, , ,

Aspects of Love

There is something off in the tone of Aspects of Love right from the start.

The decision to revive Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical – based on David Garnett’s 1955 novella – about a love triangle in 2023 was Michael Ball’s idea.

Ball – who played Alex in the 1989 production – returns to sing Love Changes Everything, (lyrics by Charles Hart and Don Black) this time as uncle George. He does it nobly.

There are 39 random scenes. At some point through Alex (Jamie Bogoyo) shoots former lover Rose (Laura Pitt-Pulford) in the arm. His uncle (Ball) is more concerned about his Matisse wall art. 

The majority of the book and lyrics are stupefying. At the interval I thought my drink had been spiked.

“I only have one life,”‘ drones one character. Only judderingly to add: “Not two.”

In one bit, the chaotic singing collides with the unspeakable: “George used to say you can have more than one emotion at the same time.”

The actual dialogue seems almost an afterthought, and the actors speak their lines without much confidence that they’re worth saying. And so we’re aware of the performers as performers. They’re not all sure what they’re meant to be conveying. And we’re not either.

The other overriding issue with this toe-curling production is that it borders on misogyny. Grooming is overlooked. It’s grim viewing, obviously.

Theatre is an addictively evil thing, though, so once I’d watched act 1 I knew I’d sit through the lot, just to see if something deeply significant actually happened. It didn’t, obviously.

The second half of Jonathan Kent’s production is scattered – as if it had been added to or subtracted from at random. Everything is spelled out. 

Nothing you think could possibly be worth salvaging from this abomination.

The ones who really stand out in this mess, though, are Pitt Pullford and Bogoyo. But their work doesn’t really hold together here, how could it?

They deserve better.

One of the only other things I thought, though, that really elevated the occasion beyond the sum of its parts was the 13-piece band and Tom Kelly’s lush new orchestrations. Other redeeming moments come thanks partly to John Macfarlane’s design and Jon Clark’s lighting. 

But the set, expensive costumes and people seem to be sitting there on stage, waiting for the unifying magic that never happens.

Leaving the Lyric theatre where I saw Aspects of Love, I felt the same way the women must have when uncle George dropped dead: exhausted and relieved.

, ,

Operation Mincemeat

How good is Operation Mincemeat?

When I saw it 12 months ago at Riverside Studios, I thought it a marvellously tart, wry, original musical that got away from the blundering cliches of the formula-bound movie musicals plaguing the West End. 

Second time round I admire it more; partly because its surface joy seems to conceal a great wit, partly because it has the whiplash precision of the best shows plus a good deal of intellectual prescience.

“I don’t know what’s going on!” “Welcome to the British government” goes one exchange.

It’s a bold and imaginative work—a fizzing work and it’s important to mention Operation Mincemeat was nurtured at that powerhouse of a London fringe venue, the New Diorama.

Rob Hastie has been brought in as director to finesse the piece and it has paid off. He is an intelligent, tentative director — see: Standing At The Sky’s Edge — which is another way of saying that his virtues are largely negative.

Stones’ sensational design places the audience in the MI5 headquarters, while Jak Malone merits a medal of honour as the staunch secretary Hester Leggett, who performs a standout love-letter song.

This clever spoof musical tackles a secret service ruse in which the body of an unknown homeless man was used as a decoy, leading German troops away from Sicily in 1943.

It has a powerful and gripping plot, hardly a single extractable tune, a fierce sense of self awareness. The triumph of Hastie’s production and Stones’ design lies in their visualisation of SplitLip’s ideas.

In this regard, the show was concocted by a genius young cast of five: Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming and Zoë Roberts, who were later joined by Jak Malone and Claire-Marie Hall.

It’s very neatly done, the fine quintet of actors rising to the technical challenges of a piece that worms its way into the brain and send you scurrying out into the city blinking – and more attuned to the majesty of serendipity.

The score — it was put together by Cumming, Hagan, Hodgson & Roberts — has a life of its own that gives the show a buzzing vitality. 

Indeed, Operation Mincemeat may turn out to be the most liberating musical ever made. The whole production is a joy; a five year overnight success story. 

I loved it.

Operation Mincemeat runs at the Fortune theatre, London, until 19 August

, , ,

Brokeback Mountain


I had an uneasy feeling that maybe it would be better if I didn’t go to see Brokeback Mountain— but, if you’re driven to seek the truth, you’re driven.

The West End is currently overrun with movie musicals and stage adaptations, they serve a useful purpose, because they lead people to see live theatre on which the films are based. Not a bad thing in my book.

The young producers who are pushing their way up don’t want to waste their time considering scripts or new ideas that may not attract stars. For them, too, a good show is a show that makes money.

God forbid it that they should have to sit through the whole thing.

But when you see a stage show after seeing the film, your mind is saturated with the actors (Jake Gyllenhaal & Heath Ledger in this instance) and the imagery, and you tend to view it in terms of the movie, ignoring characters and complexities that were not included in it, because they are not as vivid.

This 90 minute stage adaptation is directed by Jonathan Butterell, with a functional script by Ashley Robinson.

Anyway, Young cowboys Jack Twist (Mike Faist) and Ennis Del Mar (Lucas Hedges) meet in the early 1960s when they are hired to tend a huge flock of sheep up on Brokeback Mountain.

They begin a physical affair, but then go their separate ways. Both marry women. When they cross paths four years later, they resume their relationship behind their wives’ backs. Ugh.

Brokeback Mountain, here a memory play with songs, features a live band who perform throughout. Eddi Reader, perched on a stool, delivers these mediocre bluegrass numbers by Dan Gillespie Sells. 

On the one hand, it’s lightweight, and too stifled to be boring. On the other, it’s efficient and visually engaging.

But the colour imagery of Tom Pye’s set and design is so muted that I regretted the need to look at the older Ennis (Paul Hickey) haunting the proceedings. It took precious time away from the other two’s complex performances, their hint of something passive, brooding and repressed.

Technically, the production is slovenly, and the in-the-round staging at the clinical 602 seat sohoplace doesn’t always work. There are totally dead spots in Butterell’s direction. And I was sat by the bed.

There are, however, marvelous actors here, and now and then almost all of them demonstrate how wonderful they can be, but they can’t sustain their roles or blend them without the guidance of the director, because in a show only the director, finally, can be responsible for the coming together of the piece.

Add to that, young and handsome Faist who delivers the famous speech “I wish I knew how to quit you” with raw emotion. He is a remarkably intelligent casting selection for Jack. Faist, fortunately, can wear white pants and suggest splendour without falling into the narcissistic athleticism that juveniles so often mistake for grace.

I suppose it’s a bit crude to say there isn’t enough gay sex. But we do get a quick shadow fumble of belts and zippers in a tent. Apart from one tender embrace, the show mostly left me cold.

There is a chemistry void. Still, it’s a great play for people who don’t like plays.

At worst, Brokeback Mountain becomes a desolate souvenir of the movie, an extended reminiscence.

Brokeback Mountain runs at @sohoplace, London, until 12 August

, , ,

Hamnet at the RSC

Maggie O’Farrell’s 1.5mn selling plague-driven novel explores the loss the Shakespeare family experiences when eponymous son Hamnet dies, aged 11.

The boy’s short life is, effectively, subordinated to the legacy of a Great Man, felt only in the shadows it may or may not have cast on the Bard’s most beloved plays.

Now, Lolita Chakribati’s honourable adaptation reopens the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan theatre after a three-year closure.

Hamnet tells the story of 18 years of Shakespeare’s life from the point of view of Anne Hathaway, the countrywoman who was left behind with three children. 

Erica Whyman’s gentle Elizabethan production and 14-strong ensemble glide over Tom Piper’s simple set of wooden beams and ladders. 

The audience is alive to it.

The remarkable and young Madeleine Mantock, in her second stage credit, as Agnes (“but the ‘g’ is silent”) Hathaway has great chemistry with family Latin tutor, William (Tom Varey). She grows herbs and keeps bees “in hemp-woven skeps, which hum with industrious and absorbed life”.

The whole thing is an efficient show — not a great show but one that will probably stir audiences’ emotions and join the ranks of such Shakespeare inspired spin-offs as Shakespeare in Love& Juliet, and also Emilia

The trap Whyman and Chakrabarti sets for the audience, baiting it with a historically famous figure, is unfortunately, a trap we can’t get out of. There is a lot of exposition. 

There is a memorable soundscape featuring Oğuz Kaplangı’s compositions and Xana’s serene sound design; birdsong, the flapping of wings, sporadic knocking.

Still, Whyman has made the English heritage women heroically, mythically alive on the stage. The treatment is certainly on a high level. I was impressed by adult Hamnet, Ajani Cabey 

Although Hamnet is moderately elegant and literate and expensive, and the female driven creative team gussies things up with what may or may not be the key to something or other, it’s basically a traditional tragedy. But the show doesn’t wear its conspicuous cleverness lightly.

Disappointingly, despite a rousing Act 2, the whole thing doesn’t quite come off, and we’re always too aware of the sensitive qualities it’s aiming at.

Yet Hamnet is a reasonably good evening that misses being a really memorable one. This atmospheric show is entertainment, which doesn’t require it to be justified in the light of historical theory. 

Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley, are said to be in talks to star in Chloe Zhao’s movie version. A West End run looms.

Hamnet runs at the Swan theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until 17 Jun. It transfers to the Garrick theatre, London, from 30 Sep to 6 Jan

, ,

Mike Shepherd: “Kneehigh’s journey is not over.”

Down the phone, founder of Cornwall’s Kneehigh Theatre company, Mike Shepherd sounds on good form. Partly, it transpires, because he has been doing a lot of looking back.

He’s also running the Kneehigh Barns as a home for artists, community, education and the environment. “The Barns are busy, countless ideas have been taken for a hop, skip and a jump, new shows have been created. We’ve worked with schoolchildren and students, created community events and helped plant an orchard,” Shepherd says.

Alas, we are talking on the telephone about an important new digital archive produced with Falmouth University, charting the forty years of one of Britain’s most invigorating, eclectic, and memorable theatre companies. There is much more at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Following Kneehigh’s shocking closure in 2021, this project was conceived to ensure that the internationally renowned company’s cultural and educational body of work was preserved. 

Building on the existing collection that Falmouth University’s archive team had held since 2010, archivists have curated key materials from various Kneehigh for a new interactive platform called This is Kneehigh.

“We were very lucky in that Falmouth University archivist Sarah Jane was so passionate,” he says.

“The actual closure of Kneehigh was not handled well. So, we were very keen that the company ethos and catalogue was in place as a resource for people and audiences.”

Falmouth University’s archivists have worked to ensure that production recordings, interviews, photographs, show programmes, evaluations and behind the scenes content research and development materials will continue to thrive in this new digital exhibition.

Kneehigh’s productions, often staged outdoors, would mix physical comedy with original, bold storytelling. Many were based around mythological tales, such as the Cornish legend of Tristan and Yseult, the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Red Shoes, or The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk. They are missed.

“In those forty years there were 75 main shows, 23 community events, 19 school productions, 19 site specific performances and 10 other ambitious projects such as the Rambles or us in the Calais Jungle. It’s truly extraordinary how much we did,” says Shepherd.

He pauses. “Myself and Emma Rice are hoping to revisit Kneehigh shows so that they can be filmed, streamed and performed live. I would love there to be a festival of Kneehigh shows in the future. Looking back, you realise Kneehigh did coincide with a punk explosion, told stories that mattered.” 

He continues: “Somehow that revolution has got to start again. These are difficult times for so many, young people in particular. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel but we do need to remember fair pay, the principles of equitable education, fair rents. I want people out on the streets.”

On the closure of Oldham Coliseum he is bemused. “I think it’s very sad – but if you read stuff about what needs to be done to maintain that 135-year-old building it’s no surprise,” he says, with a sigh. 

“It’s positive that the same amount of money has been put aside for a brand-new space,” he says. “However, my thing would have been to make Oldham Coliseum as it stands now safe, viable and functional rather than starting all over again. You can’t just start something else; you must grow it over time.”

Now, though, he’s also returning to Calvino Nights – a fun-filled show loosely inspired by the folktales of Italo Calvino that runs again at the Minack for a fortnight this June. “I am so looking forward to being with those audiences in the open air and probably the most diverse audience to find in Cornwall.”

“Of course, there are brilliant theatres and passionate artistic directors, but there are few who aren’t struggling at the moment. We need more people like Zoe Kernow who runs the Minack, and operates independently and adventurously.”

Back to the rich Kneehigh content that is available in one place online. 

“We have been very lucky with Falmouth University and Sarah Jane’s passion, and I look forward absolutely to the next stage of This is Kneehigh when we can all be more involved.”

He is keen to stress that he is not fond of the word legacy. “I love the idea of legacy meaning a gift and an inspiration for the future as well as a record of the past that can also be an inspiration,” he asserts.

As for the government: “Oh, come on, we’ve got to get rid of the Tories – for Christ’s sake,” he exclaims. 

Shepherd is determined to keep the spirit of punk alive. After all, he says, “Kneehigh’s story is not over.”

Give a gift subscription

This is Kneehigh is online with more material at Falmouth University’s Penryn Campus 

Calvino Nights runs at the Minack 7 – 22 June

, ,

Oklahoma! – Is the West End Ready For It?

Dream Baby Dream

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first ever musical Oklahoma! is 80 years old.

Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s staggeringly postmodern Broadway production, recently seen at the Young Vic, is out to test you, the house lights remain on most of the time.

Basically an anti-musical that just won two Olivier Awards.

The gorgeous re-orchestrations keeps the reworked show moving at an exhilarating canter, and the aesthetic is an intelligent treat. Panache is the pervading motif of this show, which segues into deadpan indie territory.

There is no doubt that Mr. Fish possesses a distinctive sensibility and a consistent visual style, and that instead of striking out in new directions, he tends to embroider and elaborate on familiar themes and motifs. Fish’s style may be high kitsch but the story he is reinventing is dark, elegiac and back to basics.

Throughout, we are in the hands of this ferociously talented cast; we can never relax. This dark production makes a marvelous tribute to a classic musical, turning its horrors into a series of sexual jokes and mischievous gestures. 

You can call this intellectual entertainment if you like. You can also think of it as letting the songs speak for themselves.

Arthur Darvill and Anoushka Lewis give this show about a love triangle a good, fast and raucous spirit in a fresh revival that perfectly executes its sombre and upbeat elements. It’s about warmth and territory: “Don’t take my arm too much / Don’t keep your hand in mine.”

Olivier Award winning Darvill is on gloriously wild form as cowboy Curly. On the surface there is a lot more comedy, and sexual tension. He makes it very clear that the nostalgic hankering for showtunes cannot be trusted.

This musical has nothing to do with the art of entertainment, but it has a great deal to do with the craft of art and acting, and the pleasures of performance – Patrick Vaill’s creation of outsider Jud Fry is compelling. And maybe it’s all just too good for the West End.

But those in the mood for a slick, ambitious and unnerving extravaganza can swoon and weep and giggle, too.

‘Dream Baby Dream’ emblazons the glittering T-shirt of the solo dancer during the dream ballet – closer to a nightmare. Cowboy boots drop from the ceiling ad-hoc. Dance is crucial to the show. There are two extended blackouts and stylised video projections among the woodwork.

Playwright David Hare reckons West End musicals are “strangling everything in their path”, and has said it is a “crushing defeat” to have Wyndham’s Theatre without a play. Well, I disagree.

In 2022 I called this Oklahoma! contentious. Now, though, in 2023 and at a plywood layered Wyndham’s, I declare it a deeply pleasurable immersion.

Oklahoma! runs at Wyndhams Theatre, until September 2


Olivier Awards 2023

Hire a host; tell a few jokes; sing the songs; give out the awards. We can and will quibble over the actual awards, but it’s hard to argue with a show that pretty much did the thing it was supposed to.

The 2023 Olivier Awards left me generally elated. Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Prima Facie, My Neighbour Totoro and A Streetcar Named Desire all got the gongs they deserved.

But organisers need to slice proceedings – feed everyone – get back to basics, broadcast it live and start it earlier in the day.

For, it’s no exaggeration to say, the live ceremony was simply too clunking at over three and a half hours.

Neat host Hannah Waddingham wore a stunning array of outfits (four in total) and opened this year’s ceremony with the awards’ first ever original musical number, written by Pippa Cleary, who wrote The Great British Bake Off Musical.

It all added up to an event to remember and that would’ve been way beyond the ability of any other living British musical theatre star.

Ted Lasso star Waddingham started her acting career in musical theatre, and it showed.

“I hope I’ve earned my supper,” said Waddingham. She did that in spades.

So in the spirit of the night’s big — and big-hearted — winners, let’s get on with the highlights.

It was great to see Paul Mescal win best actor for his brutal, mesmerising performance in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Streetcar director Rebecca Frecknall, collecting Best Revival, paid tribute to the show’s creator: “I just have to thank Tennessee Williams, really. He gave us magic instead of realism, and that’s what we needed.”

As for Jodie Comer winning best actress in Prima Facie – my personal preference would have been for Patsy Ferran’s complex turn in A Streetcar Named Desire. But Comer gave a spirited, theatrical and highly watchable performance and she radiates star quality. The courtroom drama opens on Broadway next week.

In total the Almeida landed six awards. Will Keen bagged best supporting actor for his role in Patriots, and Tammy Faye snatched two awards: Katie Brayben for best actress in a musical and Zubin Varla for best supporting actor in a musical.

The biggest winner of the night, however,  was the RSC’S enchanting My Neighbour Totoro, an adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s 1989 anime film. Best Director was awarded to Phelim McDermott.

My Neighbour Totoro also went on to take the much sought after Best Entertainment or Comedy award. The magical show returns to the Barbican later this year.

Across the decades Standing at the Sky’s Edge, set on a Sheffield council estate and based on the music of Richard Hawley, won Mastercard Best New Musical.

The brilliant show, that I first saw at Crucible Theatre in 2019, recently finished a sell-out run at the National Theatre, also led to Hawley and Tom Deering taking home the award for best original score or new orchestrations.

Thrillingly, Standing At The Sky’s Edge will transfer to the Gillian Lynne Theatre, in London’s West End, from February 2024. It is a wonderful show.

And yes, Magic FM had to apologise for the rock star’s bad language. Hawley, ignoring his designated 40 second acceptance slot, eventually proclaimed: ‘Sheffield, we love you! Will you marry us?

Rock ’n’ roll, people. Rock. And. Roll.

Elsewhere, Sir Derek Jacobi was given the lifetime achievement award for his contribution to theatre. Jacobi told The Guardian that instead of risking becoming “elitist” through high ticket prices, theatre should be easily accessible and “part of our blood and bones”.

Jacobi added, the industry was in danger of being left up a certain “creek without a paddle”, and he had been shocked to see prices of £150 or more for a seat in the stalls in London’s West End. Me too.

That being said, winners Arthur Darvill, Chris Bush and Beverley Knight called out the government for not prioritising youth theatre and for failing to see its value in shaping cultural careers.

Knight, who performed twice, won best supporting actress in a musical for her performance as Emmeline Pankhurst in Sylvia at the Old Vic.

Theatre, she said, has often been seen as the preserve “of the middle classes and upwards, dominated by people who are mainly white – and who are older because they’re the ones who can afford it”

The government must not think of theatre as “something frivolous”, she said: “You don’t know what the arts does for kids.”

Her comment is one that should be addressed urgently by educationists, arts bodies and politicians alike.

Until next year…

, , ,

Olivier Awards 2023: the winners in full

My Neighbour Totoro has scooped six wins at the Olivier Awards 2023, with Jodie Comer and Paul Mescal winning best actor and actress.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s My Neighbour Totoro had the most wins, triumphing in six out of the nine categories it was nominated in, including best entertainment or comedy play and best director.

Rebecca Frecknall’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre won three awards, including best actor for Mescal, best revival and best actress in a supporting role for Anjana Vasan.

Other acting winners included Katie Brayben, Beverley Knight, Arthur Darvill and Will Keen.

The National Theatre’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge won best new musical, while Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! won best musical revival.

The winners in full

Best revival

Winner: A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre|

Also nominated:
The Crucible at the National Theatre
Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre

Best actor in a supporting role

Winner: Will Keen for Patriots at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh and Kaine Lawrence for For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre
Elliot Levey for Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre
David Moorst for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
Sule Rimi for Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre

Best actress in a supporting role

Winner: Anjana Vasan for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Rose Ayling-Ellis for As You Like It at @sohoplace
Pamela Nomvete for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
Caroline Quentin for Jack Absolute Flies Againat the National Theatre
Sharon Small for Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Best set design

Winner: Tom Pye for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Miriam Buether for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
Ben Stones for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Mark Walters for Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium

Best costume design

Winner: Kimie Nakano for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Frankie Bradshaw for Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre
Hugh Durrant for Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium
Jean Paul Gaultier for Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show at Roundhouse

Best actress

Winner: Jodie Comer for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Also nominated:
Patsy Ferran for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre
Mei Mac for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre
Janet McTeer for Phaedra at the National Theatre
Nicola Walker for The Corn Is Green at the National Theatre

Best actor

Winner: Paul Mescal for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Tom Hollander for Patriots at the Almeida Theatre
Rafe Spall for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre
David Tennant for Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Giles Terera for Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre

Outstanding achievement in opera

Winner: William Kentridge for his conception and direction of Sibyl at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Sinéad Campbell-Wallace for her performance in Tosca by English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Antony McDonald for his design of Alcina at the Royal Opera House

Best new opera production

Winner: Alcina by Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House

Also nominated:
Least Like the Other by Irish National Opera and Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House
Peter Grimes by Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House
Sibyl at the Barbican Theatre

Best new play

Winner: Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Also nominated: 
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy at the Royal Court Theatre
Patriots at the Almeida Theatre
To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre

Best director

Winner: Phelim McDermott for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Rebecca Frecknall for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre
Robert Hastie for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Justin Martin for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Bartlett Sher for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre

Outstanding achievement in affiliate theatre

Winner: The P Word at the Bush Theatre

Also nominated:
Age Is a Feeling at Soho Theatre
Blackout Songs at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
Paradise Now! at the Bush Theatre
two Palestinians go dogging at the Royal Court Theatre

Best entertainment or comedy play

Winner: My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated: 
Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium
My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) at the Garrick Theatre and the Ambassadors Theatre
One Woman Show at the Ambassadors Theatre

Best family show

Winner: Hey Duggee the Live Theatre Showat Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre

Also nominated:
Blippi the Musical at the Apollo Theatre
Midsummer Mechanicals at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe
The Smartest Giant in Town at St Martin’s Theatre

Outstanding achievement in dance

Winner: Dickson Mbi for his choreography of Enowate at Sadler’s Wells

Also nominated:
Manuel Liñán for his choreography of ¡VIVA! at Sadler’s Wells
Raquel Meseguer Zafe for her dramaturgy of Ruination by Lost Dog at the Royal Opera House
Catrina Nisbett for her performance in Family Honour by Spoken Movement at Sadler’s Wells

Best new dance production

Winner: Traplord by Ivan Michael Blackstock at 180 Studios (The Strand)

Also nominated: 
Light of Passage by Crystal Pite at the Royal Opera House
Pasionaria by La Veronal at Sadler’s Wells
Triptych: The Missing Door, The Lost Room, and The Hidden Floor by Peeping Tom at the Barbican Theatre

Best musical revival

Winner: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Also nominated:
My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum
Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo
South Pacific at Sadler’s Wells

Best original score or new orchestrations

Winner: Richard Hawley and Tom Deering – music and lyrics by Richard Hawley and orchestrations by Tom Deering – for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre

Also nominated:
David Yazbek, Jamshied Sharifi and Andrea Grody – music and lyrics by David Yazbek, orchestrations by Jamshied Sharifi and additional arrangements by Andrea Grody – for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Joe Hisaishi and Will Stuart – music by Joe Hisaishi and orchestrations and arrangements by Will Stuart – for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre
Daniel Kluger and Nathan Koci – orchestrations and arrangements by Daniel Kluger and additional vocal arrangements by Nathan Koci – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Best theatre choreographer

Winner: Matt Cole for Newsies at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre

Also nominated:
Lynne Page for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Kate Prince for Sylvia at the Old Vic
Basil Twist for puppetry direction for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Best lighting design

Winner: Jessica Hung Han Yun for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Natasha Chivers for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Lee Curran for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre
Tim Lutkin for The Crucible at the National Theatre

Best sound design

Winner: Tony Gayle for My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre

Also nominated:
Bobby Aitken for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Drew Levy for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Ben and Max Ringham for Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Best actress in a supporting role in a musical

Winner: Beverley Knight for Sylvia at the Old Vic

Also nominated:
Maimuna Memon for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre
Liza Sadovy for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Marisha Wallace for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Best actor in a supporting role in a musical

Winner: Zubin Varla for Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Sharif Afifi for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Peter Polycarpou for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Clive Rowe for Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo

Best actor in a musical

Winner: Arthur Darvill for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Also nominated:
Alon Moni Aboutboul for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Julian Ovenden for South Pacific at Sadler’s Wells
Andrew Rannells for Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

Best actress in a musical

Winner: Katie Brayben for Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

Also nominated:
Anoushka Lucas for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Young Vic
Miri Mesika for The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Faith Omole for Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre

Best new musical

Winner: Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre

Also nominated: 
The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse
Sylvia at the Old Vic
Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre

, ,

Unchecked Ticket Hikes Are Pricing People Out Of Theatregoing

Glow sticks. We’ll come on to that in a moment.

This week, The iPaper’s Kasia Delgado issued an indictment of A Streetcar Named Desire’s £305 ticket prices, stating: “Theatre needs to make money. It also needs to remain valued and loved, and if only people with loads of spare cash, or a very relaxed approach to credit card debt, end up being able to see it, I worry about where that’ll leave the best form of entertainment that exists. An art form, that – after all – Shakespeare famously put on stage for anyone and everyone.”

Inflation busting premium ticket prices of £305, plus booking fee, is not only absurd, it is criminal amid the cost of living crisis.

To the West End, currently a topsy turvy combination of premium pricing, day seats and even a ‘game of chance’ involving glow sticks.
Rip off

Heck, even leading lady Patsy Ferran is uncomfortable with it all, stating in an interview recently: “The last couple of years theatre prices have reached a point that is shocking to me, but maybe I should just get used to it.”

In reality, profit thirsty ATG’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve.

Of course, our old friend dynamic pricing is at play. I get it. Streetcar is a commercial show entitled to charge whatever the market can take.

But affordability equals sustainability, and sensible ticket prices are key to the theatre’s survival.

Speaking on a panel entitled Building a Better Financial Model for Theatre at The Stage’s Future of Theatre conference, Lighting designer Paule Constable said that premium tickets have generated a “wave of discontent” within the industry.

She added: “We need more transparency around how that money is spent. We, as a workforce, need to make the effort to understand that more and it needs to be talked about more.”

It’s hard not to admit that she has a point. Theatre has got to be kept accessible to everybody, because ultimately everything depends on keeping audiences excited about going.

Still, you can see A Streetcar Named Desire for a tenner. If you queue up 2.5 hours before performances for a glowstick (yes, really). Out of the 30, five glow sticks glow green when snapped. The lucky five can head to the box office and buy a pair of front row £10 tickets. There is a weekly lottery.

Send in the clowns. Ah, don’t bother. They’re here.

Phoenix Theatre Glowstick Day Seat Queue

Anyway, once I’d peeled myself off the ceiling, I went along to embrace the madness this week. Reader, my glow stick did not glow. But I was offered a £35 seat in the dress circle or a £10 standing ticket. I opted for the £10 standing ticket. Later my phone rang and I was put in a house seat. Lucky, eh.

A representative for A Streetcar Named Desire said that 83% of all its tickets have been sold at £100 or under. Hm.

Still, the average face value of top-price tickets in the West End has rocketed by a fifth since 2019, a recent survey by The Stage revealed. Glancing at a handful of West End shows £1-300 stalls seats are sadly standard now.

Of course, this fluctuates year on year and is frequently influenced by a small number of high-profile shows. Last year, Cock – starring Jonathan Bailey – saw producers disastrously try and flog £400 tickets, stating it was based on “supply and demand”

What are we to conclude from this?

As in many economic situations, there is a squeezed middle: theatre lovers who are neither wealthy enough to buy premium tickets and who don’t have a flexible work / life pattern to queue in person or online for discounted tickets. 

Seven Card Stud

Surely, extending personalised pricing to students or the unwaged, which was widespread in the 1980s, would maximise audiences. That said, personalised pricing can be progressive. In Finland, for example, speeding tickets are based on your income

All the same, I worry that we shall soon reach the point of no return, that the gap between the commercial and subsidised sector is growing ever wider and that the young will be put off by high prices. Of course, the system is broken, it’s not working for weary audiences.

But it’s not just the rising ticket prices that worry me. It’s also the sense of banality afflicting the West End. There are, as ever, 33 musicals of varying quality currently running. We should ponder both the escalating cost of tickets and the actual quality of what is on offer. 

Anyway, I’m with singer Neil Young who last week said it best: “It’s over” and that “the old days are gone” amid wider consternation at ticketing company’s pricing policies. And that is where we are. 

Paul Mescal and Patsy Ferran in A Streetcar Named Desire

Since the success of the subsidised and commercial sectors are intimately bound, it can’t just be left to subsidised theatre to take responsibility for building tomorrow’s audiences, the West End has to play – and pay – its part too.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs until 6 May

, , , ,

Guys and Dolls, Bridge theatre – buckets of fun

Critic Kenneth Tynan described Guys and Dolls as “the Beggar’s Opera of Broadway”, which articulates how earnestly this least earnest of musicals is, and should be, taken. 

Frank Loesser’s legendary show may be a classic Broadway fairytale, but here it is, reimagined in a radically immersive production that is full of fun and intimate detail. (make sure you grab a pretzel and beer pre-show) 

So much of this perfectly calibrated machine hits the mark. 

Even the overture, played with gusto by the 14-piece swing band under Tom Brady’s baton, creates a sense of anticipatory excitement.

From the beginning, the delightful show just pulls you in. Everything is bursting with energy and full of panache. It’s fresh minted but old school and owes much to Arlene Phillips smashing choreography. It animates every scene, it’s exquisitely put together.

I especially liked Daniel Mays as crumpled and charming Nathan Detroit and Marisha Wallace a sizzling Miss Adelaide, ‘the well-known fiancée’. 

Wallace makes the often twee ‘Bushel and a Peck’ a raunchy strip tease – with carrots. As a performer, she has a special kind of chicness that takes the form of haste; she’s always ahead of everybody, and this snappy beat – this responsiveness – makes her more exciting to watch, as she was in the Young Vic’s Oklahoma! It is her show.

Elsewhere, Sister Sarah (Celinde Schoenmaker), falls hard for the smooth-talking gambler, Sky Masterson (Andrew Richardson) and they are compelling. 

As for the remainder of this large cast, they dance and sing themselves right into the top league of quality musical performances. Backed up with stunning arrangements and an expert technical team, dressed as New York cops, the actors and musicians really do justice to this outstanding score.

Powered by Bunny Christie’s effective bygone orange and scarlet 1950s in-the-round aesthetic, scenes are staged on hydraulic platforms that shift around a standing audience. There’s seating if you prefer. Stagehands jostle in the neon glow, guided by the gorgeous music, while the audience is swept along. It’s such a lifter. 

The Bridge theatre’s Guys and Dolls restored my faith in musical theatre. It’s a pure emotional high, and you don’t come down when the show is over. None of the big numbers disappoint, from the thrilling dancing of ‘Luck Be a Lady’ to an especially gold rendition of ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ led by Cedric Neal.

Hytner’s production is a show that you can’t get out of your system.

I for one can’t wait to go again. 

Guys and Dolls

This review is dedicated to Bridge theatre PR Janine Shalom. Was she really that exacting? Yes. But she was able to laugh at herself, and I very much admired her for that.

Guys & Dolls is at the Bridge, London, until 2 September