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Shirley Valentine Proves Sheridan Smith Is Our Funniest Star

“I’m going to Greece for the sex — sex for breakfast, sex for dinner, sex for tea and sex for supper!” shrieks Sheridan Smith as Shirley Valentine in this knowingly playful revival.

The same age as Shirley, Smith performs this midlife monologue with heart-catching charm (“It’s like theMiddle East, there are no solutions”) and this classy production exhibits real affection. Smith is disarmingly good.

Sheridan Smith as Shirley Valentine

Like a wonky Samuel Beckett character, Shirley’s most responsive confidante is ‘wall’. And later a rock.

In these circumstances, any change could only be an improvement. Things really get going towards the end of act 1 as she slams the door on her marriage and sets out into the future.

Willy Russell, author of Educating Rita and Blood Brothers, once said of the latter that it was for people who don’t like musicals. Shirley Valentine is a play for people who don’t like plays, I think.

It’s entirely engaging and brilliant.

Anyway, fizzing Shirley heads for Greece where she blossoms like a flower in the sun, always playing directly to gallery. A lovely long bask in Smith’s maturing talent.

Structurally, this play is pretty much a music hall stand-up, directed with efficiency by Matthew Dunster. His production shrewdly offsets Paul Wills’ monochrome kitchen designs with pastel costumes and gorgeous beams of Mediterranean lighting designs by Lucy Carter. 

Fortunately, Smith more than delivers the goods in this swift-moving show about a woman who catches a glimpse of the life she could be living. Playfully cooking chips and egg, Shirley reveals her innermost thoughts to us, thereby endearing herself artlessly to the audience.

“Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and thoughts if they can’t be used?”, Smith says out loud – the power lies in its honesty.

Shirley’s ability to transcend the limitations of the class system is a camp joy to behold: as she conclusively tells us at the play’s end, she is now free to make her own life choices. Of course, women have moved on since it was written. Today, they know they have choices but that was only dawning on people like Shirley back then.

Reviews have been correctly brilliant. An encouraging sign that we as a community can accept the fact that they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Is this what civilised society looks like? Perhaps.

It seems to me that Russell is a writer of genuine nobility, with a rare gift and wit for humanity. (Although The Stage did label the production ‘well-worn’, but Smith is quite literally above average when it comes to the whole being-a- performer and transcending the material thing, so I’m not sure if this really proves whatever point it is I’m trying to make.)

West End Producer David Pugh’s production is a love letter to live theatre – breaking the Duke Of York’s box office record for advance bookings totalling £4million in the process – and entertaining as hell.

During act 2 on the opening night, Smith accidentally knocked a wine glass prop onto the stage.

SMASH.

Her knowing composure, and ability to stay in character during the hiccup, was astonishing reminding everyone she is, by a distance, the funniest actor in the West End right now.

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

And if she hadn’t been awarded an OBE already, I’d be starting a petition.

Shirley Valentine runs at the Duke Of York’s Theatre, London until 3 June 2023.

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Olivier Awards Nominations 2023: Who Will Win & Who Should Win?

First: a great deal of joy in most nominated musical Standing At The Sky’s Edge for its tremendous successes on this year’s nominations list. 

Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s hit show, about Sheffield communities, has a load of nominations including Best Musical, Best Set Design for Ben Stones and Best Actress in a Musical for Faith Omole.

Standing At The Sky’s Edge

Naturally, much acclaimed My Neighbour Totoro, the stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s 1988 animated film, takes pole position with 9 nominations in categories Best Entertainment or Comedy Play, Best Director, Best Theatre Choreographer, Best Original Score and a Best Actress nod for Mei Mac.

Donmar Warehouse’s production of The Band’s Visit gets 6 nominations and it’s good to see Katie Brayben land Best Actress in a Musical for her solid performance as Tammy Faye

However, the Best Actress category is impossible to call – though it could well be that Patsy Ferran will clinch it for her tremendous performance as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. Not backing Jodie Comer is now practically a treasonable offence, but a victory for her will happen at the expense of a subtler performance. 

Paul Mescal has added an Olivier nod for his role in A Streetcar Named Desire to his recent Oscar nomination. 27 actors are first-time Olivier nominees.

Jealous insecurities … Paul Mescal and Anjana Vasan in A Streetcar Named Desire. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Elsewhere, super producer Sonia Friedman is back on top with 17 nominations for her shows including 6 for To Kill A Mockingbird, 3 for Patriots, 1 for Jerusalem and 7 nods for Oklahoma!

On the play front, my guess is that A Streetcar Named Desire will win almost all its categories, My Neighbour Totoro will, in fact, sweep the board and New Diorama’s hit For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide – soon to run in the West End – could land Best New Play. 

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide


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

Full list of nominations for Olivier Awards 2023 with Mastercard:

Noël Coward Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play

Jack And The Beanstalk at The London Palladium

My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

My Son’s A Queer, (But What Can You Do?) at Garrick Theatre & Ambassadors Theatre

One Woman Show at Ambassadors Theatre

Will win: My Neighbour Totoro

Should win: My Neighbour Totoro 

Gillian Lynne Award for Best Theatre Choreographer

Matt Cole for Newsies at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre

Lynne Page for Standing At The Sky’s Edge at National Theatre – Olivier

Kate Prince for Sylvia at The Old Vic

Basil Twist for Puppetry Direction for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

Will win: Matt Cole for Newsies 

Should win: Lynn Page Standing At The Sky’s Edge 

Best Costume Design

Frankie Bradshaw for Blues For An Alabama Sky at National Theatre – Lyttelton

Hugh Durrant for Jack And The Beanstalk at The London Palladium

Jean Paul Gaultier for Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show at Roundhouse

Kimie Nakano for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

Will win: Kimie Nakano for My Neighbour is Totoro

Should win: Kimie Nakano for My Neighbour is Totoro

Cunard Best Revival

The Crucible at National Theatre – Olivier

Good at Harold Pinter Theatre

Jerusalem at Apollo Theatre

A Streetcar Named Desire at Almeida Theatre

Will win: A Streetcar Named Desire 

Should win: A Streetcar Named Desire

Magic Radio Best Musical Revival

My Fair Lady at London Coliseum

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Sister Act at Eventim Apollo

South Pacific at Sadler’s Wells

Will win: Oklahoma! 

Should win: South Pacific 

d&b audiotechnik Award for Best Sound Design

Bobby Aitken for Standing At The Sky’s Edge at National Theatre – Olivier

Tony Gayle for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

Drew Levy for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Ben & Max Ringham for Prima Facie at Harold Pinter Theatre

Will win: Standing At The Sky’s Edge 

Should win: Standing At The Sky’s Edge 

Best Original Score or New Orchestrations

David Yazbek, Jamshied Sharifi & Andrea Grody – Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, Orchestrations by Jamshied Sharifi & Additional Arrangements by Andrea Grody – The Band’s Visit at Donmar Warehouse

Joe Hisaishi & Will Stuart – Music by Joe Hisaishi & Orchestrations and Arrangements by Will Stuart – My Neighbour Totoro for Barbican Theatre

Daniel Kluger & Nathan Koci – Orchestrations and Arrangements by Daniel Kluger & Additional Vocal Arrangements by Nathan Koci  – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!  Young Vic

Richard Hawley & Tom Deering – Music and Lyrics by Richard Hawley & Orchestrations by Tom Deering – Standing At The Sky’s Edge at National Theatre – Olivier

Will win: Standing At The Sky’s Edge 

Should win: Standing At The Sky’s Edge 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh & Kaine Lawrence for For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at The Royal Court Theatre

Will Keen for Patriots at Almeida Theatre

Elliot Levey for Good at Harold Pinter Theatre

David Moorst for To Kill A Mockingbird at Gielgud Theatre

Sule Rimi for Blues For An Alabama Sky at National Theatre – Lyttelton

Will win: Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh & Kaine Lawrence for For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide

Should win: Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh & Kaine Lawrence for For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Rose Ayling-Ellis for As You Like It at @sohoplace

Pamela Nomvete for To Kill A Mockingbird at Gielgud Theatre

Caroline Quentin for Jack Absolute Flies Again at National Theatre – Olivier

Sharon Small for Good at Harold Pinter Theatre

Anjana Vasan for A Streetcar Named Desire at Almeida Theatre

Will win: Anjana Vasan for A Streetcar Named Desire 

Should win: Anjana Vasan for A Streetcar Named Desire 

Blue-i Theatre Technology Award for Best Set Design

Miriam Buether for To Kill A Mockingbird at Gielgud Theatre

Tom Pye for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

Ben Stones for Standing At The Sky’s Edge at National Theatre – Olivier

Mark Walters for Jack And The Beanstalk at The London Palladium

Will win: Tom Pye for My Neighbour Tototoro 

Should win: Tom Pye for My Neighbour Tototoro 

White Light Award for Best Lighting Design

Natasha Chivers for Prima Facie at Harold Pinter Theatre

Lee Curran for A Streetcar Named Desire at Almeida Theatre

Jessica Hung Han Yun for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

Tim Lutkin for The Crucible at National Theatre – Olivier

Will win: Natasha Chivers for Prima Facie 

Should win: Lee Curran for A Streetcar Named Desire 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical

Beverley Knight for Sylvia The Old Vic

Maimuna Memon for Standing At The Sky’s Edge National Theatre – Olivier

Liza Sadovy for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Marisha Wallace for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Will win: Beverley Knight for Sylvia The Old Vic 

Should win: Marisha Wallace for Oklahoma! 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical

Sharif Afifi for The Band’s Visit at Donmar Warehouse

Peter Polycarpou for The Band’s Visit at Donmar Warehouse

Clive Rowe for Sister Act at Eventim Apollo

Zubin Varla for Tammy Faye at Almeida Theatre

Will win: Sharif Afifi for The Band’s Visit

Should win: Zubin Varla for Tammy Faye 

Best Actor in a Musical

Alon Moni Aboutboul for The Band’s Visit at Donmar Warehouse

Arthur Darvill for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Julian Ovenden for South Pacific at Sadler’s Wells

Andrew Rannells for Tammy Faye at Almeida Theatre

Will win: Arthur Darvill for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Should win: Julian Ovenden for South Pacific 

Best Actress in a Musical

Katie Brayben for Tammy Faye at Almeida Theatre

Anoushka Lucas for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Miri Mesika for The Band’s Visit at Donmar Warehouse

Faith Omole for Standing At The Sky’s Edge at National Theatre – Olivier

Will win: Katie Brayben for Tammy Faye

Should win: Katie Brayben for Tammy Faye

Unusual Rigging Award for Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre

Age Is A Feeling at Soho Theatre

Blackout Songs at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

The P Word at Bush Theatre

Paradise Now! at Bush Theatre

Two Palestinians Go Dogging at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at The Royal Court Theatre

Will win: The P Word 

Should win: Age is A Feeling 

Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director

Rebecca Frecknall for A Streetcar Named Desire at Almeida Theatre

Robert Hastie for Standing At The Sky’s Edge at National Theatre – Olivier

Justin Martin for Prima Facie at Harold Pinter Theatre

Phelim McDermott for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

Bartlett Sher for To Kill A Mockingbird at Gielgud Theatre

Will win: Phelim McDermott for My Neighbour Totoro 

Should win: Rebecca Frecknall for a Streetcar Named Desire 

Best Actress

Jodie Comer for Prima Facie at Harold Pinter Theatre

Patsy Ferran for A Streetcar Named Desire at Almeida Theatre

Mei Mac for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican Theatre

Janet McTeer for Phaedra at National Theatre – Lyttelton

Nicola Walker for The Corn Is Green at National Theatre – Lyttelton

Will win: Jodie Comer for Prima Facie 

Should win: Mei Mac for My Neighbour Totoro

Best Actor

Tom Hollander for Patriots at Almeida Theatre

Paul Mescal for A Streetcar Named Desire at Almeida Theatre

Rafe Spall for To Kill A Mockingbird at Gielgud Theatre

David Tennant for Good at Harold Pinter Theatre

Giles Terera for Blues For An Alabama Sky at National Theatre – Lyttelton

Will win: Paul Mescal for A Streetcar Named Desire 

Should win: Paul Mescal for A Streetcar Named Desire 

Delta Air Lines Best New Play

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at The Royal Court Theatre

Patriots at Almeida Theatre

Prima Facie at Harold Pinter Theatre

To Kill A Mockingbird at Gielgud Theatre

Will win: Prima Facie  

Should win: Patriots 

Mastercard Best New Musical

The Band’s Visit at Donmar Warehouse

Standing At The Sky’s Edge at National Theatre – Olivier

Sylvia at The Old Vic

Tammy Faye at Almeida Theatre

Will win: Standing at the Sky’s Edge 

Should win: Standing at the Sky’s Edge 

And there we have it.

The Olivier Awards will be hosted by Hannah Waddingham and broadcast via ITV and Magic Radio. Further details of the ceremony will be announced soon.

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SOS: Let’s Talk About Theatre Audiences Misbehaving

Going to the theatre – particularly jukebox musicals – in 2023 seems to sum up an entire nation tormented by its class prejudices, insecurities, self-loathing, and entitlement.

Indeed, last week, Edinburgh Playhouse director Colin Marr warned abuse towards his front-of-house staff was unacceptable and said that he was “disgusted and angry” with dreadful behaviour aimed at his team in recent weeks.

In a statement posted online, he said: “This is becoming far too regular an occurrence – not just in our theatre but in venues across the UK. There is a very small minority of people who come to our theatre and choose to sing, dance, and talk throughout the show in a manner that disturbs others.”

Eye poppingly, a 51-year-old man and 54-year-old woman were arrested and charged in connection with an alleged brawl during the performance of Jersey Boys.

Jersey Boys

A witness told the Daily Record: “Staff asked him to calm down but because he was drunk he took offence and started throwing punches. It took about four ushers to restrain him and then another fight broke out in the stalls.”

Oh, what a night!


Furthermore, The King’s Theatre in Glasgow issued a similar appeal on social media during the recent run of The Bodyguard, urging audiences not to sing along during shows.

This prompted my suggestion for jukebox audiences to be breathalysed. The replies in that thread are beyond grim. Smoking in the upper circle at Pretty Woman, a teenager throwing up on her friend at The Cher Show and a family sharing a pizza at Moulin Rouge!

Glasgow statement

Maddest of the lot, though, inevitably came from a poor soul at & Juliet whose skull was used to steady the person behind her, who’d left mid-show for a toilet break, I’m guessing. 

So, have audiences simply forgotten how to behave?

Alas, last year, Deadline’s Baz Bamigboye reported seeing an audience member light up a joint at Get Up, Stand Up!, the Bob Marley jukebox musical. “We were standing outside the bar and the security guards raced past us. I said ‘What’s going on?’ and they said ‘A guy’s lit up a spliff in the stalls bar.’ We could actually smell something and it wasn’t a scented candle.”

And having endured weeks of pain in the a**e punters in The Drifter’s Girl Beverley Knight tweeted: “If your intention is to come to the theatre, get rat-arsed, make a scene, disrupt the show … My advice is stay your ass at home.”

Certainly, though, research indicates that post-pandemic restrictions easing there has been a spike violent behaviour and a “reversed maturity” which has caused personalities to revert to that of a challenging toddler. Go figure.

In a sane world nobody should have to police anybody else in the theatre. Like so much these days the pleasures of the vast majority are being compromised by the thoughtlessness of the drunken minority. 

Edinburgh Playhouse

In any case, I was stunned to see bouncers in the stalls at Bat Out Of Hell – another cost to producers – in an attempt to tackle increasingly drunken audiences who misbehave during weekend performances on the UK tour.

Elsewhere, SOLT/UK Theatre are floating a ‘respect campaign’ and recently said that it was looking into the scale of the problem and described audience yobbishness as a “growing issue – that we don’t fully understand the scale of yet”.

It goes almost without saying then, moneymaking ventures like ATG’s At-Seat service providing Yorkshire crisps, Sweet Chilli Pretzels, and bottles of champagne directly to your seat pre-show and during the interval. This has a lot to do with the hellish noise and lack of consideration on display. 

Trouble is, it’s show-business and “bums on seats” that count, obviously. Ticket prices are now completely unregulated and have surged 20% from pre-pandemic levels, but that doesn’t mean people can do as they please. 

In recent times, it seems Scotland and the West End are not the only place resembling feeding time at the zoo. In a – now deleted Playbill article – the key takeaway was that since pandemic lockdowns, live Broadway audiences have got more wild, hostile and disgusting, too. 

In it, a Broadway front of house manager explains: “It’s been horrible, no two ways about it… I cannot overstate how much it changed things. A bartender at a pub has the ability to cut someone off when they’re getting too drunk; they have bouncers to back them up. Our bartenders don’t have the ability to cut someone off, because we’re told to sell as many souvenir cups as we can. I’m sure higher-ups are making money hand over fist, but we’re stuck dealing with unruly drunks almost every week.”

Audience cheer for the actors at the Richard Rodgers theatre towards the end of the first return performance of Hamilton, as Broadway shows re-open

All this got me thinking: is it time to give persistently antisocial audiences a 12-month ban? Maybe.

Often theatre is all about being in the moment — in a public space — don’t forget that everyone has their own moments!

In the meantime, here’s my theatregoing checklist: Arrive 20 minutes early. Phone off. Stay quiet (if you are inclined). Don’t fight – overreacting to drunks is also antisocial. No crisps. No ice. Stop rattling your jewellery. Stay awake. Enjoy the show.

In Elizabethan times audiences clapped and shouted whenever they felt like it. Sometimes they threw fruit. 

My, how far we’ve come . . .

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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.