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My, My, Mamma Mia! ABBA rule London: The Musical, The Party & Voyage

“Without a song or a dance, what are we?” The answer to this profound rhetorical question is, of course, nothing. 

I used to be a theatre snob.

So convinced that jukebox musicals had little to no redeeming qualities. It wasn’t that I had anything particularly against shows like Jersey Boys or Tina. It’s just that I’ve always felt that ‘proper musicals’ were a… higher art form. I have certainly mellowed, and perhaps my critical faculties have withered. 

At the risk of making my life sound more camp than it really is, last week I went to 3 ABBA related occasions in London: Mamma Mia!, Mamma Mia! – The Party and Voyage.

Mamma Mia was a song that became a musical, and then huge two films. And then an immersive dining show, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t seen it in London or on tour, DVD, or indeed, Amazon Prime.

ABBA can do no wrong. 

ABBA

Before we go on, whatever people think about the band’s music, their global popularity is undeniable. If proof was needed, ABBA Gold was the UK’s 20th best-selling album in the first six months of 2021 and recently became the first LP to spend 1,000 weeks in the UK top 100 album chart.

In Mamma Mia! we have a bulletproof feel-good jukebox musical that will run and run.

Recently, Judy Craymer’s hit musical celebrated its 23rd anniversary – it’s now the West End’s sixth longest-running show – and has been seen by a staggering 10 million people. There is currently a popular UK tour on the road, too. Really, really fun. 

The London production is still breathtakingly simple – while Anthony Van Laast’s choreography builds and builds to impressive ensemble numbers. The icing on the cake here, though, is Mazz Murray. She is pitch perfect as mum Donna and leads the company of Phylida Lloyd’s production that is packed with talent and dynamism. 

Mamma Mia – photo credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

And what’s not to love about a show about an independent hotelier in the Greek islands, preparing for her daughter’s wedding with the help of two old friends.

It is the high spirits, the genuinely touching depth of emotion. The get-up-and-dance curtain call provides some of the happiest minutes you will experience in a London theatre, the extraordinary power of musical theatre to make everything seem well in the world, no matter what’s happening. 

On the Greenwich Peninsula, a slick ABBA infused gourmet occasion. Created by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeushere, here adapted by Sandi Toksvig – Mamma Mia – The Party! is set in a joyously contrived Niko’s Tavern on the island of Skopelos. Essentially, this immersive dining experience takes place around our tables while we enjoy Greek grub while 35 inimitable ABBA songs play out. 

Mamma Mia! – The Party

With 4 courses of fresh, vibrant flavours at every turn, carnivores will be happy: for a main course, a chunk of confit lamb shoulder and slow cooked beef, potatoes and courgettes have been roasted and partnered with peperonata and garlic.

I opt for the vegetarian menu; roasted cauliflower with a lemon-herb dressing and stuffed tomato with lentil ragout. I end up drinking the aromatic jus. And on it goes. Dessert is a delicious lemon sponge cake with citrus yoghurt and confit. Tea and coffee follow.

Vegetarian cuisine – Mamma Mia – The Party

Oh, and the ticket prices. £115 to £220 depending on how close to the action you are; drinks are extra. The evening ends with an ABBA disco– this continues until 11.30pm. It is a slick operation and no mean feat delivering 500 covers. The talented waiters make the night fully fabulous. Not bad value, overall.

Sited close to Pudding Mill Lane DLR station, I had something approaching an out of body experience at new virtual concert Voyage. The pop titans themselves– Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Björn Ulvaeus – have returned as de-aged digital pop spectrums.

The flat pack steel and timber venue is a 3,000 capacity (1,650 seats, standing 1,350) spaceshiplike venue and Voyage has the potential to extend until April 2026, when the permission for the Arena expires, with the land being designated for housing. 500 moving lights, 291 speakers and “largest kinetic system in the world”. Make of that what you will. 

Abba Voyage Arena – Stufish Entertainment Architects

The Swedish band, now in their 70s, have collaborated with George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic special effects, over five weeks by performing in motion capture suits, with 160 cameras scanning their bodies and facial expressions.

Furthermore, the Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer Wayne McGregor helped them extend movements into younger bodies. One billion computing hours collectively logged from 1,000 special effects pioneers across four different studios and this is the extraordinary result. I was captivated.

What’s more, if light is intrinsic to Voyage’s triumph, then so is shadow. Our world is darker – but that won’t stop ABBA pushing the boundaries; this is a breakthrough, landmark entertainment and a masterclass in showmanship and restraint, too. 

‘jaw-dropping’ Voyage

One reason the evening was so enjoyable is that it is deliriously theatrical; “To be or not to be — that is no longer the question,” virtual band member Andersson declares in a pre-recorded solo address, the stunning effects blurring boundaries between the digital and the “real world”. 

Another is the euphoric setlist that carries us through 95 minutes of glittering pop heaven. 20 classic songs of pathos and romantic despair perfectly balanced with new material from 2021’s surprisingly good studio album of the same title. (ABBA have recorded more songs, to warrant repeat visits.)

In fact, the effortless hits that they created are prodigious. Voyage’s setlist includes not only “Fernando”, “SOS” (ultimate banger) and “Chiquitita” (sung against a dramatic lunar eclipse) but also a scorching “Summer Night City”. One song is performed brilliantly by the glassy eyed avatars in sassy rhinestone-emblazoned pink velour jumpsuits. 

At one point during “Dancing Queen” I stood up and swore. Not just ABBA’s most perfect song, but arguably pop music itself. Crucially, the 10-piece real life band of musicians are energetic, fleshing out the crowd-pleasing retro vocals amid the kaleidoscopic ripples of light and futuristic video screens. 

Still, there’s a couple of moments in this virtual comeback that sum up the spirit of the show. Anni-Frid pays tribute to her grandmother, Agnetha thanks fans for the decades of support and Benny tells us that we are the fifth member of ABBA. This beautiful, melancholic, bitter-sweet retrospective gets quite emotional by the time the night concludes with epic ballad “The Winner Takes It All”. 

ABBA Voyage (Photo by Johan Persson)

Ultimately, Voyage feels like the most meaningful and ingenious cultural moment I’ve experienced in 10 years of loitering around cultural events. I loved it to bits. 

Having listened to around 80 ABBA songs live over 48 hours, my love for them is solidified forever more.

See, I do have a heart.

Mamma Mia! booking until 5 March 2023 

Mamma Mia! – The Party is booking until 26 February 2023 

Abba Voyage is booking until May 2023

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Review: Oklahoma! — beguiling, brave & occasionally contentious

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical is no cinch to sell to a modern audience. So fair play to Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s stirring Tony-winning production for shooting for something new.

Oklahoma! Photo credit: Marc Brenner

It does so by bringing bring to the stage a most wonderful selection of songs; it does so in a stark and dynamic version and an ending that needed special negotiations with the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate. 

This is a modern, edgy and disquieting take that injects adventure and sexuality into a classic musical, making it fresh-minted.

Yet, in some ways, not everything works. Some artistic choices are obtrusive and clunky. No overture?

Still, the result is a beguiling, brave and occasionally contentious 3 hours of flying corn, racial tension and lust. Lots of lust. 

Using Daniel Kluger’s plucky arrangements, the nimble 7-piece band keep things ticking over. There’s stunning dance and startling close-up video projection work.

Oklahoma! photo: Marc Brenner

Then there is the design, or rather the anti-design, by Laura Jellinek and Grace Laubacher. They set everything in a sort of sun-soaked village hall with trestle tables and the audience traverse on two sides. There is light – a lot of light. And then sudden darkness. 

For her part, lead cow girl Anoushka Lucas is a star. Her Laurey, stunning to watch is torn between guitar wielding Curly (Arthur Darvill) and shy Jud (Patrick Vaill). 

While containing the giggling frisky Ado Annie (Marisha Wallace), the “girl who cain’t say no”, tears the roof off the Young Vic with her number. 

The Oklahoma! company

Having said all that, this revisionist production is a mixed blessing, but it is a masterful reinvention that should win new fans. The American Dream wins, but at what price?

The Young Vic continues to be an essential theatrical destination.

At the Young Vic, London, until 25 June

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella: Not So Happy Ever After

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cinderella will close next month less than a year after its West End premiere.

Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre

And so to how the day unfolded. The Stage ran a Sunday ‘Exclusive’ – on a Bank Holiday weekend – that the doomed musical was closing in June, as the creative team prepare to launch the musical on Broadway, where it will supposedly preview from February 2023. 
To recap, the current cast were told at 5.45pm — a statement was released at 6.30pm on Sunday.

LW Management wrote to the cast and crew

Dear Cinderella Family,

It is with regret that we’re writing to let you know that the Really Useful Group’s production of Cinderella will perform its final show at the Gillian Lynne theatre on Sunday June 12th…. Thank you for your immeasurable contribution to the show. We should all be very proud of Cinderella and all that we have achieved together, and we look forward to our paths crossing again before too long.

Having made his peace with losing out on Employer of the Year 2022, Lloyd Webber said: “I am incredibly proud of Cinderella. Not only did it get some of the best reviews of my career, but we led the charge to reopen the West End, ensuring that theatre and live entertainment remained relevant and in the news.”

He added: “mounting a new show in the midst of Covid has been an unbelievable challenge”.  

I can tell you that a mere four months ago, I attempted to discuss the beleaguered Cinderella with Lloyd Webber at the Palladium and he literally ran off down a corridor.

Anyway, In a 164-minute video on Instagram, actress Summer Strallen (who was due to join the cast as the Queen in July) discussed the situation in detail, saying that, while her agent received an email, she “basically got fired by social media, which is just not OK”.

Needless to say, we’ve been here before with School of Rock closing and a broken-hearted cast finding out on Twitter. The way present and future creative teams, crew and casual front of house staff continue to be discarded is completely unacceptable. 

The cast and crew of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (Andrew Lloyd Webber/PA)

Lloyd Webber is believed to have been making escalating losses, LW Theatres suffered pre-tax losses of £28.1 million in the 12 months to June 2021, with box office revenues down 97% on the same period the year before. 

Furthermore, company’s annual accounts show the company’s staffing reduction as a result of the pandemic, with LW Theatres employing a monthly average of 418 people in the year ending June 2020 and 217 in 2021, a reduction of almost half. If Cinderella, backed with Lloyd Webber’s millions, can fail, so can many others.

A spokesperson for the Really Useful Group said on Monday: “Everyone involved in Cinderella was contacted by call, email or in person (some through agents) before the news went live in the evening. Every effort was made to ensure people were notified before it went live, while trying to manage how quickly it would move on social media once people were informed.”

Which seems a little on the nose, even by the debased standards of the age. Like they weren’t in control of the timing of this announcement? Despicable.

The cast and crew of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (Andrew Lloyd Webber/PA)

In the meantime, what we really need now is systemic change so this can never happen again. In theatre, few creative freelancers and performers speak out for fear of losing work or being labelled ‘difficult to work with’. Change is overdue and every employer has the legal duty to ensure that their staff are treated with dignity. Until then there can be no happy ever after – for anyone. 

I admired Lloyd Webber for keeping theatre in the news during the darkest moments of the Covid lockdowns; The 74-year-old even said that he was prepared to be arrested if authorities tried to intervene in his reopening plans.

He also volunteered to personally take part in an early Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine trial.

About 60 people attended an EQUITY protest against the handling of Cinderella closure

In the end, though, bungling the closure of Cinderella after a global pandemic is the ultimate measure of failure from Lord Lloyd Webber. 

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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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Look Ahead: Theatre Streaming in March

At last! A roadmap – the prime minister has announced a timeline for when theatres and other live events venues may be able to reopen.

All being well, indoor and outdoor theatres will be allowed to reopen with social distancing from May 17.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

Anyway, here are some of the best shows streaming online now or later in March.

Whatever you decide to stream this month – please check out Richard Blackwood in Soho Theatre’s breathless reimagining of the tragic final hours of Christopher Alder’s life: Typical is a terrific and powerful monologue that deserves another life when All This is over.

Richard Blackwood in Typical

Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s Olivier Award winning Emilia will be streaming for all of March on a pay what you decide basis (from £1.00). A blazing take on Emilia Bassano, a 17th century poet who struggled to get her voice heard in a patriarchal world. Now you know.

Kiln Theatre is streaming a reading of new play Girl on the Altar by Marina Carr, streams for free on 5 March.

A new folk musical, by Robin Simões da Silva and Annabel Mutale Reed, Brother will be streamed live from Southwark Playhouse – the show follows a young transgender man finding his way in the world. Streaming live 5-6 March.

Recorded at the London Palladium and hosted by Sheridan Smith, Musicals: The Greatest Show featuredMichael Ball, Nicole Scherzinger and more belting West End classics with a couple of songs from recent British hits Six and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Not awful and still available on BBC iPlayer. 

Musicals: The Greatest Show – Layton Williams

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester’s latest digital offering is a multiple-choice cabaret featuring 14 musical performers. Conceived by Ryan Carter, The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is a clever concept; there are a possible 150 combinations in which to see a five-song concert. Available until 7 March.

The Old Vic has revealed two commissioned monologues created to mark International Women’s Day on March 8: Putting A Face On by Kiri Pritchard-McLean and Regina Taylor’s Aisha (the black album). Available on YouTube for free. 

Adam Kashmiry plays himself in excellent play Adam, the story of a transgender man who sought asylum in Scotland. Now, the BBC has teamed up with National Theatre Scotland for a specially crafted recording as part of the BBC Arts Lights Up for New Culture in Quarantine season. Following its BBC Four premiere, Adam will be available on BBC iPlayer.

The Whip, Juliet Gilkes’s resonant play about 19th-century slavery-abolition legislation, has had a new audio recording commissioned by the RSC. On YouTube until 16 March.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett and director by Tamara Harvey is a starry digital adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic with Gray depicted as an “influencer”. Streams 16-31 March.

Last year’s virtual celebration of the work of Stephen Sondheim, Take Me To the World is still available on YouTube – why not watch it again on Steve’s birthday, Tuesday  22  March. I’ll drink to that!

By the way, the original 1980 Broadway production of the Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin –  directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse  –is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

If you have a show streaming during the month of March or suggestions for my blog get in touch – this will be updated weekly. Cheers! E: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

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Curve’s victory in Seyi Omooba court case is a victory for theatre

OUR economy is in the toilet, Britain’s hospitality industry is ruined and theatres are closed across the country, indefinitely.

In better news, Seyi Omooba – who was sacked over a Facebook post attacking homosexuality – has had her claim for discrimination, breach of contract and harassment rejected.

Omooba, 26, sued Leicester’s Curve Theatre and her former agents for £128,000 after being dropped from a stage performance of The Color Purple. She had been due to play the lead character Celie, a character in a lesbian relationship.

Today, though, Omooba lost the bone-brained employment tribunal against Curve and Global Artists. It has been a long time coming.

Turns out the performer was initially pursuing £128,000 in compensation from both parties, but revised her financial claim ahead of the final day of the hearing to a claim worth £71,400.

Compensation that, for reasons of stupidity and prejudice, aren’t ever going to come Seyi or her father’s way.

The panel also rejected Ms Omooba’s demands for compensation for loss of earnings, future losses and reputational damage as a result of her agency contract being terminated.

“There is no financial loss because she would not have played the part,” it said.

“If there is damage to her reputation, it was not caused by being dropped from the production but by an unconnected person’s tweeting… of her Facebook post and the outcry resulting from that.”

Chris Stafford and Nikolai Foster said in a statement today: “Unfortunately, we consider that Curve has been subject to a carefully orchestrated campaign from Seyi Omooba and Christian Concern, who have used the tribunal process – and our theatre – as an opportunity to further their case.”

“Our fight was in the name of Curve, but also to protect the integrity of the character of Celie – who was based on Alice’s grandmother Rachel- and all other Celies in our world,” they added.

It was the height of madness to contemplate this going her way. Omooba’s case had been supported by the legal arm of Christian Concern, a wing-nut organisation co-founded by her father, pastor Ade Omooba MBE. Curve were always shooting fish in a barrel with this lot, obviously.

Somewhere in the middle of this rainbow chase, however, we did discover Omooba kept her “red line” of not playing gay characters “secret” from directors. She also denied that appearing in a concert production the show in 2017 meant she was aware of the lesbian storyline in the show. God.

Christopher Milsom QC, representing Global Artists, described Omooba as “the author of her own misfortune.”

Of course, it is reassuring that Omooba lost.

Try to think of the positives though, and the knock-on effect of this victory for Curve; a line has been drawn and and the outcome has set a legal precedent.

Admittedly, the crumb of comfort here is that we can only hope that the courts never entertain such a case again.

The Color Purple – At Home streams until 7 March 

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Look Ahead: Theatre streaming in January

You might say “Carl why haven’t you put a list together of all the shows that are available for virtual viewing, are you having another meltdown” and, yes, fair point but what can you do in The General Circumstances Of A Global Pandemic.

Anyway, below is a list of the best pre-recorded or live shows available to stream during lockdown 3 (you’re welcome)

Lazarus

David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s musical Lazarus – the stage sequel to The Man Who Fell The Earth starring Michael C Hall – is streaming this weekend (8 – 10 Jan) and timed to mark Bowie’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of his death.

Lazarus

Very few people saw it in 2015, due to the shortness of the run, secrecy of the process, and the size of the venues at the New York Theatre Workshop and Kings Cross pop-up production.  I did, and it is really quite terrific.

Disney+

There is a whole area of Disney+ dedicated to musicalsa 160-minute live recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original stage production of musical Hamilton is still on the streaming service. For now…

(Fun fact: if you’re new to O2 or upgrading, you can get 6 months of Disney+ for free – hurrah).

National Theatre at Home

Our Royal National Theatre has launched a pay-for-plays streaming service – it costs £9.98 a month or £5.99-£7.99 per play. The NT’s 2020 panto, Dick Whittington, is available from 11 January for six weeks and new plays are added to the collection each month.

Note: National Theatre at Home would be a lot better with Follies on it. 

Bush Theatre

The Bush’s experimental trans monologue Overflow (Jan 18-23) by Travis Alabanza (Burgerz) streams digitally.

Now you know.

Digital Theatre 

Digital Theatre has more than 100 world class theatre experiences to watch, Funny Girl, starring Sheridan Smith, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Into The Woods and more.

Funny Girl

You can rent productions from £7.99 each or sign up for unlimited streaming for £9.99 a month.

The Shows Must Go On! YouTube Channel

Free weekly shows and concerts: The Shows Must Go On! is still going. Loads of random crap ends up being streamed for free on this channel. However, just occasionally an absolute classic does land. See: 42nd Street just before Christmas.

Don’t forget to donate if you watch too, obviously.

BBC iPlayer

I mean, Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, Uncle Vanya and Northern Ballet are all on the BBC’s free streaming service. Do some digging around and pay your licence fee, citizens.

Bristol Old Vic – at Home

Bristol Old Vic has a live streamed productions and archive productions coming up including ‘Sherlock in Holmes – an online murder mystery’. You can Buy a Season Pass for just £12.99 which features a “rare bootleg capture” of the Bristol production of musical The Grinning Man is available until 28 February.

The Old Vic

The London theatre is re-streaming two productions from its In Camera initiative including Faith Healer (20-22 Jan) starring Michael Sheen and Lungs (27-29 Jan) featuring Matt Smith and Clare Foy. Both shows are available from a tenner.

Sky Arts

Last year, Britain’s only television channel dedicated solely to culture, Sky Arts, became free for everyone. Hurrah.

Rose

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Martin Sherman’s Rose, starring Dame Maureen Lipman, will be free to watch on Sky Arts (27 Jan). The channel is available to Sky, Virgin Media and Talk Talk TV customers.

The Case of the Hung Parliament 

This online Sherlock Holmes whodunnit by Les Enfants Terribles and the virtual reality company LIVR, TCOTP is an immersive alternative to traditional boardgames. (27 Jan-17 Feb).

Nottingham Playhouse Christmas shows

After the year we all had, we certainly deserve to keep the Christmas cheer going a little longer.

Alas, you can watch the Playhouse’s panto Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk for ages 3-8 for £10 and £20 respectively – on demand until 16 January.

 

Sunset Boulevard 

Leicester Curve’s digital concert production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of 1950 film Sunset Boulevard – smartly staged and lavishly produced stream – starring Ria Jones and Danny Mac has been extended by a week and will now be available to stream online until 17 January. It is the best of the bunch of streaming musicals right now.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s digital platform: Globe Player

Twelfth Night

There are more than 130 professionally filmed plays to rent (£5.99) or own (£11.99) from the Globe’s streaming platform. Highlights include Emma Rice’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and a hypnotic Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.

There we have it.

If you are streaming a show or have any other recommendations please get in touch.

E: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

I will be publishing these blogs regularly, so.

Cheers!

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Nimax Theatres to open West End theatres in sequence from 22 Oct with social distancing

Good news everyone: after the worst year in modern history, the owner of the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres will welcome audiences back to London after seven-months of closure, starting with the Apollo in October.

Nimax Chief Executive Nica Burns said: “I am delighted to announce we will be switching on all our lights and presenting a special season of fantastic entertainment.  First up at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave is This is Going to Hurt written and performed by ex-NHS doctor Adam Kay who will open his run with a free performance for NHS staff on 22 October.  Tickets will soon be on sale at www.nimaxtheatres.com as is registration for NHS staff to enter the ballot for their free performance.

Nica Burns

Our full programme of special shows will reopen each of our six venues prior to the return of our brilliant long running shows: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Palace theatre), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Apollo theatre), Magic Goes Wrong (Vaudeville theatre), The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess theatre). Details on this special season of shows will be announced over the next fortnight.

All our venues will open with social distancing plus robust risk mitigation to comply with government COVID-19 Secure guidelines. Although with reduced capacities it is not possible to make a profit, we are determined retain Nimax’s highly skilled, experienced workforce alongside the huge, talented tapestry of freelancers onstage and backstage, plus the many teams and businesses which together give our audiences a night to remember. Our theatre community cannot wait to get back to work safely.

As culture secretary Oliver Dowden wrote this week, ‘…theatre is a lynchpin of London’s West End and its absence is painfully reflected in its deserted streets.’  Even with reduced capacities at our theatres, we can entertain over 20,000 customers a week who we hope will re-energise the beating heart of our city, particularly the cafes, bars and restaurants that are an essential part of the fabric of the West End. Ticket sales for those venues that have managed to open so far, both outdoor and indoor, have been strong and we look to the future with confidence.”


Adam Kay says:
“It’s extremely heartening that Theatreland is starting to gear up again. The people you see on stage are the very tip of the theatre iceberg – behind the scenes are hundreds of hard-working staff – from electricians to stage managers to lighting techs to box office to carpenters – huge numbers of whom fell between the gaps of government support. I’m very proud to return to the West End, following the extraordinary efforts of Nimax to do so in a way that’s safe for staff and theatregoers alike, and doubly proud to open the run with a free show for NHS staff, who can clearly do with a night out more than anyone.“


Why is Nimax opening at a loss?
Like all businesses, Nimax looked at their business strategy post 31 October when the furlough scheme ends.  As part of this, they looked at the financial and human cost of large-scale redundancies.  They preferred to put the potential redundancy monies towards employment rather than unemployment. When they then fully open, they will have their fantastic workforce in place saving the cost of recruiting again. With this plan Nimax will not be making a profit but will be earning a contribution to their costs post-furlough which will enable them to achieve 4 key aims:-

  • Jobs:  Save the jobs of Nimax’s experienced, highly skilled and valued full time theatre staff teams as well as central management staff teams. They will also be hiring front of house and performance staff. Total jobs 355 plus.In addition, a significant number of freelancers will benefit and freelance jobs will be created or reactivated: actors, musicians, creative teams, stage management, wardrobe plus affiliated sector businesses such as marketing, press and technical hire companies.Everyone in the theatre community is desperate to get back to work. Nimax Theatres would like to thank their fantastic staff team and all our freelancers who were working in their theatres. They would also like to thank the three theatre unions BECTU, Equity and the MU who are working collaboratively across our industry to help us reopen.
  • Assist the stimulation of London economy: Even at a reduced capacity, Nimax will be attracting a significant number of customers into the West End stimulating the local economy in our area, particularly cafes, bars and restaurants.
  • Fulfilling audience demand: Nimax will be helping to fulfil a pent up demand of audiences who wish to return to theatres as demonstrated by our (SOLT/UK Theatre) latest audience survey  from Morris Hargreaves and McIntyre,  where 72% of audiences surveyed said they were looking forward to the thrill of seeing something live. Nimax can’t wait to welcome audiences back to experience a fantastic night out.
  • Consumer confidence: Nimax want to help build up consumer confidence with a return to central London and indoor entertainment spaces. They are proud to display the new industry See it Safely mark to show that our venues are compliant with the latest government guidelines.

Why can Nimax Theatres open when other theatres cannot?

The economics of their business model: they are the smallest of the 4 large West End theatre owning companies.  The smaller the theatre and the shows it presents, the lower the costs.  Hamilton, The Lion King, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical Cinderella are very expensive to run (both show and theatre) on a weekly basis.  Conversely, costs for The Play That Goes Wrong in Nimax’s smallest theatre, the 500 seat Duchess, are substantially lower.

Special reopening programming: Nimax will be presenting special programming to be announced separately prior to the re-opening of our long running shows.

These shows are:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Palace theatre) – performances are currently suspended until Sunday 21 February 2021

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Apollo theatre) – performances are currently suspended until 11 November 2020

Magic Goes Wrong (Vaudeville theatre) – performances are currently suspended until Sunday 15 November 2020

The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess theatre) – performances are currently suspended until Sunday 18 October 2020

What help does the theatre sector need from the government?

For the theatre to survive, we need the following:

  • End of social distancing: to reopen as quickly and safely as possible without social distancing and at full capacity. As the larger shows take time to remount, we need a date as soon as possible.
  • Extension of the JRS and self-employed support schemes:  for theatres, businesses and freelancers who cannot open with social distancing.
  • Insurance: a scheme on the same lines as that already agreed with cinema and TV sector.

Asked about the return of pantomimes, Nica says: “We won’t be putting on a pantomime. [But] I know Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Harrison, our greatest panto producer, and I’m really hopeful that, oh yes, we will be going to the London Palladium at Christmas.”

There we have it.