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Stephen Sondheim was a genius – we shall not see his like again

I never thought Stephen Sondheim would die.

Oh, I know we all do eventually, but he carried with him such an aura of invincibility that if anyone could cheat the passage of time, I assumed it would be musical theatre’s God. (The New York Times even once ran a story on the phenomenon, asking if Sondheim and God had ever been seen in the same place).

Sondheim, the maestro who reinvented musical theatre has passed at his home in Connecticut suddenly at 91.

His attorney, F. Richard Pappas, also confirmed the composer’s death: “The day before, Mr. Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner with friends in Roxbury,” Pappas said in a written statement. “And he spent all day Wednesday seeing the matinee and evening performances of Dana H and Is This a Room — doing what he most loved to do.”

West End theatres will dim their lights on Monday 29 November at 7.00pm for 2 minutes. This tradition is reserved for the industry’s most celebrated figures and last occurred over here in 2018, following the death of trailblazing choreographer Gillian Lynne.  

In truth, what mattered to Sondheim, widely considered the most influential composer-lyricist in the American musical theatre of the 20th century, was his art, in all its guises. His legacy is eternal.

Stephen Sondheim

Six of Sondheim’s musicals won Tony Awards for best score, and he also received a Pulitzer Prize (Sunday in the Park), an Academy Award (for the song Sooner or Later from the film Dick Tracy), five Olivier Awards and the Presidential Medal of Honor. In 2008, he received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. 

He was born into a Jewish family in New York City, and his career began in the 1950s, a decade in which he wrote the lyrics for Broadway classics Gypsy and West Side Story. For his fans, his audience, this is a moment of infinite sorrow. 

Looking back, I finally got Sondheim musicals– there’s cynicism, endless philosophy, and pure emotion in his work – when I turned thirty.

Seeing Dominic Cooke’s Follies and Marianne Elliott’s gender flipped Company within months of each other, it’s fair to say, hit me during a life affirming period of reflection and recalibration. 

The West End company of Company
© Brinkhoff Mogenburg

Think of modern musicals like Hamilton and even Fun Home and you’ll find the composers owe their style, as well as the roof over their head and the food on the table, to the genius of Stephen Sondheim. 

All in all, losing Sondheim in 2021 is all the more surprising after he so joyously attended the current revival Company on Broadway earlier this month. A ripple of murmurs and a rapturous standing ovation greeted the masked nonagenarian as he emerged from a side entrance shortly before showtime, walking along the fifth row to his aisle seat. 

Stephen Sondheim attends Company on Broadway

He was a keen teacher and mentor and used his talent always to make a difference. Art isn’t easy.

I asked Robbie Rozelle, A&R Director at Broadway Records for a few words on Sondheim’s legacy and impact. He said: “Taking the foundation that Oscar Hammerstein laid for him, Sondheim proceeded to become the greatest architect of musicals. He was also an important teacher, who worked with people to stretch the form even further – Jonathan Larson, Jason Robert Brown, so many. He was the bridge between the Golden Age of musicals and the new form of musical, and what a beautiful bridge he was.”

Sondheim was also generous with his time, and with his encouragement, just very, very giving. 

An unsurpassed musical theatre super-hero. 

In short, he was an insightful, shrewd operator who could spot a contradiction at 50 paces. The irony of this, and the debt we all owe him, is not lost on me. He is survived by his husband, Jeffrey Scott Romley, whom he married in 2017.

“You have to work on something that makes you uncertain – something that makes you doubt yourself,” 

“If you know where you’re going, you’ve gone, as the poet says. And that’s death,” Sondheim said in 2017.

I’d like to propose a toast. Stephen Joshua Sondheim, may peace be upon you.

Steve

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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane is incredible and scary as hell

What a triumph for the National Theatre to make a riveting nightmare out of this long-anticipated transfer.

Two years after The Ocean at the End of the Lane’s first staging, Neil Gaiman’s dark fairy-tale has returned, this time to the West End. 

The story from Gaiman’s award-winning book is about the escape a lonely child finds in fantasy worlds. In one of many extraordinary moments during Katy Rudd’s haunting production, the stage becomes a playground for the imagination. Anything can come to life; anything can be transformed. It is also occasionally unbearably chilling and poignant.

Leading the production, James Bamford as the Boy is commanding – at times heart-rending – as the distressed, gawky 12-year-old hero who is plunged into a confrontation with a wicked witch in his own home, screeching monsters and flapping creatures. Nia Towle is dynamic as Lettie, the farm girl who becomes his guiding friend. The magical realism is a pure spectacle. 

Nia Towle (Lettie Hempstock) and James Bamford (the Boy) / Manuel Harlan

Elsewhere, Nicolas Tennant as the Dad movingly portrays the messily human emotions of a family bereavement and subsequent trauma. The 16-strong cast work effortlessly to realise a slick and polished ensemble performance. Extraordinary moments abound. 

How do you stage unfurling forests, tunnels, witches, snapping demons, and action-packed drama so effortlessly? With the help of Joel Horwood’s nimble adaptation, a terrific team has found the way.  

Every small thing is beautiful; the creative team are chef’s kiss. Ian Dixon’s sound design turns innocent noises into explosions. In a triumph of theatricality, movement director Steven Hoggett, composer Jherek Bischoff and lighting designer Paule Constable pull out all the stops to ensure that the production soars; the dreamlike storytelling becomes the arena that the Boy makes his own. All this ensures that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a triumphant theatre event. 

The disparate and menacing electric 80s music by composer Jherek Bischoff deftly underscores the journey of a man returning to his childhood home, and is a work of art. Taken as a suite of music on its own merits, The Ocean at the End of the Lane‘s official soundtrack flows rather seamlessly—no small achievement.  Perhaps the most deft and frightening as hell touch is the use of synths to mimic a vaguely inhuman howling. 

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Sometimes a show comes along that is so inventive that you just can’t help but be in awe of everyone involved. Separating the very good from the excellent moments in Rudd’s dreamlike production is almost impossible. Fly Davis’s set has benches, doorways and props popping amongst a beautiful series of tunnels and abstract backdrops.

I should also say that I am delighted that west end theatre is waking up to the notion that it should take advantage of the great blossoming of children’s literature in the last few years – and by doing so luring in a new generation of theatre-goers.

If you have the chance, make sure you get along to the show because it is visually thrilling, moving and extremely special.  

The Ocean at the End of the Lane runs at the Duke of York’s theatre, London, until 14 May 2022. 

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Review: The Shark is Broken is a wonderfully aquatic account of masculinity

How good is The Shark is Broken? It is quite good.

I admire it; partly because its surface exuberance seems to conceal a great melancholy, partly because it has the whiplash exactness of the best Edinburgh Fringe shows plus a good deal of intellectual resonance.

The Shark is Broken offers a glimpse at the overwrought relationship between the three stars of Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 film Jaws. Ian Shaw plays his own dad Robert who starred as Quint in the original blockbuster.

(from left) Ian Shaw (Robert Shaw), Demetri Goritsas (Roy Scheider) and Liam Murray Scott (Richard Dreyfuss) in The Shark Is Broken. Photograph: Helen Maybanks

And while things looked great on the screen, behind the scenes, the lead actors were trapped in a notorious feud; in addition, the mechanical sharks repeatedly broke down – something that inspired the play’s title.

As a film, it has been interpreted as everything from a depiction of masculinity in crisis to a post-Watergate paranoid parable about rotten bureaucracy. 

Guy Masterson’s production provides a new perspective on Spielberg’s film in this brooding, intelligent show. Shaw’s portrayal of his own father is bittersweet and tender.  

Staging it, however, poses problems, most of which Masterson’s production overcomes. The fishing boat to which the story is confined sits glossily on Nina Dunn’s video ocean backdrop. Surprisingly, the effect works. 

Meanwhile, Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s dialogue throughout is snappy and, crucially, hilarious when it counts. About Spielberg’s next picture, Roberts scoffs: “Aliens? What next, dinosaurs?”. 

Across the play’s 90-minute running time, addiction, love, regret, life, ambition, and masculinity are all unpacked and peppered between mock filming of the classic film. It felt to me that the shark off-screen becomes the means of exposing the men’s rootlessness, insecurity, and uncertain sense of self.

Their reservations about the blockbuster’s potential and anxiety over the inexperience of the young director play right into the mysterious nature of popular culture. And although there are few subtexts here, the portrayal of abrasive masculinity is all too recognisable and yet, in these fine performances, sympathetic and resonant.

Overall, the final impression of the making of Jaws is of frustration and emotion behind a posturing feud. It may take place in the past, but it says something that will always be current about our quest for meaning in a world in which it sometimes feels like that which we used to believe in and rely on no longer comforts us in the same way. 

Liam Murray Scott (Richard Dreyfuss), Ian Shaw (Robert Shaw), Demetri Goritsas (Roy Scheider)

I only hope the inventive work, which has just extended to 13 February 2022, gets through to the popular audience it deserves. Crucially, it’s a special play. 

The Shark is Broken runs at Ambassadors Theatre, London until 13 February 2022 

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David Hare’s self absorption is simply overwhelming

October 2021.

Plan B is on the table, domestic shortages galore and we are literally up Shit Creek without a paddle.

On Sunday, though, I read an article in the Observer about playwright David Hare being furious at the BBC after it rejected his Covid play Beat The Devil – starring Ralph Fiennes. Not a euphemism.

The monologue brought to life by Academy Award®, Golden Globe® and BAFTA® nominee Ralph Fiennes details Hare’s experience with Covid-19, during which he lost 8kg in a week.

Also, Fiennes is set to play New York City power broker Robert Moses in the London world premiere of writer David Hare’s Straight Line Crazy at Bridge Theatre, London next year.

What are the chances then, I wondered, of millionaire Hare being furious that the BBC rejected his Covid monologue.

A sure bet, apparently,

“I am being silenced” said Hare in an interview to promote his autobiographical work.

Ralph Fiennes and Sir David Hare

Which is a bit rich coming from a bloke who has been commissioned by the National Theatre three times over the past five years.

“Everyone was very keen on the show at the BBC until it went upstairs. Suddenly, mysteriously, something they were very keen to show, they became less keen to show.

The BBC declined to comment.

He continued: “Anyone who saw Jack Thorne’s film Help, about the care home crisis, will know that actually you can make very timely and urgent work about Covid-19 and people will want to watch it.”

MOAN MOAN MOAN MOAN.

And yet it seems all is not lost for the state of the nation scribe, Beat The Devil is being broadcast by Sky Arts on November 11.

Confused? Don’t be.

It is called PR. At the heart of it all, this flight of fancy is nothing more than an over-entitled and fragile ego-driven response to rejection.

Broadcasting house is right to pass.

Certainly, Hare often takes aim at the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers and their systematic failings … And we now know Britain’s early handling of the ongoing pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history.

How those of us who have survived the past year
and not concluded that we all deserved much, much better from the government I still don’t know. Yet its deeply healthy approval ratings suggest that British people didn’t think they did.

If you want to catch a real decent gem of Covid drama watch Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy let rip in the 90 minute two hander tour de force Together on BBC IPlayer – a sensational compression of lockdown hell.

Anyway, Hare performed a public service; I haven’t felt a sector roll eyes like this for ages.

Beat The Devil is on Sky Arts on November 11

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

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

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

As you can imagine, it truly depresses me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Young Company, Everything All of the Time

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

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

The iconic Contact, Oxford Road in Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bat out of Hell rocks Manchester Opera House

Bat Out of Hell is the first big musical to be staged at the theatre and it’s a night of delirious entertainment.

It’s a tale of unrequited love from different sides of the track, with a parent determined to keep them apart. Story wise, it is post-apocalyptic Peter Pan.

Jay Scheib’s totally electrifying production re-imagines the jukebox musical for these mad times.

If you saw the show in London you won’t be disappointed –  the flames, the cameras circling the stage, the video screen capturing and magnifying the action are all here. There’s no expense spared.

What’s more, this talented and vibrant cast navigate the luminescent and fast-paced production with high stamina and real flair. The songs are gloriously sung and the occasion allows everyone to let their hair down.

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby lead as Strat and Raven respectively, and are electric together. 

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby

Incredibly, Meatloaf’s three Bat Out Of Hell albums have sold a staggering 100 million copies globally. This lively and quirky show has been perfectly reconfigured for a UK Tour and features all the hits: Out Of Hell, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.

Jim Steinman’s soaring rock n roll anthems and Jon Bausor’s anarchic designs offer an extravagant sense of occasion, as well as a show with extremely high production values. The lighting and sound are world class here. 

It was great to see people having fun, and this high voltage and good-natured mega show is the perfect tonic to reinvigorate regional theatres and attract audiences back after a miserable 21 months. 

Vegas? Don’t bet against it. 

Bat Out of Hell runs at Manchester Opera House until 2 October and tours the UK through to November 2022.

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Jonathan Harvey: ‘Good drama should challenge you and go to places that you think that you might not want to go.’

18 months into the Doomsday pandemic, Liverpool’s Everyman theatre has re-opened and restaged Jonathan Harvey’s Our Lady of Blundellsands.

This twisted new play – that ran for just five performances before the first national lockdown in March 2020 – tells the story of the Domingo family who have plenty of skeletons in their closets. 

Harvey – best known for the cult sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme and the astounding 1990s gay coming-of-age drama Beautiful Thing — is one of Liverpool’s most acclaimed writers and on good form as we chat via Zoom. “I wanted to write a play that on the surface is a comedy but is telling some dark truths about how f***** up this family is,” Harvey explains.

Beautiful Thing (1996) Film4 Productions, World Productions

“Good drama should challenge you and go to places that you think that you might not want to go. I’m really interested in twisted, dark secrets really.”

Nick Bagnall’s deliciously dark production boasts an impressive ensemble of actors, all of whom relish the chance to sink their teeth into Harvey’s witty dialogue. One liners whiz across the stage like poison arrows, some of them loaded with genuine moments of hilarity and melancholy. Josie Lawrence plays Sylvie, a tragic Norma Desmond figure basking in the long-faded glory of a cameo on ‘Z-Cars’ during the sixties. 

There’s an almost vaudevillian edge to several of the play’s most inventive set pieces, with tragedy smacking up against emotional slapstick to bizarrely comic effect. What, I ask, are his favourite things about the Our Lady of Blundellsands cast this time around? “Three of them weren’t in it before so they have done a terrific job of slotting in,” he says.

“Josie Lawrence is incredible and never misses a laugh, she knows how to give an audience what they want,” he says. “I have been a massive fan of Mickey Jones for years, Gemma Brodrick, who plays Alyssa, just really cracks me up and is that authentic Liverpool voice, Jo Howarth inhabits the role and has found a real playfulness to the character. Nathan is an actor I’ve worked with the most, and he’s great, versatile, and very bright and Nana is solid, and you feel very safe whenever he’s on stage.”  

Josie Lawrence as Sylvie in Our Lady of Blundellsands

Our Lady of Blundellsands is Harvey’s 25th stage play and reunites him with director Nick Bagnall, who acted in Hushabye Mountain in the 90’s. I ask what makes their partnership so special. “Listen, I’ve worked with a lot of directors who haven’t worked with a living writer before,” he stresses. 

“Nick really understands the play and we are very much on the same page. He’s just inventive, he never loses his temper. That level of patience is impressive. Nick gets my writing, and some directors don’t like the writers’ giving notes or being involved and he welcomes it. I think the world of him.” 

Jonathan Harvey & director Nick Bagnall in rehearsal

Harvey is a dream, a delight, a gift of an interview. After around an hour of this endlessly revealing, completely surprising, incredibly funny, virtual discourse, I ask him if he finds reviews useful? Harvey nods. “Yeah, sometimes they are helpful. Of course, its lovely to get nice reviews – but you just have to learn what they are about. For the writer, though, you know when you haven’t got it quite right.”

He continues: “You know when the play is fifteen minutes too long, and you can either sort it out or you’ve not quite worked out how to do it. What critics will pick up on are the places you think are a bit sh** as well, but you haven’t had the time or the brain to fix them.” 

So what is the secret of a good play? “Not too long. Have a f****** interval,” he says, smiling. “Make ’em cry, make ’em laugh, make ’em wait is my mantra.” 

And, finally, what does he make of fellow Liverpudlian Nadine Dorries, the newly appointed culture secretary? “Interesting,” he says diplomatically. “I’d really love to know what the last five plays she has seen are.”

It was so lovely to hang out with you on Zoom. Had a hoot. And it’s so often not like that, he emails later. I thank him wholeheartedly for his wicked play, and for his honesty.

Our Lady of Blundellsands is at the Everyman, Liverpool until 9 October 2021.

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Cameron Mackintosh’s comments on casting of trans actors as a ‘gimmick’ are unacceptable and dangerous


He produced Cats, a musical featuring an animatronic singing pig, and even put a real helicopter on stage, and the one thing he can’t wrap his head around is transgender people playing classic roles? 

Back once again, then, to Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who is receiving widespread backlash for calling it “gimmick casting” to cast a trans person in an existing role, in a recent interview with Telegraph.

“You can’t implant something that is not inherently there in the story or character, that’s what I think,” he said. 

But Mackintosh wasn’t finished. “Just to do that, that becomes gimmick casting. It’s trying to force something that isn’t natural.”

Sir Cameron Mackintosh

Mackintosh, who owns eight West End theatres, rejecting the possibility of a trans performer in one of his shows reinforces the dangerous idea that there is a right way to be female. 

Simply put, his comments are cruel and inaccurate and contradict the message of empathy and understanding found in the stories of nearly all his stage musicals, including Mary Poppins

His views are damaging to real people – people who are already disproportionately marginalised – and are downright irresponsible.

Mackintosh was very much an untouchable theatre God in the 80s and 90s, at the height of his power. These days, though, the 75 year old producer is increasingly out of touch and unpleasant. 

Still, extraordinary wealth and privilege is the story of Cameron’s life. That’s why he has so much spare time to participate in thoughtless interviews. 

Indeed, this is the latest in a long line of PR disasters for the billionaire producer. Mackintosh ruthlessly made over 850 backstage and front of house staff redundant (despite furlough), allegedly mistreats his staff and said theatres that received financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic were ones that “were going to fail”

Hilariously, he recently defended a decision to reduce The Phantom of the Opera’s orchestra by half, arguing actors and musicians should not expect to “keep doing the same thing year after year.”

Anyway, earlier this year, a report commissioned by the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama which looked into trans casting found that commercial or mainstream theatres “very rarely commission trans-led work and that trans roles are limited” and the majority of trans-led productions were currently on at fringe venues or on tours. 

We all need to do a hell of a lot more to support transgender, non-binary people, or gender non-conforming actors in commercial and west end theatre and not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm. 

Needless to say, transgender people in England and Wales are twice as likely to be victims of crime as cisgender people, and 2021 is set to be the deadliest yet in the US for these communities.

Mackintosh concluded his interview by saying: “As far as creating the new genre of musicals, it isn’t going to be my generation that’s doing it, because I know what I know from my generation.”

Oh right. I want that in blood, obviously. But thanks, Cameron. It’s appreciated.

Les Miserables

Newsflash: 🏳️‍⚧️ Trans women are women. 🏳️‍⚧️

On 30th August, Cameron Mackintosh tweeted an apology and clarification related to his comments about transgender performers.

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Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

An actual show at the theatre. Wow indeed.

Financially, theatre is unviable. Yet at the Barbican in London right now, it’s never looked so enticing, beautiful and well produced.

Helmed by three-time Tony-winning director Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes is the real deal.

Cheeriness is contagious, folks.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

It has been a long time coming, but Cole Porter’s Anything Goes is the biggest new musical to open since the lifting of social distancing curbs on July 19.

Felicity Kendal is genuinely hilarious and brilliantly camp in her non-singing role. Gary Wilmot is thoroughly entertaining – that man is kind of amazing – throughout and theatre legend Robert Lindsay is cleverly funny as Moonface Martin – America’s 13th Most Wanted Man.

He is perfectly matched by chipper and demure Broadway star Sutton Foster making her UK debut as Reno Sweeney, who gets to sing some of Porter’s greatest songs including I Get a Kick Out of You and Blow, Gabriel, Blow

Reprising the role that won her a Tony Award a decade ago, from beginning to end Foster blazes through this feel-good show. She is full of jagged gestures. 

The story is nautical farce, but this is inconsequential. Even if you have never seen the musical, you know the songs.

However, if your main anchor is being offended by everything, then you must stay at home. The source material can, obviously, feel jarringly out of date.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Basically, the gangsters are sex-crazed, women are leggy and there is a repressed aristocrat that sings about having ‘a bit of gypsy’ in him. 

In fact, the lines leading into song The Gypsy in Me have been tweaked, thankfully. 

Unworthy critics will fail to ruin the magic of a magnificent production like this. We all know that these glitzy shows are from another era.

The dancing here is exceptional. When did you last experience the truly awe-inspiring sight of two mid-show standing ovations? 

Having said all that, this is a triumphant, world-class, rousing piece of musical theatre. 

This magnificently starry production proves most captivating, while ultimately raising a toast to the redemptive power of theatre. It is pure escapism.

Basically, Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

Anything Goes runs at the Barbican until 31 October 2021 

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Guest Blog – The Mono Box: “Our industry cannot and will not evolve without investment in new talent.”

The Mono Box has always prided itself on supporting freelancers creatively – providing opportunities that are lacking or less accessible in the industry. For 8 years, we have run workshops and events for actors, directors and writers as well as, more recently, designers and movement directors. Training never stops but we also prioritise the importance of community in an industry that can feel incredibly lonely and inaccessible. 

This became more crucial than ever from March 2020 as we watched our industry fall to its knees. We were forced to re-evaluate our careers and our lives, to step back and notice all the gaping problems we’d let slide for so long. Tweets, articles and blog posts were thrown around about a utopian post-pandemic vision for theatre. Promises were made that have yet to come to fruition…

photo credit Helen Murray  

We have always championed new voices and formalised this through a new writing scheme called PLAYSTART which has run for 3 successive years (2017-2019). After the events of last summer, and in response to the lack of opportunities for emerging talent during Covid-19, we got to work. We invested in 7 ethnically diverse writers from PLAYSTART, offering them what we knew was crucial in building a career: a commission, mentorship and a platform for their work. It is notoriously hard to crack that ceiling without someone paying you to do what you do best, and someone else who is several steps ahead of you career-wise providing a guiding light. Our industry cannot and will not evolve without investment in new talent. 

We were keen to not only keen to put our money where our mouth is in terms of supporting emerging creatives, but also to discover a way to adapt theatre-making to the current global restrictions and advancing marriage of theatre and film. As we were locked in our homes, theatre had to adapt and enter people’s living rooms and kitchens. Amidst the “it’s not the same” grumbles, we also quickly realised that this format was providing access to audience numbers we only dream of. 

And so RESET THE STAGE was born. A collection of 7 filmed monologues responding boldly to where we are as an industry and where we could be, if we committed to platforming – nationally and internationally – more diverse voices, bodies and stories.

In addition to the mentorship from leading playwrights including Duncan Macmillan, Alice Birch, Lucy Prebble and Theresa Ikoko, we provided the writers with actors, a theatre and a film crew to help realise their vision. All in lockdown, when the theatres were empty.

The pieces have been directed by Roberta Zuric (part of The Mono Box’s PLAYSTART 2018) and was mentored by Ned Bennett

CYNTHIA by Vivian Xie Stills ; Starring Isabella Laughland ; Directed by Roberta Zuric ; Director of Photography: Fẹ́mi Awójídé ; First Camera Assist: Stephen Ofori ; Sound Recordist: Luise Guertler ; Stills Photographer: Helen Murray ; Gaffer: TC Thomas ; Producer: Joan Iyiola & Alison Holder ; Co-Producer: Miles Sloman Reset The Stage ; Monobox ; Soho Theatre ; London, UK ; 30th March 2021 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

7 stellar actors jumped on board with all guns blazing and delivered mesmerising and incredibly nuanced performances: Shane Zaza, Ken Nwosu, Thalissa Teixeira, Danny Kirrane, Isabella Laughland, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and our own co-AD Joan Iyiola. We paired them up with one of our partner venues – Arcola, Almeida, Bush, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Soho Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, Young Vic – all who passionately committed to the project’s ethos and offered invaluable support.

The films within RESET THE STAGE have been achieved to an exceptionally high standard, by a small but mighty team. We are so excited to share them with the world and to show what can happen when new voices are given a platform to showcase their work.

The films launched on 17th June to outstanding feedback and a brilliant 4* review from WhatsOnStage lauding the project’s beautiful outcome and bold response to our industry’s perilous state. 

Screening repeated 1 to 3 July and tickets are on sale now