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Liz Kingman’s critically acclaimed, smash-hit one-woman show transfers to the West End

One Woman Show

Described as “the greatest breakthrough show of the past 12 months” (The Times), One-Woman Show transfers to the West End for a strictly limited run later this year. A bold, irreverent, raw, moving and triumphant celebration of adjectives, this blurb will nail down nothing.

Trigger warning: contains blinding ambition.

Liz Kingsman is an actor and writer, and creator of the Edinburgh Comedy Award nominated One-Woman Show. She can currently be seen in the second season of critically acclaimed French political satire Parlement on France 2, and Down From London, streaming on Topic (US), which she co-created and wrote with Sharon Horgan’s Merman Productions based on an award-winning short film. Previous acting credits include BAFTA-nominated ITV2 sitcom Timewasters, Borderline on Netflix, and topical Channel 4 comedies Ballot Monkeys and Power Monkeys. She is this year’s winner of the Times Breakthrough Award at the Sky Arts South Bank Awards, and was named in The Evening Standard and The Observer’s Faces to Watch in 2022.

Adam Brace directs. He is Associate Director at Soho Theatre, London where he works across Comedy, Theatre and Performance Art and in roles spanning dramaturg, director and writer. In comedy he has developed a varied range of work including 8 Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated shows, 2 Herald Angel Award-winners, 2 nominees for the Melbourne Barry Award and 2 Southbank Sky Arts Awards. Directing credits include all of Alex Edelman’s shows, most recently Just For Us (Drama Desk Nominee 2022) currently extended six times Off-Broadway; Age is a Feeling by Haley McGee (Fringe First 2022, Soho Theatre this autumn); all of Sh!t Theatre’s multi-award-winning international shows. Other credits include Ahir Shah’s HBO Max special Dots and Creative Supervisor on two series of Soho Theatre Live on Amazon Prime. Previously he was a playwright and was produced by Almeida Theatre, the National Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse; his plays are published by Faber and Faber.

One-Woman Show was originally produced at the Soho Theatre and Traverse Theatre by Country Mile Productions.

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

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

I used to be a theatre snob.

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

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

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

ABBA can do no wrong. 

ABBA

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

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

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

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

Mamma Mia – photo credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

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

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

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

Mamma Mia! – The Party

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

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

Vegetarian cuisine – Mamma Mia – The Party

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

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

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

Abba Voyage Arena – Stufish Entertainment Architects

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

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

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

‘jaw-dropping’ Voyage

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

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

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

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

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

ABBA Voyage (Photo by Johan Persson)

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

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

See, I do have a heart.

Mamma Mia! booking until 5 March 2023 

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

Abba Voyage is booking until May 2023

First new build West End theatre in 50 years opens this Autumn

@sohoplace
  • The first new build West End theatre to open in 50 years
  • Located in Soho Place, the first new street name in Soho for 72 years
  • A state-of-the-art, new and flexible 602-seat auditorium with perfect sightlines and acoustics, opening configured ‘in the round’
  • A creatives’ floor with rehearsal room, actors’ Green Room, bar and terrace
  • A ground floor public restaurant and bar, open from midday to midnight
  • Impressive screen show-signage including a double-sided 17m by 3m digital screen front of house sign on Charing Cross Road and a large screen in the centre of the front façade on Soho Place
  • The theatre lies at the heart of Derwent London’s £300m regeneration project at the north east corner of Soho
  • Derwent London picked a first class team to overcome the engineering challenges of building a theatre immediately above three tube lines and Crossrail’s large extractor fan to achieve perfect acoustics in the auditorium with no vibrations 

Leading West End producer and theatre owner, Nica Burns, today announces the opening of @sohoplace, the first new-build West End theatre in 50 years.  The culmination of a 12-year project, the theatre is owned by Nica Burns and operated by Nimax Theatres and will open this autumn with the first production to be announced soon.

The theatre is adjacent to the site of the old Astoria theatre which was demolished to build Crossrail. The auditorium sits directly above Crossrail’s new Elizabeth line and the existing Northern and Central lines at Tottenham Court Road station, a major transport hub. In addition, Crossrail’s huge ventilation fans extracting the hot air from the platform below and working full-time 365 days a year are also adjacent to the auditorium.  A challenging location to build a new modern theatre with state-of-the-art facilities!

The theatre @sohoplace is at the heart of property giant Derwent London’s visionary £300 million regeneration of a neglected corner of Soho.  Totalling 285,000 square feet it is a mixed development with the theatre at its heart, offices and retail and a fantastic new piazza, an ideal meeting place for Londoners to start their day or night out in the West End.

Nica Burns, Theatre ownersaid:

“I wanted to create a theatre which could add a different dimension to our vibrant West End landscape.  I asked our greatest theatre creatives two questions: If we could build a new theatre in the heart of the West End, what would you like it to be?  What additional facilities would be on your wish list? They dreamt of a flexible auditorium, perfect acoustics and audience / stage intimacy.  An ability to create on-site with the dream of a rehearsal room, a Green Room and a bar all in the same building.  So that’s what we built – with a few extras including an outside terrace.”

“The incredible team of engineers pulled off the greatest of structural feats, building over a major underground transport hub – a challenging place to build a theatre – achieving perfect acoustics and no vibrations”.

The auditorium has the following key qualities:

  1. Wonderful acoustics
  2. Perfect sightlines from every seat with no obscured views
  3. Intimate actor/audience relationship: no seat further than 6 rows from the stage
  4. Curved auditorium unifying both audience and actors (theatre term ‘the hug’)
  5. The flexible auditorium can be transformed into a number of different configurations

The theatre interior was inspired by Nica’s visit to Epidaurus when young.  “I was standing on the stage of this great ancient theatre at 8 o’clock – show time – as the last rays of a golden sun were coming through the trees and the stars were starting to twinkle in an indigo sky. It was magic.  Epidaurus is one of the greatest theatres in the world and the plays of ancient Greece are still part of our theatre heritage today.  The interior of @sohoplace reflects these colours and when you walk through the theatre you walk under crystal star lights, laid out in constellations. When you pass the building, look up to the terrace and you will see the constellations shine.”

“I am incredibly privileged to be working with Derwent London who hand-picked the most outstanding team – all leaders and innovators in their sectors – to deliver this challenging build:

  • Architect Simon Allford, founder of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, one of London’s most significant international architectural practices.  Simon is currently President of RIBA.
  • Arup, a brilliant worldwide engineering giant who make the impossible, possible.
  • Laing O’Rourke, renowned global construction company, specialising in delivering the most difficult projects.

Finally, a very big thank you to all at Westminster Council.  We have had incredible support from every team member and we couldn’t have done it without you”.

Paul Williams, Chief Executive Derwent London said:

Working alongside world-class architects and engineers, and in collaboration with Crossrail and our partner Nica Burns, we are delighted to have developed this new state-of-the-art theatre together with substantial public realm as part of a successful commercial regeneration project above the Elizabeth line.”

Simon Allford, Architect said:

Best of Enemies to make West End transfer in November

Best of Enemies

James Graham’s new play Best of Enemies will transfer to the West End from this November. The sold-out hit from the Young Vic and Headlong, which originally premiered at the Young Vic in December 2021, examines the bitter political rivalry between William F Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal.

1968 – a year of protest that divided America. As two men fight to become the next President, all eyes are on the battle between two others: the cunningly conservative William F Buckley Jr., and the iconoclastic liberal Gore Vidal. Beliefs are challenged and slurs slung as these political idols feud nightly in a new television format, debating the moral landscape of a shattered nation. Little do they know they’re about to open up a new frontier in American politics, and transform television news forever…

Best of Enemies is nominated for a South Bank Sky Arts Award for Best New Theatre Production, the awards take place on Sunday. The play was also nominated for an Olivier Award and won the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play. 

James Graham is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His recent TV credits include Sherwood, Quiz and Brexit: the Uncivil War. James’ previous collaborations with Jeremy Herrin include This House and the Olivier Award-winning Labour of Love

Further information on the West End transfer will be announced shortly. http://www.bestofenemiesplay.com/

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Suzie Miller: “Don’t give up. If you feel passionate, just keep doing it. There will be knocks and hardships and it is easy to give up along the road. But keep going, you will see it all come together.” 

When Prima Facie hits our cinemas next month cinemas as part of NT Live to see Jodie Comer’s sell-out West End debut the play’s writer Suzie Miller will be watching intently to see how it translates from stage to screen. Prima Facie shines a light on the Australian legal system. Around 60,000 people shared in Tessa’s story at the Harold Pinter Theatre – from 21st July the conversation continues with the rest of the world.

Suzie Miller © by Helen Murray

We are talking on the telephone, a couple of weeks after Opening Night, in which Comer received rave reviews. “I just think that NT Live is such a wonderful thing, it makes theatre accessible to everyone and is an astonishing leveller and the ultimate invite to experience theatre filmed,” Miller says.

An Australian-British criminal defence lawyer working in the human rights sector, writer Miller witnessed first-hand how the Legal System fails most sexual assault victims. She studied while working as a lawyer and left the bar to be a full-time playwright in 2010.  

“The play began when I was studying criminal law and how it is structures and thinking there’s something about the way sexual assault that is doesn’t feel right – as went through my practice in law it continued to come through to me that it just wasn’t working for victims,” Miller tells me.

Due process is everything: “I was and still am committed to the concept of innocence until proven guilty. I also think that sexual assault is a special area that is not necessarily being catered to by a very male focussed legal system.”  

At almost 2 hours long and with no interval, the play packs a lot in. Essentially, a play about a lawyer who specialises in defending men accused of sexual assault, until she is assaulted herself: the insecurities she’s faced, heartbreak, sexism, misogyny, being told to look and behave a certain way. 

I mention that Comer owned the courtroom; a theatre animal. “Jodie is such an incredible screen actress,” she says with some admiration. “It is astonishing how she stepped out on the stage (Comer had only been in one play before, in Scarborough, when she was 16) and become a theatre actor. I just think that she’s born to do theatre. She is incredible.” 

Suzie Miller with Jodie Comer © by Helen Murray

The play, it is fair to say, recieved a mixed reception here; some critics were not enthusiastic about the text itself. In a four-star review, the Evening Standard said: “Suzie Miller’s script is a great vehicle rather than a truly great play, however – shrewd and economical in its analysis of how the system treats assault survivors, but schematic in its plotting.”

The Guardian’s review stated that “[Comer] roars through Suzie Miller’s script. The play roars, too, sometimes too loudly in its polemic, but Comer works overtime to elevate these moments,” and that the script “ falls into a loudly lecturing tone at the end.” 

I ask her how the critical and audience responses varied here to the Australia run. She responds pragmatically. “Somehow having a woman stand on stage and make a direct political address within the confines of her story, it is bordering on being a lecture,” she says. “Look at Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird or Mark Rylance’s final speech in Jerusalem. Hailed as mesmerising. It seems to be something that some critics here are not used to. You know you’ve made a difference when the play is not just in the arts pages,” Miller says. 

Still, quibbles about polemic do not matter, Prima Facie was one of the hottest tickets in Europe; with Killing Eve star Comer attracting the mythical kind of post West End show frenzy not seen in years – and her legions of teenage fans love her. Truly.

Jodie Comer in Prima Facie

For Miller, though, the idea that someone is consenting unless they tell you that they are not “doesn’t fit with women’s lived experience” and she thinks that “something in the legal system is fundamentally broken.” It is hard to disagree. It becomes clear as we talk that this is a universal issue. 

In fact, figures released earlier this year showed that in the 12 months to September 2021, only 1.3% of the 63,136 rape offences recorded by police resulted in a suspect being charged.

“I think what consent runs through everyone’s relationship and what sexual entitlement is and when it should be called out. It can also happen to anyone. So, it’s about a huge change and a group of Barrister’s are going out to schools to talk about consent which is fantastic,” Miller says.

Prima Facie has partnered with The Schools Consent Project and has given away free tickets to 10 partner school groups so that teachers can bring students to see the show and access further ancillary support. Funds have also been donated to support the essential work the charity does to educate young people in the UK about consent.

Set up in 2014 by barrister Kate Parker, The Schools Consent Project is a charity that sends lawyers into schools to teach young people (11–18-year-olds) the legal definition of consent. Their aim is to normalise these sorts of conversations; to empower young people to identify and communicate boundaries, and to respect them in others. To date, they have worked with over 20,000 young people across the country.

Jodie Comer in Prima Facie © by Helen Murray

Miler believes a rich cultural education is key to changing the world: “It’s fundamental,” she tells me. “Theatre is the town square. It is so important – people can pretend to be other things, whilst an audience breathes in the same emotional mist. I feel like it offers a way of interpreting the world. A writer’s job is to show the paradox of being human. I went to law to change the world and now in theatre I still want to do that and make a difference.” 

So which writers inspire her? “Well, growing up I read a lot of Shakespeare. I was mentored by Edward Albee early in my career. All hail mighty Edward. Dennis Kelly, Mike Bartlett, Caryl Churchill and Maria Irene Fornes,”

Looking to the future, Comer will reprise her role in Prima Facie on Broadway. It will have a limited engagement at one of New York’s Shubert theaters, with the exact venue and dates to be announced. “It has been an absolute privilege to tell Tessa’s story here in London over the past few months and to now have the opportunity to take Prima Facie to New York is a dream come true,” said Comer in a recent statement.

With Prima Facie playwright Suzie Miller on Opening Night

In conversation Miller is as tranquil and delightful as she is compellingly eloquent. You’re relatively productive, I add. What’s your secret? “Don’t give up,’ she says quickly. “If you feel passionate, just keep doing it. There will be knocks and hardships and it is easy to give up along the road. But keep going, you will see it all come together.”  

Prima Facie is released to cinemas around the world via NT Live and in association with Sky Arts on Thursday 21 July 2022.

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£400 tickets for West End Cock? No thanks.

Well….

The cynic, as Oscar Wilde put it, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. For commentators, that switches into reverse: indifferent to price, we are expected to deliberate value. 

Full disclosure, I am privileged to not have to usually pay for tickets. Occasionally, though, I despair. I feel there is no place for the working class in theatre. This is by no means my first rodeo, either.

This week, premium tickets for Mike Bartlett’s play Cock – starring Jonathan Bailey and Joel Harper-Jackson – were put on sale with ticket prices that had been spiked to £400.

If you thought that was bad, though, add the additional burden of ATG’s booking fees, the total came to £460. £460!  A sorry state of affairs.

Let’s do a brief summary: Cock is directed by Marianne Elliott and made headlines after understudy Harper-Jackson stepped into replace Taron Egerton who left suddenly due to ‘personal reasons’ having fainted during the first preview.

A spokesperson for the 90-minute play defended the unprecedented ticket prices as the result of “supply and demand.” That’s showbiz, honey. However, following backlash producers Elliott & Harper subsequently reduced the cost of the seats significantly.

Photograph: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The world may be shifting, but we must remind commercial producers – especially those recently in receipt of three rounds of significant Culture Recovery Funds – the value of accessible and affordable tickets, and a sense of the very real dangers should they discard it.

The risk of knowing the price of everything is that you can end up forgetting about its value.

Nevertheless, 15% of tickets sold have been at £20 and there is a daily lottery with tickets at this price point. Ambassadors Theatre is also a small house with only 444 seats. But most of these £20 tickets require a degree of flexibility not compatible with most people’s lives.

Still, the West End is a supply-and-demand business – and if there is escalating demand, there will be little pressure for a ceiling on what producers and theatre owners will seek to earn from. Even so, accessible tickets equal sustainability, as fair ticket prices encourage theatre-going generally and are key to the creative industries survival.

Data collected by the Society of London Theatre for 2019 found that the average ticket price for its member venues, which include all of the commercial West End and London’s major subsidised theatres, was £52.17. 

Anyway, Cock briefly became the most expensive play in West End history, thanks to dynamic pricing. First developed for the retail sector, dynamic pricing software uses algorithms to tell a theatre what they can get away with charging. It felt like a tipping point.

Photograph: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Top-price Cock premium seats are now £175. Ones that had been greedily priced at £350 are now £150, additionally £300 tickets are now on sale at £125 plus booking fees. Quite frankly, still absurd for a 90-minute play.

In reality, however, inflated ticket prices – particularly West End ticket prices – risk alienating an entire generation of future audiences as increasingly unaffordable tickets further limits audiences to very rich white people – whose wealth largely surged during the pandemic.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) have predicted the UK will fall into recession this year. What’s more, an estimated 1.5 million households across the UK will struggle to pay food and energy bills, as rising prices, and higher taxes squeeze budgets. This, coupled with the ongoing decimation of cultural education in our state schools, is a theatre time bomb. Potential audience members now face the choice between heating and eating, rather than whether to have an interval ice cream.

Yet the ever more pressing wider issue is that theatre’s future, and indeed recovery, rests entirely on the next generation of theatre-goers. Price them out at your peril. Habits are changing fast; with disrupted education, rising rents and low wages.

Photograph: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Producers Elliott & Harper have stated that they will not be commenting further, but this outcome speaks for itself.

This U-turn was not just a people-power social media victory: this was direct action. A historic watershed.

That is all.

Cock is at the Ambassadors theatre, London, until 4 June

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Jerusalem returns

If life does indeed come down to just a single moment, mine probably arrived last week on Easter Monday when I witnessed Mark Rylance on stage as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron in Jerusalem. His combination of theatricality and verbal vivacity is extraordinary.

First staged at the Royal Court in 2009, Jez Butterworth’s seismic play about national identity has returned to the West End for a limited 16 week engagement. Following record-breaking runs in 2009, 2010 and 2011, as well on Broadway in 2011, this stint is set to rake in £14 million.

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem on Broadway

Sonia Friedman’s globe conquering revival tells the story of a freewheeling man that faces eviction for unauthorised encampment in a Wiltshire wood on the day of the local fair.

Butterworth said that when he first saw Rylance as Rooster it was “the closest thing to magic I’ve ever seen”. Reader, I can corroborate this claim, Jerusalem is the purest form of theatre gold and Rylance is hypnotic. Underneath the rich and decaying leafy Brechtian design by ULTZ live chickens, a tortoise, a goldfish, and various lost souls. It is a totally spellbinding, haunting and unforgettable evening. 

Jerusalem at the Apollo

A tatty 30ft St George’s Day flag drop curtain greets you as you take to your seat. Butterworth’s epochal writing, it’s fair to say, hit me with the same force; in the character of “Rooster” Byron, we find an emblem of both England and the English language, like Falstaff on acid. “I dreamt all night of waterfalls,” Rooster says at the start, “Riches. Fame. A glimpse of God’s tail… Comes a time you’d swap it all for a solid golden p— on English soil.” 

Theatre’s all about timing, and with enthusiastic audiences flocking to auditoriums, Ian Rickson’s extraordinary production has returned just at the right time. Rooster’s bonkers tales about giants on the A1 take on a spiritual believability under Rylance’s stagecraft, but they’re also very, very funny. In any case, ambivalence is the key word here, I think. 

There is something mesmerising about a man living in a wood who hasn’t woken up yet to the tragedy of his predicament, who is still left beating the same old drum. Literally, culturally, and politically. 

The elephant in the room here is, of course, Rooster’s Romany heritage – the “gypo” slurs, the gold jewellery, the fair, the violence, the caravan in the woods and the drugs. (Butterworth’s play owes much to the time he spent with a retired Romany builder called Micky Lay). Stronger efforts to improve outcomes and representation for these severely disadvantaged communities are overdue. To this end, and following minor tweaks, Rylance’s portrayal never feels offensive or clumsy. 

Real-world politics cast a subtly different light on proceedings; this restaging reveals a yearning for a bygone Britain that never really existed. The Englishness which Jerusalem supposedly explored is now an even knottier concept than it was in 2009. 

Ian Rickson and Jez Butterworth

And anyway, Butterworth is adamant that critics still miss the point. “If this is any way a state-of-the-nation play, then I have failed abjectly,” he said at a recent event. 

He added: “You know how much I give a monkeys about the ‘state of the nation’, adding that Englishness was not a concern of his, explaining: “I don’t feel very English… The reason it is back is my daughter Bel never got the chance to see it.” 

Amazing. 

We need to celebrate and enjoy Jerusalem now so we can remember there was a time, before the cripplingly dull, joyless, and inflexible wave of new writing that engulfed everything, when going to the theatre used to be so much fun. 
Jerusalem is old-fashioned (3 hours, two intervals) and its return wonderfully sticks a bonfire under the problematic theatre echo chamber that caused the great British sense of humour failure of 2012-2020

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem

A theatre moment to cherish for ever. 

Jerusalem is at the Apollo theatre, London until 17 August.

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Olivier Awards nominations 2022: Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club leads the pack 

After a virtual ceremony in 2020 and no ceremony last year, the Olivier Awards are back this year with an in-person event, you may have heard. The nominations were announced today by Sam Tutty and Miriam Teak-Lee.

Some quick thoughts: Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club tops the Olivier Award nominations. The odds are in its favour. Lily Allen feels like a makeweight on this list – a so-so entry playing a hysterical wife in a contemporary haunted house-chiller. Where is Saoirse Ronan?

Frozen was mostly snubbed. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella was left out in the cold, with one nomination to its name: not even a nod for that fitful score. Back To The Future – The Musical, a new stage adaptation of the hit 1985 film, landed seven nominations, which was surprising.

On the play front, single nods for Anna X and The Shark is Broken feel kind of stingy. The ‘7 actors who play a tiger’ in Lolita Chakrabarti’s majestic Life of Pi nomination is amazing, the show secured 9 nods. 

Jessie Buckley photo credit: Marc Brenner

The Best Actress in a Musical must be the closest fought. Jessie Buckley gives a superb and utterly unique performance in Cabaret. Sutton Foster was totally totally mesmerising in Anything Goes. Not backing Anything Goes in the Best Revival of a Musical is a practically treasonable offence, but Cabaret inches into pole position on nearly every category. These two productions are toe-to-toe, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. 

Anyway, let’s have a recap of the nominees plus a guide to who should win each category.

Cunard Best Revival

A Number at The Old Vic

Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

The Tragedy Of Macbeth at Almeida Theatre

Who should win: The Normal Heart 

Who will win: The Tragedy of Macbeth 

Noël Coward/Geoffrey Johnson Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play

The Choir Of Man at Arts Theatre

Pantoland At The Palladium at The London Palladium

Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at Criterion Theatre

The Shark Is Broken at Ambassadors Theatre

Who should win: Pride and Prejudice (*Sort of)  

Who will win: The Shark is Broken 

Magic Radio Best Musical Revival

Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Spring Awakening at Almeida Theatre

Who should win: Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club   

Who will win: Anything Goes 

Best Costume Design

Jon Morrell for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Christopher Oram for Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Tom Scutt for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Catherine Zuber for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Who should win: Tom Scutt for Cabaret 

Who will win: Tom Scutt for Cabaret

Sutton Foster photo credit Tristram Kenton

d&b audiotechnik Award for Best Sound Design

Ian Dickinson for 2:22 A Ghost Story at Noël Coward Theatre

Carolyn Downing for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Nick Lidster for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Gareth Owen for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Who should win: Carolyn Downing for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who will win: Gareth Owen for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Best Original Score or New Orchestrations

Anything Goes – New Orchestrations: Bill Elliott, David Chase and Rob Fisher at Barbican Theatre

Back To The Future – The Musical – Composers: Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard; Orchestrations: Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook at Adelphi Theatre

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical – Orchestrator: Simon Hale at Lyric Theatre

Life Of Pi – Composer: Andrew T. Mackay at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who should win: Anything Goes  

Who will win: Life of Pi   

Best Theatre Choreographer

Finn Caldwell for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Julia Cheng for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Sonya Tayeh for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Who should win: Cabaret 

Who will win: Cabaret 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

7 actors who play the Tiger for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Dino Fetscher for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

Nathaniel Parker for The Mirror And The Light at Gielgud Theatre

Danny Lee Wynter for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

Who should win: 7 actors who play the Tiger

Who will win: Dino Fetscher

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Tori Burgess for Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at Criterion Theatre

Liz Carr for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier

Christina Gordon for Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at Criterion Theatre

Akiya Henry for The Tragedy Of Macbeth at Almeida Theatre

Who should win: Tori Burgess

Who will win: Tori Burgess 

Blue-I Theatre Technology Award for Best Set Design

Tim Hatley for Design and Nick Barnes & Finn Caldwell for Puppets for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Tim Hatley for Design and Finn Ross for Video Design for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Derek McLane for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Tom Scutt for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre 

Who should win: Life of Pi 

Who will win: Life of Pi 

Life of Pi Photo: Johan Persson

White Light Award for Best Lighting Design

Neil Austin for Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Isabella Byrd for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Tim Lutkin for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Tim Lutkin and Andrzej Goulding for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

 Who should win: Cabaret 

Who will win: Frozen 

Best Actress In A Supporting Role In A Musical

Gabrielle Brooks for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at Lyric Theatre

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for Cinderella at Gillian Lynne Theatre

Carly Mercedes Dyer for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Liza Sadovy for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Who should win: Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

Who will win: Carly Mercedes Dyer

Best Actor In A Supporting Role In A Musical

Clive Carter for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Hugh Coles for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Elliot Levey for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Gary Wilmot for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Who should win: Elliot Levey 

Who will win: Elliot Levey 

Eddie Redmayne photo credit: Marc Brenner

Best Actor In A Musical

Olly Dobson for Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

Arinzé Kene for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at Lyric Theatre

Robert Lindsay for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Eddie Redmayne for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Who should win: Eddie Redmayne 

Who will win: Eddie Redmayne 

Best Actress In A Musical

Jessie Buckley for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Sutton Foster for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Beverley Knight for The Drifters Girl at Garrick Theatre

Stephanie McKeon for Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

 Who should win: JESSIE BUCKLEY

Who will win: JESSIE BUCKLEY

Best Actress

Lily Allen for 2:22 A Ghost Story at Noël Coward Theatre

Sheila Atim for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

Emma Corrin for Anna X at Harold Pinter Theatre

Cush Jumbo for Hamlet at Young Vic

Who should win: Emma Corrin 

Who will win: Lily Allen 

Best Actor

Hiran Abeysekera for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Ben Daniels for The Normal Heart at National Theatre – Olivier 

Omari Douglas for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

Charles Edwards for Best Of Enemies at Young Vic

 Who should win: Hiran Abeysekera

Who will win: Ben Daniels 

Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director

Rebecca Frecknall for Cabaret at The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Michael Longhurst for Constellations – Donmar Warehouse at Vaudeville Theatre

Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes at Barbican Theatre

Max Webster for Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who should win: Rebecca Frecknall 

Who will win: Rebecca Frecknall 

Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre

10 Nights at Bush Theatre

Folk at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

The Invisible Hand at Kiln Theatre

Old Bridge at Bush Theatre

A Place For We at Park Theatre

Who should win: Folk at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Who will win: 10 Nights at Bush Theatre 

Best Family Show

Billionaire Boy at Garrick Theatre

Dragons And Mythical Beasts at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

What The Ladybird Heard at Palace Theatre

Wolf Witch Giant Fairy at Royal Opera House – Linbury Theatre

Who should win: Billionaire Boy at Garrick Theatre

Who will win: Billionaire Boy at Garrick Theatre

Best New Play

2:22 A Ghost Story at Noël Coward Theatre

Best Of Enemies at Young Vic

Cruise at Duchess Theatre

Life Of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre

Who should win: Cruise 

Who will win: Best of Enemies 

Mastercard Best New Musical

Back To The Future – The Musical at Adelphi Theatre

The Drifters Girl at Garrick Theatre

Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at Lyric Theatre

Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Piccadilly Theatre

Who should win: Moulin Rouge! 

Who will win: Moulin Rouge!  

And there we have it. 

The 2022 Olivier Awards take place on Sunday April 10 at the Royal Albert Hall.

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Normal has walked the plank & theatre is in flux

January 2022

As we await the known unknowns of Omicron, one’s sanity becomes an object of speculation among one’s acquaintances. 

I am fed up. Jaded. Exhausted. None of this is normal. Normal has walked the plank.

Life of Pi

I tell you this not as aimless revelation but because I want you to know, as you read this, precisely who I am and where I am and what is on my mind.

Alas, The Music Venue Trust, which represents grassroots music venues around the country, has warned of combined losses of £22 million by the end of January – effectively undermining “the entire ecosystem that is the bedrock of a £5 billion world-leading music industry”.

Crisis management, particularly in a health emergency, demands leadership that’s firm, fast, decisive and calm. This government have failed us.

More than 150,000 people in the UK have now died within 28 days of a positive Covid test since the pandemic began 22 months ago. Every one of those 150,000 lives lost leaves its own story, and grief, behind. 

Unfortunately, hopes of building a fairer society and improving the lot of key workers are being trumped by a wish to return to normal.

The winter has been a disaster for hospitality and entertainment venues. Christmas – the time that institutions rely on for 40% of their annual income – was a wash out for the second year on the trot for most UK theatres. Omicron and Plan B turmoil emptied our auditoriums as audiences stayed home and creative teams self-isolated.

The industry continues to face insurmountable challenges. 

Nightclubs are shut in Wales
, with limits on hospitality, sports events and who people can meet.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has ordered capacities for seated indoor performances are cut to 200 and social distancing is back for at least three weeks.

In the past month, theatre producer Sonia Friedman has cancelled more than 158 shows and lost more than £4 million because of the continued uncertainty. “We are seeing drops in our box office of 25 and 50 per cent. There’s fear, despair and confusion all round,” she said in an interview with the Sunday Times. “The government think we are OK but we are not.” 

Still, in ‘normal times’ live events are estimated to be worth £70 billion a year, yet the Culture Recovery Fund largely failed to reach freelancers, who do the work. The government continues to stand by. 

Pride and Prejudice* (sort of*

Last week, critic Dominic Maxwell presented a vital summary of the state of play, with producer of Pride and Prejudice* (Sort of*) David Pugh stating: “I don’t know how long we can keep going. Some people are giving the impression that everything is fine. It really isn’t. It’s beyond serious.” The production will close in London next month and hopefully tour.

Meanwhile, in the same article, artistic director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris admitted that the institution will have to dip into reserves after the covid-cursed musical Hex was cancelled multiple times and will end the current run without a press night. “We are recognising that it is going to be grim over the next couple of weeks. But we will do whatever we can to keep open.” Norris says. 

In London’s West End Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye states that the lack of a robust central, unified voice of information is leaving audiences and the industry beleaguered and baffled. “The West End has a body, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), that’s supposed to represent theatre owners and producers. But it has been hopeless at communicating the changes that are affecting show schedules daily basis…” he says. “Come on, people, get organised! You’ve had two years. Productions are on a precipice. Thousands of jobs are on the line.”

Indeed, Julian Bird, the current chief executive of the SOLT and U.K. Theatre, has acknowledged his own gathering irrelevance by announcing he will step down from the position, effective May 2022.

Hex

Bird, who has been with the organisations since 2010, said: “It had always been my intention to think about moving on around the 10th anniversary of my time in the role, which would have been in November 2020. As with so much, the pandemic intervened in that.” 

Well, quite. 

Off West End, emerging work and young talent is once again under serious threat. Also last week, as you might have seen, The Vault Festival, an annual London fringe event was cancelled for the third year in a row. 

The Vaults is an essential part of the theatre ecology – roughly six hundred shows, featuring over 2,500 performances over several months – and is often a calling card for young, underrepresented, and diverse artists. The other benefits of appearing at the festival are incalculable. 

The official statement reads: “We have to make brave and proactive decisions to prioritise and protect the mental health, wellbeing and safety of our staff, artists, and audiences. We work with a lot of vulnerable people, for whom participating in the festival is no longer viable in light of the ongoing developments.”

The VAULT Festival sign above one of the underground venues

Nevertheless, the generosity and offers of advice to those affected from some sections of the theatre community have been nothing short of inspiring. More please, folks.

I have been buoyed by scenes of understudies, swings and covers saving the day – and everyone who has kept theatre going against all odds in recent weeks. Pandemic heroes.

Anyway, let us hope that new medicines and stronger vaccines are reasons for real optimism. Spring will come around and *there is a chance that* 2022 will be the year we live alongside the virus – a hope for an industry so savaged by lockdowns and government abandon. 

If you or your show have been affected by anything mentioned in this blog, need advice or help do not hesitate to contact me: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

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Our industry is in crisis – again – the government must act now to save it

December 2021. 

A Covid tidal wave is crashing into us. Theatres are faced once again with critical and tough restrictions despite robust measures in place to keep their staff and audiences safe. The situation is dire and deteriorating.

The number of Covid cases reported on Wednesday was the highest yet during the pandemic. You read that right: the highest ever during these long two years. 

In the meantime, Twitter is just a series of cancellations scrolling across the screen while a voiceover recites the words “brink … precipice … abyss … void …” repeatedly.

Speaking of voids, Nadine Dorries has been charged with safeguarding the nation’s cultural heart at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Culture Wars Minister who once said lefties are “dumbing down panto”.  Nadine, despite several days of training on I’m A Celebrity for her new role, gives an immediate impression of total skulduggery. Where is she?

The RSC Matilda The Musical
The RSC Matilda The Musical

Like a section of cliff face crumbling into the sea, West End shows including Hamilton, The Lion King, Cabaret, Six and many more across the UK have had to cancel performances owing to variant Omicron outbreaks among cast and crew. This week the National Theatre cancelled a preview of its Christmas show Hex, which is based on Sleeping Beauty, after one of its lead actors caught Covid.

In a statement, the National’s artistic director, Rufus Norris, wrote: “You will no doubt be aware of the impact that Covid has been having on productions across the industry (none of ours over the last year have escaped entirely) but the impact on Hex has been considerable, with several members of the company including one of our leads being taken ill during the technical and preview period, and fresh bad news on that front again today.”

The government is frightening everyone into staying home but not providing support for affected businesses.

Our post-apocalyptic Prime Minister’s shambolic messaging (“Think carefully before you go…”) is costing the entertainment and hospitality industry billions of pounds during a period that should nurture audiences, provides work for freelancers and enable venues’ other activities. 

Even so, no additional support has yet been offered to the sector. Without intervention, we’ll lose more talent as well as theatres. And everyone seems angry, all the time. Hell, one audience member was handcuffed and arrested during an Adam Kay show at Rose Theatre on Tuesday night after he refused to wear a mask properly. 

Dear dear.

Vital industries continue to be let down. Again. When grilled on the ongoing ineptitude the government point to their ‘unprecedented support’ for the culture sector through the £2bn culture recovery fund. That money has long been and continues to be burnt through. 

The crisis is far from over; it seems unfathomable that the abandoning of restrictions on so-called Freedom Day and 20 months of Covid chaos has left us at five minutes to midnight. But here we are.