bills, commuting, food, dependents and other living costs.

Crucially, West End show contracts are not permanent, usually lasting between a few months to a year. Yet when performers and stage management can barely cover their day-to-day expenses, they are unable to save to cover the out-of-work periods that are inevitable in a gig-economy industry – let alone save for a family, a house or their retirement.

With the average rent of a room in the capital reported to be £935 per month alongside the rising cost of living and energy bills, this puts many in the West End in a precarious position and forced to live in house shares even as they get older.

Fodhla, stage management in a West End theatre: “I’m currently planning how to leave stage management, the job I love and have done for a decade, because I want to have kids in a year or two and don’t see it being possible if I’m working in live theatre. The hours are relentless and you don’t earn enough money to be able to afford childcare, let alone shoes and books. I’ve worked so hard – I’m really proud of myself and my skills I’ve built up. But if this is the height of my career already, then that’s not sustainable.”

#StandUpFor17

The Stand Up For 17% campaign coincides with the submission of Equity’s West End claim to the Society of London Theatre (SOLT, representing producers and engagers in the West End). Equity and SOLT will negotiate the terms of the collective West End Agreement that sets out the minimum pay, terms and conditions for all performers and stage management working in West End theatres.

The claim asks for a new agreement that will run for two years from April 2023 until April 2025. The changes Equity are seeking to the West End Agreement include the below, and more (get in touch if you would like to view the full claim):

  • A real terms pay increase in minimum rates of pay for Year 1 (April 2023-24) of 17%, and Year 2 (April 2024-25) of a further 10% or RPI if higher.
  • A five-day rehearsal week from Monday to Friday (apart from tech week). Currently, 6-day rehearsal and performance weeks are the norm.
  • An increase to holiday entitlement on the basis that Equity members work a 6-day week for the performance period and the current entitlement is calculated assuming a 5-day work week. This would see a rise from 28 days of holiday pay per year to 34.
  • Increases to fees to remunerate covers (understudies, swings and stage management who step into roles due to absences) for their important work. As highlighted since the Covid-19 pandemic, they have meant the difference between a show going on and producers losing thousands of pounds. Currently, an understudy who must learn their own role as well as that of a lead, only receives £35 a week on top of the normal performance fee. A swing, who must learn multiple ensemble roles – sometimes numbering more than 10 – receives £90 more a week. Equity is seeking significant increases to cover fees in recognition of the extra workload required.

Amy, a swing performer in a West End musical: “I don’t feel like swings get paid enough for the extra work we do – it’s hard to find people who are able to cope with high amounts of stress and perform well, or be able to adapt really quickly on stage. And it’s so much extra revision – I’ve mapped the entire show so I know where everything is at every given moment, and when I’m at home I’m constantly listening to different tracks as well to learn harmonies. I’ve also performed abroad and working in the West End is the worst paid in comparison because the cost of living is so high.”

Paul W Fleming, Equity General Secretary, says: “Coming out of COVID, our industry was determined to ‘build back better’, and Equity’s West End campaign on work, rest and pay is the start of making that aspiration a reality. At a time of high inflation, our members have decided to Stand Up For 17% – a sensible rise in the minimum when rents, energy, and other costs have continued to rocket for over a year. We’re looking forward to sitting down with the producers in the coming months to find a roadmap to implement our reasonable aspirations. Theatre is about people, particularly its talented and skilled workforce – and we need real focus on ensuring performers and stage management are fairly paid, and achieve a proper work-life balance.”

Hannah Plant, Equity West End Official, says: “As Equity’s West End Official I meet working members every week on big shows whose experiences of struggle and hardship don’t tally with rising ticket prices. We need greater financial transparency from producers to ensure that profits aren’t being funnelled off to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of our members. It’s high time West End workers are paid what they deserve given their hard work, expertise and the revenue they generate.”

, ,

Top 5 Shows of 2022 (according to me)

Well, 2022 – don’t start. 

This time last year, I somewhat naively said that the industry was emerging from its pandemic trials. The UK is the only G7 country not to have regained the ground lost during the lockdown.

Crucially, though, Regional Theatres produced excellent, thoughtful and daring work during the most difficult and excruciating period in British Theatre history. Some institutions and freelancers may not make it to the end of 2023.

Royal Exchange delivered the quirky Betty! A Sort of Musical. Opera North remounted the exquisite A Little Night Music. The Covid delayed and ‘controversial’ Into The Woods landed at Theatre Royal Bath, and Nottingham Playhouse took on the Parent Trap with musical Identical

Let’s face it, 2022 was a year that delivered exactly what none of us wanted it to. 

Including but not limited to:

To quote writer Sean O’Casey: ‘The whole worl’s in a state o’ chassis.’

At least the 2021 London Cabaret Cast Recording is on its way. In the meantime, though, here are my top 5 shows of the year. 

  1. Age is a Feeling 
Age is a Feeling

I loved everything about this. Haley McGee performed an interactive and somber solo show – first at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and then two sold out runs at Soho Theatre, where I saw it. 

Essentially, perched atop a ladder – like a lifeguard – McGee explored getting older. 

Age is a Feeling chronicled turning 25 — when, we are told, the brain becomes fully formed — and explores the fate that lies ahead. McGee‘s wicked meditation on mortality is part autobiographical theatre and part TED Talk.

The 12 intersected tales from the same life, with six performed at each show. Pure beautiful, wry storytelling. 

Age is a feeling, you’ll feel it.

2. My Neighbour Totoro 

My Neighbour Totoro

The Royal Shakespeare Company stage version of the globally adored Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro didn’t disappoint.

Phelim McDermott’s production combined sensitive performances and exquisite design, with Basil Twist’s enchanting puppet direction bringing us a mountainous, shaggy Totoro and a mad inflatable ginger Cat-Bus, not to mention butterflies, fluffy chickens and darting soot sprites.

My Neighbour Totoro was brilliant, bold, and bonkers. An unforgettable hit.

3. Crazy For You 

Crazy For You
Crazy For You

CHARMING. That’s what this show was. Very charming indeed.

Charlie Stemp delivered a thundering performance for the ages. Musical theatre doesn’t get any better than Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Crazy For You.

This classy, sophisticated show is transferring to the West End next Summer – with 20 minutes sliced off it. 

As for Stemp, he displayed the physical comedy of Norman Wisdom and the dancefloor artistry of Fred Astaire, confirming his place as a true superstar. 

4. Prima Facie 

Prima Facie

Suzie Miller’s smart play about sexual assault and the legal system, provided an electrifying performance from Jodie Comer that never let up for a moment. 

The NT live broke all box office records as the highest-grossing event cinema release since cinemas closed at the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020. 

Comer gave an acting masterclass in this 100-minute solo show, playing a barrister who defends men accused of sexual assault – until she is date-raped by a colleague herself. 

Prima Facie transfers to Broadway in 2023.

5. The Collaboration  

“It’s not what you are that counts,” Andy Warhol, eternal fan of misdirection, once said. “It’s what they think you are.”

The Collaboration

Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope played Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat brilliantly. 

Anthony McCarten’s lively Young Vic bio-drama told the early-80s New York story of Warhol and Basquiat’s work on those 16 canvases, and the friendship that took root between them.

Listen, The Collaboration was a hoot. And Kwame Kwei-Armah’s vibrant production is now on Broadway

FAREWELL.

Carl x 

N.B. I think I should have included Oklahoma! Oh well. 

, ,

Is It Time To Bin The Embargo?

The embargo. 

It was invented a century ago, primarily for practical reasons. Embargoes provide journalists with news that should not be published until a certain date and time. Standard.

But if someone gets something exclusively without having the embargoed release and by doing some journalism instead they’re within their right to put the story out – see: political & news journalism.

So where did it all go wrong? More often than not these days, in the arts especially, the only reason for the ‘embargo’ is to protect whoever is given the “exclusive”.

As a consequence, a select group of information providers (Baz Bamigboye for Deadline or WhatsOnStage) become the only means through which the theatre loving public receive information, and are thereby situated at the centre of things. It is by design. There are no such things as coincidences.

Similar publications and online personalities yearn for privileged access. And they are often prepared to pay a price to get it. Usually their dignity.

the cast of Tammy Faye at Almeida Theatre, London

Naturally, currency and status involves becoming a subsidiary part of the machine. It often means turning their readers and viewers into dupes.

In other words, embargoes are more or less predicated on lack of access. How do publications make the most of the scraps they are fed? 

Such questions sit heavily on the shoulders of those who work in and around theatreland. “Oh God,” is the initial response from one London arts marketing agency managing director, who wisely asks not to be identified. “We’ve been burned in the past by miscommunication and we’re really aware how much chaos someone potentially breaking news has become. I think embargoes’ days are numbered. There have been several occasions where we’re like: This makes all of us look bad.”

Ironically, the decline of print journalism has brought with it an array of diverse coverage and reviews such as podcasts, YouTubers and bloggers. The possibility to put out news right away via Twitter, the urge to comment online can be difficult to bear, and the speeded up news cycle has put pressure on the relevance of embargoes. News is news.

Previously, I’ve experienced derision when I have broken so-called embargoes but all that information was, in any case, completely available for anyone to find, if they knew where to look. And therein lies the illogicality of the position. Since I am not *always* issued said news items with embargoes, how can I have been guilty of breaking an embargo? Would you apologise for breaking a promise you never agreed to keep?

In the case of Bonnie & Clyde, I received a general ‘On Sale Tomorrow’ email earlier in the day containing generic marketing copy; there was no embargo information on it; It had gone to 1,000 other people.

The agency has since conceded that the information was available due to a “technical error”. Alas, I’m not apologising for not abiding by an embargo that a ‘technical error’ rendered irrelevant. 

You can’t arrest a man for receiving mail. Hand on heart, if i receive a release with an embargo, i honour it. In fact, I was sent 3 this week.

And so, after Tweeting myself, a bunch of people I’d never met told me how dreadful I was. Twitter is not a kind place, even if it is full of pointless people who think they are.

As usual, the complainers have entirely missed the point

Among the nasty commentary: “Di*khead” “Scum bag” “As*hole”, “Trash” and more rage. Yes, I received a death threat. Bizarrely, meanwhile, the composer broke the embargo, too, publishing the news himself on Instagram. I’m serious. 

Credit where it is due, the PR telephoned me to discuss and I suppose you could say took a duty of care to see if I was OK. Which was nice.

Either way, we seem to be still no closer to working out a civil way to disagree about musicals on the internet. (Online forum theatreboard.com contains some of the worst anonymous trolls: avoid).

Thankfully, joining digital pile-ons, sending threatening emails are among the new criminal offences that could result in jail sentences. So, good luck out there.

As tech visionary Jaron Lanier excellently points out, “people get so caught up in just relationships with others that they lose track of reality, and so they do tend to spin out of control.”

But jeez, the sheer numbers of successful, creative and interesting theatre people who AREN’T on Twitter tell a much more powerful story. 

Anyway, Elon Musk has now closed his $44bn deal to take Twitter private. “[T]he bird is freed,” Musk tweeted. So, is it time to bin the embargo? For creative teams and PRs, that’s the million dollar question.

To quote Stephen Sondheim: ’There are rights and wrongs, and in betweens.’

I have no dramatic conclusion. Just a small suggestion. 

Raise a little hell.

Stay strong, readers. 

, , ,

God Bless Tammy Faye!

If you need a hit show, you get Rupert Goold on the phone.

Tammy Faye Bakker gets the 325-seat Almeida treatment in a new musical penned by Elton John, James Graham and Jake Shears.

Katie Brayben in Tammy Faye, at the Almeida credit: Marc Brenner

And now, at last, directed by Goold, Tammy Faye – A New Musical starring Katie Brayben and Andrew Rannells, officially opens. He and choreographer Lynn Page deliver the glitterball goods.

Quick recap: Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker helped expand Christian broadcasting from a niche into an insane empire via their Praise The Lord (PTL) satellite network. A Christian couple who spectacularly fell from grace.

I went to the very first preview (two have been cancelled due to cast injury and technical delay) and thought it was a tart, wry and quirky show with legs.

First, let’s unpack what this new (largely) British musical gets right. It understands Faye as a gay icon, earning both sympathy and ridicule, and our heroine emerges with a measure of dignity intact. 

Olivier winner Katie Brayben (Beautiful) stars as Tammy Faye with Tony nominee Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon)

Granted, in the cold light of 2022, it’s easy to argue that the sold out run was simply the latest power move from a theatre whose ascent to theatre dominance has been signposted by a succession of smart marketing, big names and artistic brilliance.

Similarly, it would be easy to blame one’s emotional response on the ongoing disintegration of civilisation.

Religion, politics, sex and money are all equal and the story of the rise is much more substantial than that of the fall. 

That said, Tammy Faye gives you everything you could possibly want, and maybe it’s a victim of its own gargantuan accomplishment at times. (Each cast member has roughly 10 looks, with Tammy Faye’s character coming in at around a dozen — there are 15 poppy-slash-rock-slash-honky songs.)

Tammy Faye curtain call

Still, once you add Elton John‘s songs into the mix — and Tammy (Brayben) sings in most of them — there’s no time for coherence, let alone subtlety. (There is a song called ’He’s Inside Me’)

Yet most effectively, concluding Act One gospel ballad ‘Empty Hands’ things click. There are several poignant vignettes, that strike a chord with anyone who’s come face to face with the fact that an idol – whether it’s a televangelist, or even a lover – is a human being.

Rannells is entertaining and effective as closeted husband Jim.

Bunny Christie’s snazzy Celebrity Square-style designs, a reliable star of any show, do everything they can to convey the kooky world of the right wing televangelist.

Elsewhere in the musical, the ensemble are working overtime to keep things interesting. There is a lot of breaking of the fourth wall. A lot.

Furthermore, it’s a funny, smart script, loaded with jokes. Graham’s book puts the ‘fun in Christian fundamentalism’.

Andrew Rannells and Katie Brayben star as Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner in “Tammy Faye.”

Things pick up in Act Two. Here Faye is seen as a woman who made a career of living her best life. Slick 11’ O Clock number ‘Prime Time’ is exhilarating, I think.

A dazzling and award-worthy performance from Brayben playing a central character full of tensions and contradictions, is reason enough to see this show. Her performance transcends the show.

Musicals are difficult and expensive. I won’t reveal too much more, except to say that the finale (when it arrives) is euphoric, poetic, and moving. 

In the Bible love is mentioned 489 times, hate 89 times.

“Love more than hate,” Tammy Faye cautions.

Amen.


Tammy Faye is at the Almeida theatre, London, to 3 December.

, , , , ,

Here’s Your Definitive Guide to Edinburgh Fringe 2022 (you’re welcome)

It’s nearly that time again: Edinburgh is set to host more than 3,000 shows when it starts next week.

The Fringe was cancelled completely in 2020 because of the pandemic but made a limited return last year with about 600 shows. But, top venues have warned that ticket sales are down by about a third relative to pre-pandemic levels, with the cost of living crisis, summer’s travel disruption and Covid cited as reasons.

I have no idea why the bone brained bosses made the horrendous decision not to have an app for this year’s event. And don’t get me started on the scandalous accommodation costs. Not a great look. Removing barriers to attending the Fringe for artists and audiences is a key priority for the Fringe Society.

(There’s always the Free Fringe, though, if you are feeling the pinch.)

Gulp.

First up: Lauryn Redding’s terrific Bloody Elle. First seen at The Royal Exchange, this gig musical is full of quirky original music performed live on stage. At Traverse, obvs.

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

Next, I’m curious to see Uma Nada-Rajah’s new dark comedy Exodus, at Traverse, too. It’s about politicians and posturing, and exposes systematic deception and indifference to human suffering.     

I am looking forward to seeing Afghanistan is Not Funny by Fringe veteran Henry Naylor at Gilded Balloon, Teviot. 

Elsewhere, Silent Faces ask why half the world’s population is excluded in a funny, pop-culture piece Godot is a Woman, at Pleasance Dome. If you need to laugh (don’t we all) don’t miss fleet-footed Nina Conti’s hilarious The Dating Show at Pleasance Courtyard

Horizon – Performance Created in England is back with its second showcase, this year focussing on tour-ready performancesa curated programme of ten artists making vital, genre challenging work. Check it out.

Feminist and female-led Rash Dash are always up to something daring. This year, they present Look At Me Don’t Look At Me – a two-hander featuring a piano, a synth, two microphones, a shaky egg and 14 original songs. 

Over at Assembly Checkpoint is Americana – A Murder Ballad – an intriguing premiere by leading Scottish playwright Morna Young. 

At Gilded Balloon Justin Huertas’s wildly original musical Lizard Boy unpacks self-love and acceptance, and particularly finding love today as a gay person of colour.

Lizard Boy

Indeed, Summerhall is essential for any Fringe visit. While you’re there go and see Invisible Mending; a show about love, grief, and knitting. Also: grab a ticket for Maimuna Memon’s Manic Street CreatureBill Buckhurst (Sister Act) directsCarly Wijs (Us/Them) returns to Summerhall with Boy. Don’t miss it. While you are there, have a G&T and head over to Luke Hereford’s fun autobiographical queer cabaret, Grandmother’s Closet.

Among other highlights, Caligari at Underbelly Cowgate, I’m sure, will be a riot: Five actor-musicians reimagine the seminal silent film, with the doctor’s victims taking centre stage. While you are there, go and see Max Fosh’s bonkers but brilliant drama-comedy Zocial Butterfly. I really want to catch Cassie and the Lights; a spellbinding play with music about children and the care system, too.

Paines Plough’s Roundabout is usually good value for money. Get along to world premieres Sami Ibrahim’s A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain – a poetic fable of an immigration system that mirrors our own. In Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s play Half Empty Glasses, a young Black student who auditions for a prestigious music school, but becomes disenchanted by the lack of Black names on the curriculum.

Half Empty Glasses – photo by Paines Plough

Over at Greenside, storyteller Kim Kalish’s The Funny Thing About Death looks like a tonic. Brain and Hemingway  piece about a songwriter with severe writer’s block – also looks fun.

If you missed the laddish Olivier Award nominated Choir of Man originally here in 2017, or last year in London, you can catch it once more.

Succession fans will want to take a walk over to Assembly George Square to catch a glimpse of legend Brian Cox. The actor and his wife have teamed up to produce new play She/Her. A hot ticket. 

So, there you have it, that’s the end of my Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022 guide.

It’s good to be back, isn’t it?

Choir of Man

Anyway, I hope you have found some use in this guide to what the Fringe world has on offer. 

If you have show tips, tweet me: @mrcarl_woodward – I’ll be updating this blog weekly. 

, , , , ,

£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

, , ,

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

, ,

National Youth Theatre and Contact, Manchester: Putting young people centre stage

With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby
With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby

In this age of extremes, I often find myself at the sharp end of funding squeezes, local authority cuts, and am continually alarmed by the devastating demise of arts in our state schools.

As you can imagine, it truly depresses me. 

So, I was delighted to be invited to a soft-launch of the National Youth Theatre’s award-worthy £4m refurbished premises on Holloway Road.

The National Youth Theatre’s HQ, Holloway Road, London

The organisation nurtured Daniel Craig, Helen Mirren, Zawe Ashton and many more of our theatre legends.

Speaking at the supporters event, dynamic NYT CEO and Artistic Director Paul Roseby said: “Cuts to the arts in our state schools have led to a significant pressure on organisations like ours that work with young people to bridge the gap. What’s going on across these revitalised spaces here are all about giving young people the chance to start again. Failure is what we are about, and we embrace that as much as success.”

He continued: “If you are a youth organisation you have to stick your neck out; it’s now more important than ever before.” 

Certainly, school reforms have caused pupils to move away from arts subjects such as dance, music and art, and towards more traditional academic subjects such as geography and English. What’s more, recent analysis of government data shows that the number of GCSE music and drama students has fallen by a fifth over the last decade.

Outside the M25, Manchester’s Contact Theatre on Oxford Road, closed in 2017 but has also just reopened following a £6m ‘youth led’ revamp. 

First established as a theatre in 1972, in 1999 Contact reinvented itself as a multi-disciplinary creative space specialising in producing work with, and providing opportunities for, young people aged 13 to 30. 

Contact Young Company, Everything All of the Time

What’s so brilliant about Contact is under Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Matt Fenton, this significant refurbishment was led by a dedicated team of young people at Contact – who had their say on everything from light fittings to consultations with the architects.  

Speaking at the Press Night of Contact Young Company’s excellent show Everything All of the Time, Fenton said: “Young people should have access to free, high-quality and world-class creative resources to express themselves, to find their politics, find themselves and to then go out into the world and do amazing things. Contact has always done that, but this building now allows us to do that at such a higher level.” 

The iconic Contact, Oxford Road in Manchester

There has been a radical growth in the knowledge economy and creative industries over the past decade. It goes without saying that an education that includes creative subjects facilitates critical thinking and increases emotional resilience.

Quite simply, it is a proven fact how small investments return massively more than was spent and the cultural impact it has on our children is huge. What might a viable, authentic, enduring kind of ‘levelling up’ look like?

Nobody I speak to understands what it means – despite the government’s levelling-up fund of £4.8bn, and places now bidding for help with “town and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural heritage assets”. 

Anyway, according to a recent report UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre cultural organisations across the UK save the NHS £102 million a year thanks to the physical and mental health benefits to attendees.

Remarkably, the report found that the NHS saves a yearly total of £11.91 for every person partaking in such an activity, from a reduction in GP visits and use of psychotherapy services.

But as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the National Youth Theatre and Contact investing in these spaces for the next generation of dramatic talent offers us all hope. I left both occasions feeling a sense of optimism that I had not felt for some years.

There is an overwhelming sense, too, that we are at a turning point and that the arts can and must play a leading role in developing talent, protecting communities, as well as in fighting cuts in higher education and cultural education in schools.

It demonstrates, quite pertinently, that in order avoid widening inequality of access to the arts, that theatres across the country must enact their civic duty – not only to plug the gaps, but to truly level up every part of the UK.