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The National Theatre adds new productions to streaming platform NT at Home

A Streetcar Named Desire, Under Milk Wood and Home

The National Theatre has today announced the latest productions to be made available on its National Theatre at Home streaming platform. Launching today, the Young Vic and Joshua Andrews’ production of Tennessee Williams’ timeless masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire featuring Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois, Ben Foster as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby as Stella, the NT’s recent production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood with Michael Sheen and Nadia Fall’s verbatim play Home that explores homelessness in the UK featuring Michaela Coel. New productions are added each month and since launching in December 2020, there are now 31 productions available to stream on the platform.

It is also announced today some of the productions that audiences can expect to see on the platform in the coming months. Those productions are confirmed to include Antony & Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in the title roles; Hedda Gabler with Ruth Wilson in the title role; Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls in the Lyttelton theatre from 2019Sally Cookson’s 2017 production of Peter Pan; Yaël Farber’s Salomé and James Graham’s political drama This House, alongside current NT productions; Kae Tempest’s Paradise with Lesley Sharp and Winsome Pinnock’s Rockets and Blue LightsIan McKellen on Stage will also join the platform this autumn for audiences outside the UK and Ireland. It is currently available in the UK and Ireland for Amazon Prime subscribers.

Under Milk Wood and A Streetcar Named Desirewill also be available from today with audio-description to support blind and partially sighted audiences worldwide. There are now 19 National Theatre at Home titles available with audio-description. All productions on National Theatre at Home are available with captions.

National Theatre at Home is available at ntathome.com, with single titles available from £5.99 – £8.99, a monthly subscription for £9.99 or a yearly subscription for £99.99. 

National Theatre at Home is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

National Theatre at Home is also supported by The Linbury Trust. 

#NationalTheatreatHome       

A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams

A Young Vic and Joshua Andrews Co-production                                 

As Blanche’s fragile world crumbles, she turns to her sister Stella for solace – but her downward spiral brings her face to face with the brutal, unforgiving Stanley Kowalski.

Tennessee Williams’ timeless masterpiece features Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois, Ben Foster as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby as Stella.

Filmed by National Theatre Live at the Young Vic in 2014, Benedict Andrews (Three Sisters, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) directs with design by Magda Willi, costumes by Victoria Behr, light by Jon Clark, sound by Paul Arditti, music by Alex Baranowski, dialect by Rick Lipton, voice by Richard Ryder, fight by Bret Yount and assistant direction by Natasha Nixon, with UK casting by Maggie Lunn CDG and Camilla Evans CDG and US casting by Jim Carnahan CSA.

The cast also includes Clare Burt, Lachele Carl, Branwell Donaghey, Otto Farrant, Nicholas Gecks, Troy Glasgow, Stephanie Jacob, Corey Johnson and Claire Prempeh.

Filmed by National Theatre Live, a production from the Young Vic and Joshua Andrews.

Available until at least 8 September 2022.

Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas
additional material by Sian Owen

The retired sea captain yearning for his lost love. The landlady living in terror of her guests. A father who can no longer access his memories. A son in search of redemption.

As they awake to boiled eggs and the postman, the residents of a small Welsh village juggle old secrets and new realities.

Michael Sheen, Karl Johnson and Siân Phillips feature in the acting company breathing new life into Dylan Thomas’ poetic masterpiece. NT Associate Lyndsey Turner directs.

The cast also includes Susan Brown, Ifan Huw Dafydd, Alan David, Michael Elwyn, Kezrena James, Gaynor Morgan Rees, Anthony O’Donnell and Cleo Sylvestre.

Set and costume design is by Merle Hensel, lighting design by Tim Lutkin, movement by Imogen Knight, songs composed by Edward-Rhys Harry, and sound design and additional compositions by Donato Wharton.

Under Milk Wood opened in the reconfigured Olivier-in-the-round theatre on 16 June 2021, reopening the Olivier after closures due to lockdown.

This is an enhanced recording from the National Theatre, available until at least 8 September 2022.

Home
by Nadia Fall

Bullet doesn’t want to call a hostel home. Eritrean Girl was smuggled here in a lorry. Singing Boy dreams of seeing his name in lights and Garden Boy just wants to feel safe.

Homelessness amongst young people in the UK is at a record high, so when the big society doesn’t work – where do you go? An inner-city high-rise hostel, TargetEast, offers a roof.

Nadia Fall’s verbatim play features performances from Michaela Coel, Antonia Thomas and Kadiff Kirwan.

The cast also includes Jonathan Coote, Trevor Michael Georges, Ashley McGuire, Grace Savage, Shakka and Toby Wharton.

Home is directed by Nadia Fall with designs by Ruth Sutcliffe, lighting by Ciaran Bagnall, movement by Jack Murphy, music by Tom Green and Shakka, music direction by Gareth Valentine, fight direction by Kate Waters, sound design by Mike Walker and company voice work by Richard Ryder.

Filmed in the Temporary Theatre at the NT in 2013, this is a recording from the National Theatre Archive and it’s available until at least 8 September 2022.

The National Theatre adds Hansard and Treasure Island to streaming platform National Theatre at Home

National Theatre at Home

The National Theatre has today announced the latest productions to be made available on its streaming platform, National Theatre at Home. Launching today are two National Theatre productions: Hansard, Simon Woods’ witty and devastating play, directed by Simon Godwin (Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night); and Treasure Island, adapted by Bryony Lavery (Frozen, Kursk) from the iconic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and directed by Polly Findlay (Antigone, Beginning). New productions are added each month and since launching in December 2020, there are now 28 productions available to stream on the platform.  

Simon Woods’ thrilling debut playHansard features two-time Olivier Award winners, Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings, as Tory politician Robin Hesketh and his wife of 30 years, Diana, on one summer’s morning in 1988. Hansard premiered in the NT’s Lyttelton theatre in August 2019 and was broadcast to cinemas that November. This is the first time it will be available on demand for audiences worldwide.  

Treasure Island features Olivier Award-winner Patsy Ferran (Summer and Smoke) as Jim and Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) as Long John Silver in this rip-roaring adventure for the whole family. Treasure Island premiered in the NT’s Olivier theatre in December 2014 and was broadcast to cinemas in February 2015. The production was available to watch as part of the National Theatre at Home’s YouTube streams in April 2020.  

Also launching today: Chewing Gum Dreamsthe semi-autobiographical one-woman play by Michaela Coel, and The Old Vic and Headlong’s production of All My Sons with Sally Field and Bill Pullman, will now be streaming on the platform with audio-description to support blind and partially sighted audiences worldwide. There are now 17 National Theatre at Home titles available with audio-description. All productions on National Theatre at Home are available with captions.  

National Theatre at Home is available at ntathome.com, with single titles available from £5.99 – £8.99, a monthly subscription for £9.99 or a yearly subscription for £99.99.  

Bloomberg Philanthropies is Headline Sponsor of National Theatre at Home.  

National Theatre at Home is also supported by The Linbury Trust.  

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My 2020 Theatre Heroes & Villains

Theatre Heroes and Villains of 2020

AH, dear old 2020.

In mid-March Covid-19 prompted all British theatres and arts centres to close their doors.

From that moment onwards, the carnage, pandemonium, weirdness and misery barely let up; our world-beating £7 billion cultural sector, so savaged by lockdowns that it remains at risk of permanent decimation.

A socially distanced Watermill Theatre in Newbury, with select seats wrapped as presents for the future.

For the first time in its 70 year history, the Edinburgh Fringe was cancelled. Broadway shows are expected to remain closed through to at least May 2021.

There was, though, many great acts of heroism; not all heroes wear capes.

Let’s begin with the National Theatre. The NT at Home initiative was one of the biggest virtual triumphs of lockdown; it broadcast 16 productions for free on YouTube, clocked up 15 million views and reached 173 countries.

The one-off free streaming of Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s potent monologue Death of England: Delroy – which had its live run cut short – was sensational.

The NT has today launched a brand new streaming platform National Theatre at Home – featuring a range of NT Live productions and, for the first time, some treasured plays from the NT archive.

For unlimited access to the catalogue on National Theatre at Home, a subscription will be £9.98 per month or £99.98 per year. For access to a single play in a 72 hour window, it will be £5.99 for an NT Archive title and National Theatre Live titles are available from £7.99.

I thought ITV’s three-part drama Quiz, written by James Graham – based on his stage play that began at Chichester Festival Theatre- was a masterstroke.

The dark irony was, though, that the ‘coughing major’ comedy was one of the few TV shows that was good enough to make us all forget the ongoing medical crisis for its duration. Graham donated his full commission to funds for freelancers.

Looking back now, one of my personal favourite moments involved a last-minute decision to throw open my Zoom on Friday evenings to anyone who wanted to take part in a theatre quiz. It was unexpectedly popular and rewarding and, in the chaos of lockdown, very moving.

ITV Quiz

During that first lockdown I came to a crossroads when I realised that the secret truth at the heart of almost all theatre is: Everyone’s Doing Their Best.

It’s hard to say why this revelation impacted me so deeply. Had I previously been under the impression that people were deliberately making terrible theatre, or simply being terrible at their jobs, just to annoy me? I came to realise that most things are simply bad by accident.

Anyway, this year, she closed 18 shows. Paused 10.

Sonia Friedman Productions continued its success at the 2020 Olivier Awards, scooping the coveted Best New Play Award for the fourth consecutive year with the intimate and epic Tom Stoppard play Leopoldstadt.

Incredibly, SFP was also responsible for a superb filmed stage version of Uncle Vanya starring Toby Jones. It was a hit in UK cinemas and will be screened on BBC Four this Christmas. This woman has been my idol all of my professional life, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Toby Jones and Richard Armitage, Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre

All year, producer Friedman used her clout to lobby government. Announcing comedy play The Comeback in the West End, she said: “Medicine saves lives, but culture makes life worth living.”

Looking back now, many of UK theatre’s producers and artistic directors rose to the challenges of the pandemic – combining laser-focus and decision making-authority with a real emotional feel for the creative workforce.

Of course, there are plenty of people in the industry who are simply phoning it in.

But so many took exciting digital work to audiences or streamed archive productions. Under Elizabeth Newman’s leadership, just one of a number of bright ideas, Pitlochry Festival Theatre set up a Telephone Club for vulnerable members of the community, Alan Lane and Slung Low continue to meet local needs distributing food and books to the people in south Leeds.

Artistic director Alan Lane, left, and The Slung Low team at the Holbeck.

The Unicorn theatre presented Anansi the Spider Re-Spun: fun virtual performances, created in lockdown, for children. Cultural organisations like this remain vital to communities, enabling young people’s creativity, whilst fighting for survival.

Throughout those initial long Covid months, there were modest acts of heroism from producer David Pugh and his touring production of Educating Rita at the open-air Minack Theatre in Cornwall. I loved it.

Pugh later made light of the fact that profits for investors were enough for ‘a meal at KFC’. The show has a week-long run at the Mayflower in Southampton in February.

To her credit, Nica Burns reopened the first West End theatres post lockdown – welcoming audiences back to the Apollo – for Adam Kay’s show about the NHS, This Is Going To Hurt. Burns will reopen the first West End musicals Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Six and hopes this return will prove the sector is safe and ready to resume.

Staying with the heroes, film and theatre director Sam Mendes called on Netflix — who profited from the acting, writing and directing talent nurtured on stage during lockdown— to pour some of their COVID-19 cash into British theatre. Netflix obliged, with the Theatre Artists Fund for freelancers. Mendes’ practical suggestions included: increasing the theatre’s tax relief scheme from 20% to 50%, and inviting the government to become “theatrical angels”, by investing in productions.

Moreover, performers deserve huge credit for keeping us all entertained online: Rob Madge and Oscar Conlon-Morrey lift our spirits on Twitter during these difficult times.

Pick of the bunch, for me, is Kieran C Hodgson impersonating characters from The Crown – Season 4. Genius.

10-year-old ‘#CheerUpCharlie’ Kristensen released a charity single with some of his West End favourites to raise money for the Diana Award. Little legend.

The Bush theatre commissioned six black British artists to respond to the killing of George Floyd, the results, The Protest, were astonishing, disturbing, vital and offered urgent perspectives on Floyd’s death.

Wise Children’s Emma Rice and Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris on stage at Bristol Old Vic in September

Elsewhere, Black Broadway and West End stars performed an ambitious online charity concert, organised by Nicole Raquel Dennis and Ryan Carter, this event supported the Black Lives Matter movement: Turn Up! Live at Cadogan Hall , raised nearly £13,000 for four charities and picked up a Black British Theatre Award.

One of my biggest treats was visiting Bristol to see the Romantics Anonymous one-night only performance, with a live socially distanced audience.

In September, Emma Rice’s Wise Children and Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris were dazzlingly inventive, partnering with venues to present a “digital tour” of the musical – allowing individual regional theatres to sell tickets across specific nights.

The shows will go on – in some tiers. The government’s post-lockdown plans give the green light to productions fortunate enough to find themselves in Tiers 1 and 2. Boris Johnson has announced that theatres in Tier 3 will remain closed.

Oracle Cameron Mackintosh

Villains? (Deep breath)

It was the year when theatre vanished from our lives. And Cameron Mackintosh didn’t.

Disappointingly, the West End producer got rid of 850 staff early on in the crisis, said theatres that received financial aid were ones that “were going to fail”, allegedly mistreats his staff, declared himself an “oracle” for predicting disaster and has been snow-ploughing his way through the darker recesses of the pandemic ever since.

Mind you, compensation came in the form of Andrew Lloyd Webber – who took part in the Oxford Coid-19 vaccine trial – joining TikTok.

Take a moment. I know I just did.

Perhaps most importantly, Arts Council England did a good job of turning around the government’s Culture Recovery Fund and rescued struggling organisations of all shapes and sizes.

Overall, that £1.57bn rescue fund has protected our theatres, concert halls, arts centres and opera houses.

Slytherin culture secretary Oliver Dowden’s intervention was not enough to save every institution and although we were all thankful for the money, financial models are bust.

Indeed, the government continue to do the bare minimum for an estimated three million self-employed workers. At one point, Pantomime dames marched to Parliament Square.

Slytherin Oliver Dowden and Rishi Sunak

Find another job, said the surefooted chancellor Rishi Sunak. By forgetting our workforce and dismissing an entire sector, the chancellor has begun to reveal his true ideological colours. But our sector is key to our national identity, provides hope – and billions for the Treasury.

On top of that idiocy, the suggestion from the government seems to be that arts jobs aren’t viable. They are, Mr Sunak, and when the time comes, the powerhouse theatre industry will play a crucial part in the nation’s recovery.

Above all, I was appalled by The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) who failed to inform customers how they could obtain cash refunds instead of hopeless credit vouchers. With countless shows axed or postponed, many found it impossible to get money back – not only that, ATG were not automatically refunding transaction fees, claiming this was in line with the industry’s Code of Practice (newsflash: it definitely wasn’t).

Birmingham Rep, The #LightItInRed campaign involved more than 500 buildings

At least, though, there has been some last-minute redemption for ATG; the operator has now furloughed its 2,500 casual staff and is gifting tickets for pantomimes to NHS workers this Winter, which is a Christmas miracle.

If we’re really looking for the individuals who’ll push theatre forward through the sheer force of their own imagination, in my opinion, they are more than likely to be creative freelancers. We must protect them.

And the self employed may be more widely visible through the Freelancers Make Theatre Work group, #thescenechangeproject and The Freelance Task Force. But they must never be taken for granted again.

The Theatre Artists Fund was set up to support UK theatre workers and freelancers falling into financial difficulty while theatres remain largely closed. Many freelancers have lost everything and we are losing thousands of highly skilled theatre-makers.

Saving buildings is pointless without protecting the people who make art. For now, I have financial security. That is why I plan to donate 50% of my December salary to Theatre Artists Fund.  If you are able to, so should you.

As I say, everyone has been doing their best. Stay present, thanks for reading this year, and Merry Christmas.

 

 

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National Theatre to reopen with Death of England sequel Delroy starring Giles Terera


Today the National Theatre announces its commitment to begin creating new work again, with plans to resume socially-distanced live performances in the Olivier Theatre in late October.

A new one-person play, DEATH OF ENGLAND: DELROY, by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, will be directed by Dyer, and performed by Giles Terera. This follows on from Dyer and Williams’ play Death of England, which Dyer also directed, and which was performed by Rafe Spall to critical acclaim in the Dorfman Theatre, closing only weeks before lockdown.

The production team, together with Giles Terera, have been back at the National Theatre this week working on the play: the first artists to return to work in the building since it closed. The new play was commissioned by the NT’s New Work Department at the start of lockdown and written over the subsequent five months. It explores a different side of the Death of England story as it focuses on the character of Delroy, the best friend of Michael, the protagonist of the first piece.

London, 2020. Delroy is arrested on his way to the hospital. Filled with anger and grief, he recalls the moments and relationships that gave him hope before his life was irrevocably changed. This new work explores a Black working-class man searching for truth and confronting his relationship with Great Britain.

Delroy: Roy Williams, Giles Terera and Clint Dyer at the National Theatre ( Helen Murray )

Delroy: Roy Williams, Giles Terera and Clint Dyer at the National Theatre ( Helen Murray )

Government have now confirmed that indoor, socially-distanced performances can resume from this Saturday. Death of England: Delroy will begin performances in late October. Tickets will go on sale in September, when full details of the performance schedule, ticketing, and safety measures for audiences will also be available.

Speaking about the play Clint Dyer and Roy Williams said: “There’s a moment in Death of England at his father’s funeral where Michael tells Delroy, ‘you may act like us and talk like us, but you will never be one of us’. In telling Delroy’s story, we hope to take audiences on an illuminating journey into the Black British psyche and realities of a ‘tolerant’ England in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre said: “This week Death of England: Delroy will have its first workshop as we finally, carefully open the doors of the theatre to artists and put in place plans to start live performance again this Autumn.  Clint Dyer and Roy Williams have delivered another explosive piece of work; set during lockdown and charting its own fearless and provocative course through the same subjects as its prequel, and a very English reflection of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is so important for us to be welcoming artists back into the building again, and planning for doing the same for our much-missed audiences. The moment the incomparable Giles Terera steps out on the Olivier stage at that first performance will be an incredible one, and I’m thrilled to be reopening our theatre with such an important and timely piece of work.”

 

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NT announces Madame Kalamazoo, magical daily stories for children

Earlier this year, children across the UK found themselves suddenly unable to go out or see their friends and family as the world went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Once in a blue moon something unexpected happens.

Around the same time, another very surprising thing took place: some children started getting a daily email, from a rarely seen storyteller called Madame Kalamazoo. These children report that the mysterious visitor from the Blue Moon knows their names, makes them laugh, and takes them on daily imaginative adventures. But best of all, she has a special way to connect her readers with other children stuck in their houses.   

 Starting from today,  Madame Kalamazoo’s Magical Mail  will now be available to children across the whole country; delivered via email by the National Theatre.

As National Theatre at Home concludes with the final streaming day of Amadeus (Thurs until 7pm) and school summer holidays start, the National Theatre is excited to be sharing Madame Kalamazoo’s Magical Mail for free from today.   

The special thing about these daily, interactive stories is that they are set in children’s own homes, and feature the children themselves as the main characters. If they choose to, children can go a step further than simply reading their magical mail and can contribute artwork to help move the stories along in an act of collective storytelling with other children across the country. 

Families already receiving Madame Kalamazoo’s Magical Mail love their daily stories and one parent said: “Madame Kalamazoo has been such a welcome distraction and breath of fresh air during lockdown. Every day my son wakes up asking if Madame Kalamazoo has sent a letter and he’s really thrilled when it arrives. Thank you, Madame Kalamazoo.”  

 Parents/ guardians can send a message to Madame Kalamazoo inviting her to write to their children at madamekalamazoo.com or can find out more by visiting nationaltheatre.org.uk. Madame Kalamazoo will start sending her Magical Mail the next day and will send 19 email stories in total. Parents can choose whether to receive stories from her daily or at weekends.

   

   

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Playwright, David Eldridge interview: “There’s less procrastination when you’re a dad.”

As David Eldridge’s new play Beginning opens at the National Theatre’s Dorfman, he talks about his son, ticket prices, inspirations and success.

We meet in his office at Birkbeck University, London, where he lectures in Creative Writing. Chatting with Eldridge about his career opens up other windows on his experience. For instance: he’s a dad (“I always think about my son Bertie when I write, and he spurs me on”) For instance: despite having written landmark plays like Under The Blue Sky, Market Boy and In Basildon, he remains very grounded. (His best mate is a fireman in Essex, where he grew up). For instance: his new play Beginning was written unsolicited, but with the National Theatre in mind (“I wrote the play and then decided the NT would be a good home for it and sent it to Rufus Norris. Luckily for me he agreed”.)

His new play explores what it means to be lonely in a big city, features two actors and has no interval. “Beginning is a real actors’ piece,” says Eldridge emphatically. “The two characters in the play are on stage for the whole evening without a break. We were looking for people who didn’t just feel absolutely right in terms of the casting but who had the technical ability, personality and guts to do it. On-and-off that casting process took seven months, much of that due to director Polly Findlay’s availability, but we wanted to be absolutely sure.”

What are the particular pressures of writing for the National Theatre? “I’m not sure that applies to Beginning because it’s the first play I’ve written in ages that wasn’t a commission for a particular management,” he says. “I think opening a play in any of the major playhouses is incredibly stressful. On the Olivier stage at the National (where Market Boy was produced in 2006) just selling the 1,150 seats for every show used to give me nightmares. I think animating the larger stages at the NT is a craft in itself and both the Olivier and the Lyttleton eat story, so you need lots of narrative red meat and actors who are on the front foot.”

I wonder how he will measure success with Beginning. “I just want to feel happy that the play has gone as well as it possibly can and that audiences have got something out of it,” he states.

“It’s nice when you can see an audience laughing and crying and reflecting upon the action of a play. But it’s also very rewarding when audiences get in touch.” He references his play The Knot of the Heart, which premiered at the Almeida in 2011. “I kid you not, every day an audience member communicated with me in person, by letter, card, email or via social media to tell me how in some way their life had been touched by addiction. It was exhausting. But beautiful and humbling,” he recalls. “Everyone wants to have nice reviews for posterity and to help encourage audiences to see the show. But I’m much less neurotic about them than I was in my twenties.”

Which fellow writers inspire him, I ask? “Robert Holman has been one of the most inspiring playwrights in my writing life,” he replies, “Robert taught me how to be a playwright in many ways; but his own work, his sense of place, theatricality and commitment to the truth of his characters is always inspiring. Caryl Churchill, as Sarah Daniels says, is “our Picasso” and she seems to reinvent the wheel with every play. Her work always pushes me to try new things and to be bold. Edward Albee inspires me to fulfil John Osborne’s aspiration to give audiences “lessons in feeling”. And I learned a lot from adapting Ibsen. I think the work I did on three of his plays helped strengthen the storytelling in my own plays.”

He reckons that the economics of theatre tickets are out of line. “Theatre going has become too expensive. There’s also a part of me that’s still the slightly chip-on-shoulder, scholarship-and-assisted-place Romford kid at the posh school; who resents how much of British theatre is still occupied by privileged white middle-class men. I think the theatre has got a bit better on that score over my writing life, but it’s still a world that can be too dominated by clever posh white people and far too preoccupied with who’s in and who’s out,” he says bluntly. “It’s why I’ve always preferred to make most of my friends outside the theatre.”

We talk about the differences in writing for television. “On screen you’re cutting away to the next scene all the time and often the cut tells the story”, he explains. “On stage you’re trying to sustain the action. Too many scene changes, inelegantly done, make for a tiresome evening in the theatre. I think TV writing, like writing for a large theatre space, eats story and you really have to pique an audience’s interest the whole time. Otherwise people just switch off and look at their smartphone or change channel.”

On the bookshelf there are various framed photographs of his little boy. How has being a dad changed his writing? “You know,” he smiles. “It’s made me more uncompromising.”

But Eldridge is acutely aware of the legacy of putting pen to paper. “I always have this gut feeling that I never want him to read or see my work when he’s older and feel his dad could have done better. I push myself. Although he doesn’t live with me, we spend a lot of time together, and that means like most writers who are parents, I organise when I write accordingly and use the time much more efficiently. There’s less procrastination when you’re a dad.”

Beginning is at the National Theatre’s Dorfman stage, London, until 14 November. Box office: 020-7452 3000.

Polly Findlay and David Eldridge will take part in NT Platform on Thursday 19 Oct, 6pm.

Now you know. 

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Five Things You Should Know About Follies

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1.    Let’s cut to the chase: Follies contains some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in a musical.

It features Stephen Sondheim veterans Philip Quast, Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee. Most incredible of all, the way this sparkly ensemble revisit their former lives from 30 years ago to when they first met while working as Follies dancers. The ghosts of the past send shivers up your spine. Also, Tracie Bennett in particular steals the show on a few occasions in a hall of mirrors for all shades of misery

2.    With a near 30-year history and a world-class reputation, Sondheim shows are no strangers to the National Theatre (Judi Dench appeared in ‘A Little Night Music’ in the Olivier, 1995 and Philip Quast in ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ in the Lyttelton Theatre, 1990 etc, etc and so on).

It’s hard to avoid the fact that most of Follies’ action takes place on a stage revolve resembling a merry-go-round in West Side Story. The beauty of this show lies in the precision that draws the multi-layered elements together.

3.    There are incredibly few directors who could carry off at least three quarters of this show. Dominic Cooke’s production for the National Theatre has kept the songs in the faithful style – the orchestra are sublime – but when Imelda delivers a refreshingly devastating low-key version of ‘Losing My Mind’, it’s the night’s highlight. A haunting exploration of character.

This is an inventively staged production with a cast and the arrangements are of a phenomenally high standard. As well as being expertly written the majority of these songs are also skilfully structured and only serve to reaffirm Sondheim’s Godlike genius.

 

4.    The choreography itself is beautiful, reflecting the sorrow, torment and human resilience in both the music and the performances. Everything slots perfectly into place in this magnificent evocation of showbiz. Sweeping across the stage are buckets of Swarovski crystals, sashes, sequined frocks and outfits that reel you in from start to finish.

This is the first time Dominic Cooke has directed a musical. Luckily, there’s a clarity of vision that’s practically unrivalled in the current musical theatre scene. Follies feels effortlessly enchanting.

5.    Vicky Mortimer’s show-making set and costume design uses a crumbling theatre on a revolving set to remind us how the characters’ lives are confined and ravaged by theatre; Bill Dreamer’s vivid choreography, deserves a mention again, his work with ‘Loveland’ pays hymn to the showbiz past; and the orchestra has a glorious, brassy ring.

The production’s centrepiece – to these eyes, anyway – is ‘I’m Still Here’, a track for which Apple Music single song repeat function could well have been invented. A dazzle to watch. 

But the show is not perfect and I can see people’s concerns about Imelda’s suitability as a ‘Showgirl’ or that her vocals may be underpowered. They are missing the point; these things add to the charm of the production. The no interval thing is a bit crap….

Nevertheless, nothing is left to chance here, folks.

I make that a considered, authoritative and concrete 9/10. Also: Looks like my work here is done. Time to go to the pub.

Follies runs in the Olivier Theatre at the National until 3 January.

‘FYI’ Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.