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Theatre to look forward to in 2023

Fine, I have compiled a list of shows that I am looking forward to this year.

GUYS AND DOLLS 

The legendary musical gets the full Bridge’s immersive staging, promising us the New York lights and Havana heat. Daniel Mays leads the pack as Nathan Detroit, alongside Marisha Wallace as Miss Adelaide. Nick Hytner directs, and Arlene Phillips choreographs this open-ended run.

MISS SAIGON 

Sheffield Theatre’s production of Boublil-Schönberg arrives at the Crucible this summer and promises to shift the story and characters and engender “big important conversations” about the shows problematic Asian stereotypes. Anyway, if you like the idea of shows somewhere between gender bending Company (2018) and burn-it-down Emilia, this is probably up your street.

CRAZY FOR YOU

This sparkling and infectious revival of the Gershwin’s musical arrives in the west end starring triple threat Charlie Stemp. Expect glorious dancing, note-perfect melodies, and some brilliant physical comedy. Pure class. 

SYLVIA 

Beverley Knight stars as Emmeline Parnkhurst in a kinetic new hip hop musical that fuses soul and funk at the story of Sylvia, “the lesser-known Pankhurst at the heart of the Suffragette movement. 

Originally a ‘work in progress’ dance show ‘Sylvia’ is back at the Old Vic as a full-blown dance musical. 

A LITTLE LIFE 

Ivo Van Hove directs this divisive production of Hanya Yanagihara’s mesmerising novel, it gets an English language adaptation.  The cast includes James Norton and Omari Douglas, as the acceptable face of self-harm and psychological pain. 

This is a long evening of theatre – though it has been trimmed down from the relentless four-hour Dutch version I saw in Edinburgh last summer – that follows the lives of four university friends. Think The Inheritance with masochism. 

OPERATION MINCEMEAT 

Following previous runs at the New Diorama Theatre in 2019 and Southwark Playhouse in 2020, 2021 and 2022, as well as an extended run at Riverside Studios last summer, Operation Mincemeat is set to win a much bigger following at the Fortune Theatre, replacing ‘The Woman in Black’ after 33-years.

STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE 

Following a sell-out return Sheffield run this show transfers to the National Theatre next month and must be seen.  

Got it? Good.

Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s brilliant Park Hill 2018 musical celebrates the communities that move through six decades of dilapidation, social change, and gentrification. 

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

The latest hit from smart Lynn Nottage, Pulitzer-prize winner for Sweat, whom writes the book for this musical featuring a group of rebel women in small-town 60s South Carolina. With music by Spring Awakening’s Duncan Sheik, this Almeida show is bound to be good. 

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF 

Tennessee Williams febrile masterpiece of family dysfunction and tremendous sorrow in the Deep South gets a revitalised staging by Roy Alexander Weise at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. 

SHIRLEY VALENTINE 

Sheridan Smith will take on the role of ‘theatre’s best-loved mum’ in Willy Russell’s play in London in February.The play, which was also made into a 1989 movie with Pauline Collins, tells the story of a working-class housewife from Liverpool which focuses on her dissatisfaction with life before a transformative foreign holiday.

LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS 

Jenna Coleman and Aidan Turner star in Sam Steiner’s smart two-hander about “what happens when we can’t say anything” after the government caps daily speech at 140 words per person. This 75 minute fringe hit is a little out of place in the west end but at this point let us be glad it is happening at all. 

IN DREAMS 

This is a new jukebox musical from the creators of & Juliet and it premieres at Leeds Playhouse in 2023. 

In Dreams uses the music of the late Roy Orbison to tell an original story about a female singer. The show is being described as a ‘lyrical and comedic exploration about legacy and how we would like to be remembered.’ 

Casting has yet to be revealed…

See you soon and ‘all the best’ for 2023!

Carl x

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A Streetcar Named Desire is everything you want Theatre to be

Mescal, Credit…Marc Brenner


First things first, Paul Mescal is tremendous. He makes bully Stanley Kowalski terrifying yet sensitive, while Anjana Vasan as his wife Stella is magnificent – – blind to his brutality.

Kowalski is the epitome of toxic masculinity, a character devoid of empathy and kindness.

Alas, blue-collar Stanley sees that the unexpected sister-in-law Blanche DuBois is not what she appears to be, and sets out to destroy her. Patsy Ferran excels as the disintegrating dame in director Rebecca Frecknall’s grand production of the 1947 Tennessee Williams play. 

Ferran who stepped in to play Blanche last month when Lydia Wilson withdrew due to an injury, is completely mesmerising.

Madeleine Girling’s empty raised platform, under Lee Curran’s lighting, makes the in-the-round battle for territory fully absorbing. Frecknall honours Williams in not making it easy to take sides.

This seriously unsettling production with few props barrels along: the furious jazz drum score (designed by Peter Rice) sometimes becomes intrusive and occasionally makes the dialogue hard to hear.  

But on the whole the nerve jangling a capella singing, percussion and symphonic swells work to the play’s advantage: they punctuate Stanley’s rancour and Blanches downward spiral. 

As Blanche loses first her dignity and then her mind, an audience’s emotions is left in shreds. I wept as Blanche walked from the auditorium. 

This multi-faceted show lasts around three hours, but there isn’t a moment when the drink-fuelled tension drops or focus of the ensemble lapses.

Pasty Ferran as Blanche

The Almeida’s A Streetcar Named Desire – the play’s fifth major UK revival in the last 20 years – is everything you want theatre to be: vital, challenging, intellectually alive, visually stunning, emotionally affecting.

Yet my memories of this spiky production will be of lean, sexy and pitch perfect Mescal who roars like a goaded boar – “I’m king around here.” He mimicks a tiger, in the infamous show-down scene

It’s a savage tour de force not only from Mescal and Ferran but everyone involved, and awards will follow: a west end transfer has been announced

So if you haven’t got a ticket, try relying on the kindness of strangers.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs at the Almeida, London, until 4 February.

West End performers & stage management demand 17% pay rise

Stand Up for 17%
  • Equity’s Stand Up For 17% campaign launches tomorrow, focusing on West End performers and stage management’s demand for a 17% pay rise.
  • Working in the West End is meant to represent the pinnacle of a live performance career in the UK, yet inadequate pay and difficult working hours mean many are struggling with both their finances and their work-life balance.
  • Two thirds of West End members have considered leaving the industry.
  • 45% of West End members have a second job, with almost half who say they do reporting that this is because their West End pay doesn’t cover their living expenses.

Tomorrow (Friday 20 January), Equity – the performing arts and entertainment trade union – launch their ‘Stand Up For 17%’ campaign.

The campaign focuses on Equity members’ demand that West End theatre bosses raise the minimum weekly pay for performers and stage management by 17% – with social media activity (#StandUpFor17) going live in the morning, followed by members putting up campaign posters in their greenrooms across central London in the afternoon.

Equity can reveal that two thirds (61%) of West End members have considered leaving the industry due to terms, conditions and/or pay in the last three years (surveys detailed below*) – running the serious risk of a talent drain to the UK’s renowned live entertainment sector, especially when more money can be earnt in TV and film.

Meanwhile 45% of West End members have a second job, with almost half who say they do (48%) reporting that this is because their West End pay doesn’t cover their living expenses**.

Anthony, a performer in aWest End musical, says: “I’ve been performing in the West End for just over six years now, but when Covid hit I couldn’t work and fell into debt. I took on two part-time sales jobs which I still have to do today alongside my West End work, as the one performing job alone just doesn’t pay enough to cover the cost of living in London and my outgoings. At the moment I work seven days a week non-stop and struggle to find a work-life balance, so am now at a crossroads where I’m thinking if I left the show – gave up on my dream job – and upped my hours on the other jobs that aren’t really my passion, I could earn more money and live more comfortably.”

The minimums are not enough

Working in a West End play or musical is meant to represent the pinnacle of a live performance career in the UK, with years of training needed to gain the required skills – not to mention talent and, in the case of performers, a daily dedication to maintaining performance abilities and physical fitness. Yet inadequate pay and difficult working hours mean many are struggling with their finances and work-life balance.

Ella, stage management in a West End theatre, says: “Because the property I live in with my partner has mould, we’ve both been sick and need to move out. But as we’re both self-employed and work in the performing arts, our combined salary doesn’t pass the affordability check threshold and we’ve not found a landlord that will have us. We also struggle to keep our electricity meter topped up during the winter not only because energy bills have gone up, but also because we both work unsociable hours and sometimes don’t have a chance to get to the shop.”  

What’s more, an Equity survey has shown that rather than the union minimum wages being the lowest threshold for pay, more than half of West End performers and stage management are being paid at these minimums (more details below***). The union’s research shows that the public perception of the West End as a glamourous place where high pay is the norm just isn’t true, with existing pay and conditions presenting huge challenges to talent retention and diversity in the industry.

For example, the minimum for a performer working in a Category C theatre (up to 799 seats, the smallest tier of West End theatres) is currently £629.41 a week (full minimum rates listed below). While that adds up to £2,517.64 a month, once tax (roughly 20%), agent fees (12%) and pension payments (3%) are applied, that leaves these performers with roughly £1,636.46 a month to spend on renting in London, bills, commuting, food, dependents and other living costs.

Crucially, West End show contracts are not permanent, usually lasting between a few months to a year. Yet when performers and stage management can barely cover their day-to-day expenses, they are unable to save to cover the out-of-work periods that are inevitable in a gig-economy industry – let alone save for a family, a house or their retirement.

With the average rent of a room in the capital reported to be £935 per month alongside the rising cost of living and energy bills, this puts many in the West End in a precarious position and forced to live in house shares even as they get older.

Fodhla, stage management in a West End theatre: “I’m currently planning how to leave stage management, the job I love and have done for a decade, because I want to have kids in a year or two and don’t see it being possible if I’m working in live theatre. The hours are relentless and you don’t earn enough money to be able to afford childcare, let alone shoes and books. I’ve worked so hard – I’m really proud of myself and my skills I’ve built up. But if this is the height of my career already, then that’s not sustainable.”

#StandUpFor17

The Stand Up For 17% campaign coincides with the submission of Equity’s West End claim to the Society of London Theatre (SOLT, representing producers and engagers in the West End). Equity and SOLT will negotiate the terms of the collective West End Agreement that sets out the minimum pay, terms and conditions for all performers and stage management working in West End theatres.

The claim asks for a new agreement that will run for two years from April 2023 until April 2025. The changes Equity are seeking to the West End Agreement include the below, and more (get in touch if you would like to view the full claim):

  • A real terms pay increase in minimum rates of pay for Year 1 (April 2023-24) of 17%, and Year 2 (April 2024-25) of a further 10% or RPI if higher.
  • A five-day rehearsal week from Monday to Friday (apart from tech week). Currently, 6-day rehearsal and performance weeks are the norm.
  • An increase to holiday entitlement on the basis that Equity members work a 6-day week for the performance period and the current entitlement is calculated assuming a 5-day work week. This would see a rise from 28 days of holiday pay per year to 34.
  • Increases to fees to remunerate covers (understudies, swings and stage management who step into roles due to absences) for their important work. As highlighted since the Covid-19 pandemic, they have meant the difference between a show going on and producers losing thousands of pounds. Currently, an understudy who must learn their own role as well as that of a lead, only receives £35 a week on top of the normal performance fee. A swing, who must learn multiple ensemble roles – sometimes numbering more than 10 – receives £90 more a week. Equity is seeking significant increases to cover fees in recognition of the extra workload required.

Amy, a swing performer in a West End musical: “I don’t feel like swings get paid enough for the extra work we do – it’s hard to find people who are able to cope with high amounts of stress and perform well, or be able to adapt really quickly on stage. And it’s so much extra revision – I’ve mapped the entire show so I know where everything is at every given moment, and when I’m at home I’m constantly listening to different tracks as well to learn harmonies. I’ve also performed abroad and working in the West End is the worst paid in comparison because the cost of living is so high.”

Paul W Fleming, Equity General Secretary, says: “Coming out of COVID, our industry was determined to ‘build back better’, and Equity’s West End campaign on work, rest and pay is the start of making that aspiration a reality. At a time of high inflation, our members have decided to Stand Up For 17% – a sensible rise in the minimum when rents, energy, and other costs have continued to rocket for over a year. We’re looking forward to sitting down with the producers in the coming months to find a roadmap to implement our reasonable aspirations. Theatre is about people, particularly its talented and skilled workforce – and we need real focus on ensuring performers and stage management are fairly paid, and achieve a proper work-life balance.”

Hannah Plant, Equity West End Official, says: “As Equity’s West End Official I meet working members every week on big shows whose experiences of struggle and hardship don’t tally with rising ticket prices. We need greater financial transparency from producers to ensure that profits aren’t being funnelled off to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of our members. It’s high time West End workers are paid what they deserve given their hard work, expertise and the revenue they generate.”

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BECTU Union’s Philippa Childs: “It does feel as if our whole infrastructure is creaking.”

The strike – and the threat of striking – should be celebrated precisely because it underpins many rights and freedoms we now take for granted. 

It is the second morning of the Royal College of Nursing strikes and after a challenging few years, Philippa Childs, Head of union BECTU is usually an optimistic person.

But after a year of total pandemonium, it’s hard to see the light. “I must admit I feel quite pessimistic at the state of the country generally. It does feel as if our whole infrastructure is creaking,” Childs says, as we talk on Zoom. 

Head of BECTU Union, Philippa Childs
Head of BECTU Union, Philippa Childs

BECTU is the UK’s media and entertainment trade union; sectors covered include broadcasting, film, independent production, theatre and the arts, live events, leisure and digital media. Unions stand up for the workforce in good times and in times of trouble.

Why does she think the government view culture as a burden and not an investment? “We have written to the government on a number of occasions to ask them to meet to address the concerns of our members.”

“Of the Secretary of States who have been in place since I’ve been in this role, I don’t think any of them have taken up our offer to meet,” she says, with a shrug.

Still, there have been 11 UK culture secretaries over the past 12 years and arts-funding has been repeatedly cut amidst the recovery from the pandemic. 

“I get the impression talking to the new SOLT and UK Theatre CEO’s, Claire Walker and Hannah Essex, I think they are a breath of fresh air, by the way –  are happier to talk to us about the broader challenges in the industry and are committed to proper engagement with us,” Childs says, not mincing her words. 

“When I took up this role we had 30,000 members across the creative industries, we now have 37,000. Our industry does rely on freelancers such a lot and the growth has largely been in that area,” she says. “People have a better understanding that they need a collective voice.” 

Childs is, understandably, proud.

“Our members working in live events and film and TV work incredibly hard,” she stresses. 

What then are the biggest misconceptions of joining a Union? “Probably the whole thing about strike action. I think people don’t necessarily understand the law and how difficult it is to take strike action.” 

“I suppose my approach has always been to be very close to what members are experiencing and what they actually want to achieve, as opposed to pursuing more political agendas,” says Childs. 

Still, the financial realities of repeatedly taking home lower pay packets can begin to weigh on individuals.

Equity members protested outside the Arts Council England offices
Equity members protested outside the Arts Council England offices

Performers’ union Equity recently organised rallies and delivered letters of protest at Arts Council England offices as a result of ACE cutting £50m a year from arts organisations in London in its 2023-26 settlement, to fulfil a government instruction to divert money away from the capital as part of the levelling up programme.

“It’s a difficult time for everyone, I think,” she says. “We have to keep our campaigns going, and we need to make the case for why investment in the creative industries makes economic as well as cultural good sense.”

A recent survey from BECTU outlines low pay, long hours and poor work-life balance as key issues driving the continued skills shortage plaguing the UK’s theatre sector.

The survey found that almost all respondents (94%) felt the industry relied on a “show must go on” attitude at the expense of workers’ welfare, while 89% of workers believed employers had unfairly appealed to their goodwill to pressure them into doing work beyond their remit.

Childs – the first female head of BECTU – talks of creative arts workers that are “at breaking point” and stresses that “the industry cannot expect them to remain ‘for the love of the job’ when there is better working conditions and flexible working lives to be found elsewhere.

ENO soloists appear wearing ‘Choose Opera’ t-shirts. Picture: Twitter @KathyLette
ENO soloists appear wearing ‘Choose Opera’ t-shirts. Picture: Twitter @KathyLette

She says that “there needs to be some real progress around addressing the chronic issues facing the sector.” And she craves “some sign of recognition” from central government that the arts are of value and important.

Joining a Union isn’t a sin; it’s a key to a society less beset by injustice than our own.


Childs adds: “We don’t think that poor work/life balance and low pay are intractable. Our members who work in theatre are very concerned about long working hours, bullying and harassment, too.” 

For more information or to join BECTU visit https://bectu.org.uk

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Top 5 Shows of 2022 (according to me)

Well, 2022 – don’t start. 

This time last year, I somewhat naively said that the industry was emerging from its pandemic trials. The UK is the only G7 country not to have regained the ground lost during the lockdown.

Crucially, though, Regional Theatres produced excellent, thoughtful and daring work during the most difficult and excruciating period in British Theatre history. Some institutions and freelancers may not make it to the end of 2023.

Royal Exchange delivered the quirky Betty! A Sort of Musical. Opera North remounted the exquisite A Little Night Music. The Covid delayed and ‘controversial’ Into The Woods landed at Theatre Royal Bath, and Nottingham Playhouse took on the Parent Trap with musical Identical

Let’s face it, 2022 was a year that delivered exactly what none of us wanted it to. 

Including but not limited to:

To quote writer Sean O’Casey: ‘The whole worl’s in a state o’ chassis.’

At least the 2021 London Cabaret Cast Recording is on its way. In the meantime, though, here are my top 5 shows of the year. 

  1. Age is a Feeling 
Age is a Feeling

I loved everything about this. Haley McGee performed an interactive and somber solo show – first at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and then two sold out runs at Soho Theatre, where I saw it. 

Essentially, perched atop a ladder – like a lifeguard – McGee explored getting older. 

Age is a Feeling chronicled turning 25 — when, we are told, the brain becomes fully formed — and explores the fate that lies ahead. McGee‘s wicked meditation on mortality is part autobiographical theatre and part TED Talk.

The 12 intersected tales from the same life, with six performed at each show. Pure beautiful, wry storytelling. 

Age is a feeling, you’ll feel it.

2. My Neighbour Totoro 

My Neighbour Totoro

The Royal Shakespeare Company stage version of the globally adored Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro didn’t disappoint.

Phelim McDermott’s production combined sensitive performances and exquisite design, with Basil Twist’s enchanting puppet direction bringing us a mountainous, shaggy Totoro and a mad inflatable ginger Cat-Bus, not to mention butterflies, fluffy chickens and darting soot sprites.

My Neighbour Totoro was brilliant, bold, and bonkers. An unforgettable hit.

3. Crazy For You 

Crazy For You
Crazy For You

CHARMING. That’s what this show was. Very charming indeed.

Charlie Stemp delivered a thundering performance for the ages. Musical theatre doesn’t get any better than Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Crazy For You.

This classy, sophisticated show is transferring to the West End next Summer – with 20 minutes sliced off it. 

As for Stemp, he displayed the physical comedy of Norman Wisdom and the dancefloor artistry of Fred Astaire, confirming his place as a true superstar. 

4. Prima Facie 

Prima Facie

Suzie Miller’s smart play about sexual assault and the legal system, provided an electrifying performance from Jodie Comer that never let up for a moment. 

The NT live broke all box office records as the highest-grossing event cinema release since cinemas closed at the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020. 

Comer gave an acting masterclass in this 100-minute solo show, playing a barrister who defends men accused of sexual assault – until she is date-raped by a colleague herself. 

Prima Facie transfers to Broadway in 2023.

5. The Collaboration  

“It’s not what you are that counts,” Andy Warhol, eternal fan of misdirection, once said. “It’s what they think you are.”

The Collaboration

Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope played Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat brilliantly. 

Anthony McCarten’s lively Young Vic bio-drama told the early-80s New York story of Warhol and Basquiat’s work on those 16 canvases, and the friendship that took root between them.

Listen, The Collaboration was a hoot. And Kwame Kwei-Armah’s vibrant production is now on Broadway

FAREWELL.

Carl x 

N.B. I think I should have included Oklahoma! Oh well. 

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Is It Time To Bin The Embargo?

The embargo. 

It was invented a century ago, primarily for practical reasons. Embargoes provide journalists with news that should not be published until a certain date and time. Standard.

But if someone gets something exclusively without having the embargoed release and by doing some journalism instead they’re within their right to put the story out – see: political & news journalism.

So where did it all go wrong? More often than not these days, in the arts especially, the only reason for the ‘embargo’ is to protect whoever is given the “exclusive”.

As a consequence, a select group of information providers (Baz Bamigboye for Deadline or WhatsOnStage) become the only means through which the theatre loving public receive information, and are thereby situated at the centre of things. It is by design. There are no such things as coincidences.

Similar publications and online personalities yearn for privileged access. And they are often prepared to pay a price to get it. Usually their dignity.

the cast of Tammy Faye at Almeida Theatre, London

Naturally, currency and status involves becoming a subsidiary part of the machine. It often means turning their readers and viewers into dupes.

In other words, embargoes are more or less predicated on lack of access. How do publications make the most of the scraps they are fed? 

Such questions sit heavily on the shoulders of those who work in and around theatreland. “Oh God,” is the initial response from one London arts marketing agency managing director, who wisely asks not to be identified. “We’ve been burned in the past by miscommunication and we’re really aware how much chaos someone potentially breaking news has become. I think embargoes’ days are numbered. There have been several occasions where we’re like: This makes all of us look bad.”

Ironically, the decline of print journalism has brought with it an array of diverse coverage and reviews such as podcasts, YouTubers and bloggers. The possibility to put out news right away via Twitter, the urge to comment online can be difficult to bear, and the speeded up news cycle has put pressure on the relevance of embargoes. News is news.

Previously, I’ve experienced derision when I have broken so-called embargoes but all that information was, in any case, completely available for anyone to find, if they knew where to look. And therein lies the illogicality of the position. Since I am not *always* issued said news items with embargoes, how can I have been guilty of breaking an embargo? Would you apologise for breaking a promise you never agreed to keep?

In the case of Bonnie & Clyde, I received a general ‘On Sale Tomorrow’ email earlier in the day containing generic marketing copy; there was no embargo information on it; It had gone to 1,000 other people.

The agency has since conceded that the information was available due to a “technical error”. Alas, I’m not apologising for not abiding by an embargo that a ‘technical error’ rendered irrelevant. 

You can’t arrest a man for receiving mail. Hand on heart, if i receive a release with an embargo, i honour it. In fact, I was sent 3 this week.

And so, after Tweeting myself, a bunch of people I’d never met told me how dreadful I was. Twitter is not a kind place, even if it is full of pointless people who think they are.

As usual, the complainers have entirely missed the point

Among the nasty commentary: “Di*khead” “Scum bag” “As*hole”, “Trash” and more rage. Yes, I received a death threat. Bizarrely, meanwhile, the composer broke the embargo, too, publishing the news himself on Instagram. I’m serious. 

Credit where it is due, the PR telephoned me to discuss and I suppose you could say took a duty of care to see if I was OK. Which was nice.

Either way, we seem to be still no closer to working out a civil way to disagree about musicals on the internet. (Online forum theatreboard.com contains some of the worst anonymous trolls: avoid).

Thankfully, joining digital pile-ons, sending threatening emails are among the new criminal offences that could result in jail sentences. So, good luck out there.

As tech visionary Jaron Lanier excellently points out, “people get so caught up in just relationships with others that they lose track of reality, and so they do tend to spin out of control.”

But jeez, the sheer numbers of successful, creative and interesting theatre people who AREN’T on Twitter tell a much more powerful story. 

Anyway, Elon Musk has now closed his $44bn deal to take Twitter private. “[T]he bird is freed,” Musk tweeted. So, is it time to bin the embargo? For creative teams and PRs, that’s the million dollar question.

To quote Stephen Sondheim: ’There are rights and wrongs, and in betweens.’

I have no dramatic conclusion. Just a small suggestion. 

Raise a little hell.

Stay strong, readers. 

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,” says the enigmatic Benny avatar to the audience at ABBA Voyage, musing between songs. “That is no longer the question.” Stunning effects blur 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/