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UK public invited to perform with the BBC Singers in virtual event

On Tuesday 21 May at 7pm, singers of all abilities across the UK are invited to join the BBC Singers virtually, using the groundbreaking new SAFFIRE app 

The recorded performance will form part of a newly commissioned piece composed by BBC Singers’ Composer in Association Roderick Williams, which receives its world premiere at the BBC Singers’ centenary concert later this year. 

The virtual event is a collaboration between the University of York, BBC Singers, and BBC Research and Development, as part of a project designing technical approaches to creating inclusive and immersive musical experiences. The project aims to improve access to group singing so people can experience the benefits no matter where they are in the world. 

Members of the public are invited to visit https://saffire.york.ac.uk/ where they can sign up to the event, print and download the score and listen to sound files of the six parts in the choir. The SAFFIRE app is available to download now, onto a mobile device. At 7pm on 21 May, users will be able to login, select their part and join the virtual performance, which begins at 7.30pm. The app will provide the experience of singing live with members of the BBC Singers, who will be performing at the iconic BBC studios at Maida Vale. 

The performance will be recorded and the virtual singers will be played as part of the soundscape, forming part of a larger scale BBC Commission from Roderick Williams.  The piece receives its world premiere as part of a live performance from the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Singers centenary concert at the Barbican on 2 October. Singers of all abilities are invited to join the performance.  

Jonathan Manners, Co-Director and Producer, BBC Singers said: “I am thrilled that in the year we are celebrating 100 years of the BBC Singers, members of the public will have the unique opportunity to sing alongside us, virtually, through the SAFFIRE app. I know from experience that singing is a powerful way to build connections and community and I cannot wait to see it all come together at our centenary concert at the Barbican on 2 October. For those unable to join us in the concert Hall, it will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC Sounds”. 

Roderick Williams, Composer and Baritone, said: “Increasing access to classical music and especially singing is something I feel passionate about, so I am hugely pleased that anyone and everyone in the UK will have the opportunity to sing in my new piece, composed especially for the BBC Singers.” 

The project will be the first output of the CoStar LiveLAB, a brand new state-of-the-art research and development facility at Production Park in Wakefield, led by experts at the University of York. The lab, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, leverages virtual production technologies including computer generated imagery (CGI), spatial audio, motion capture and extended reality (XR) to create novel live performance experiences.  

Professor Gavin Kearney, Director of LiveLab, said: “This is a truly exciting partnership that will give members of the public a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a world-renowned choir in a performance that will be available to millions of people at the end of this year. For us as researchers, we can test this new technology as well as the experiences that people have using it, to see if this could be a way forward for opening up musical experiences to people who might not otherwise have access to it.”  

Research into virtual singing environments has already shown that virtual choirs provided a lifeline for many people during the pandemic by maintaining social connections, but that there was a unanimous sense of loss of the collective process of making music in real time due to the technical limitations of the internet.   

Experts at the University of York addressed this challenge by developing a virtual environment to allow participants to feel fully immersed within the sound of the choir and trialled the technology in care homes and at a National Trust exhibition, to positive responses from users. 

Professor Helena Daffern, Co-Director of LiveLab, said: “This new project with the BBC Singers will take our work into virtual singing experiences to another level.  We know that virtual choirs can provide a way of reaching people who have barriers to taking part in these social events, but we need more evidence to understand if virtual performances could have the same health and wellbeing impacts as they do in real life. 

“Most importantly, however, for this new project, we hope that people enjoy the experience of feeling immersed in the performance of this incredible choir in real-time and being created by such a renowned composer; it should be something that singers of all abilities will remember for a long time to come.” 

Every Prom is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds. Furthermore, £8 Promming tickets are available for every concert.
tickets are now on sale

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Jack Bradfield: “If you make too many adjustments too quickly, you can fly the plane out of cloud cover upside down.”

It was 2018. I was at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I went along to Pleasance Dome to watch an alien themed show called Lights Over Tesco Car Parkdirected by Jack Bradfield. 

He is Artistic Director of Poltergeist, and trained on the Royal Court Writers’ Group 2017. 

Anyway, Lights Over Tesco Car Park was a festival highlight, and I often think about how engaging and smart it was.

Flash forward over half a decade and Bradfield has won the Sir Peter Hall Director award and we are talking on the telephone.

How has his May been, I ask. “My May has been really eventful,” he declares. “I’m working on Robert Icke’s Player Kings in the West End as Associate Director. I suppose I am at that point in most freelance director’s careers where you are juggling about seven projects or ideas and checking which ones are going to progress and which ones you are going to have to put in the back drawer for a little while,” he says. 

“Suddenly you get broad, and you start thinking about lots of different ideas,” he says. “Of course, I’m starting my prep for Abigail’s Party, which I am really thrilled about. It’s really exciting.” 

More on that in a second. 

First, though, Bradfield has been selected from eight finalists for the 2023 prize, that is awarded by the Royal Theatrical Support Trust. The fantastic annual award, named in recognition of the RTST co-founder and Royal Shakespeare Company founder Hall, offer its winner the chance to direct a fully funded production in a UK regional theatre, as part of its main season, prior to taking that production out on tour.

Bradfield will now direct Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party for Northern Stage’s main stage, with the support of the venue’s artistic director Natalie Ibu

The application process, he says, was exhilarating. “I directed two actors in front of a panel, which is where that process leads you up to. It was a big gauntlet to throw down; negotiating a room when you’re the director but there are ten panel members,” he says. “The flipside of the process being rigorous is the confidence that you want to direct the full show.”

“I’d say apply, apply, apply, I’d also say pick the plays you’ve always loved. Because I loved the play I loved the process,” he adds.

In any case, this brilliant accolade provides an emerging director with a first-time, career- opportunity to originate and direct a fully funded production as part of a main season of plays at a mid-scale British regional theatre and to take that production on tour to other mid-scale regional theatres. 

On Lights Over Tesco Car Park, he says that he learned that you must keep going and working on the work that you want to make. “Having that friendship was such a blessing because it was a topic and a world and a way of making theatre myself and the Poltergeist collective were so excited about. The thing it really made me do is to go back to my craft. And that is useful. Because it sharpens how you direct and what you can make,” Bradfield recalls.

What are his creative reference points for directing theatre? “I have a few little mantras. Such as if you make too many adjustments too quickly, you can fly the plane out of cloud cover upside down,” Bradfield says. He pauses. “Sometimes it’s about a slow process, arriving at things that you want to make and not feeling like you must rush.”

He says that he is looking forward to making an Abigail’s Party with heart and humanity: “I think Abigail’s Party is ripe with contemporary resonance.”

“I also think it is a fascinating play to work with because it has been preserved in aspic slightly. The BBC Play for Today production is fantastic. Yet at the same time what that does is it preserve a version. Everyone knows it and can quote it to you. What is a real gift for this play is that it feels like a moment to explode it a bit and see how it speaks to now.”

And with that, a play that he has been working on for years, The Habits, is announced as part of Hampstead Theatre’s Autumn and Winter 2024/5 season.

It’s clear that Jack represents what RTST stands for as the future of the theatre industry, embodying innovation, dedication to audiences outside the M25 and a commitment to storytelling that captivates audiences.

I’m a believer.

Abigail’s Party runs 13-28 September at Northern Stage and then tours

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Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) is agreeable enough – it’s rather sweet actually.

Set in New York, this festive caper is far from a work of art, but it’s a superior musical comedy, well written by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan and directed tactfully, by Tim Jackson.

First produced in 2018 in Northampton as The Season, reimagined last year at London’s Kiln Theatre, this upbeat show is now running at the Criterion Theatre, London until 31 August.

What holds this musical together is the warmth supplied by the two performers. Brit Dougal (Sam Tutty) has flown to the Big Apple for a 36-hour trip to attend dad’s wedding (whom he has never met). New York barista Robin (Dujonna Gift) is sister of the bride, his new step aunt. She has a great voice and an excellent counter to Tutty’s excitement. 

It is all good fun. Played with even more conviction it could be great fun.

Imagine a Richard Curtis movie combined with A Christmas Carol, and you get the general picture. Yet there is a sense here the creators are doing something more interesting than just adapting a popular movie for nostalgia. 

Jackson’s production and suitcase set and costumes by Soutra Gilmour ushers us into the syrupy world and skilfully allows the songs to seem part of an extended conversation. Honestly, I didn’t like the set at all. But that’s that. 

It seems churlish to grumble when so much of this show, with its entertaining book, hits the mark.

Tutty’s motor runs a little fast. As an actor, he has a singular smartness that takes the form of speed; he’s always a little ahead of everybody, and this quicker responsiveness makes him more exciting to watch. His grin could melt stone, and he and Gift are a magical pair. 

There are charming numbers about online dating, and a drunken night of ice-skating when the couple go rogue with the groom’s platinum credit card, “hitchin’ a ride on the American Express”. Most memorable is Tutty’s tender, tear-jerking song-warning to eager Dougal that, like the father’s in classic Christmas films, fathers “always seem bigger and better from farther away”. Poignant. 

Anyway, our emotions rise to meet the force coming down from the stage, and they go on rising throughout. The end is subdued. It would have been better with the last quarter lopped off. 

As I sat in the Criterion Theatre watching middle-aged men and women alike wiping away a tear, it was evident that, for all its flaws, the musical had indeed delivered.
The tears are the tokens of gratitude for the spell the production has put on the audience.

In short, a feel-good show that captures magic of New York City without exploding the concept, I suspect Barne and Buchan’s likeable musical will have a long life.

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) runs until 31 August 2024

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West End ticket prices are alienating an entire generation of audiences 🎭

TONIGHT at the Royal Albert Hall, London theatreland will gather for the annual Olivier Awards ceremony.

The Oliviers are seen as the most prestigious awards event in UK theatre.

To be eligible, shows must have played in a theatre that is represented within the membership of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).

Pop your teeth-grinding guards in and gather round, because it’s time to talk about theatre ticket prices again. Long-suffering theatre fans know that sky-high ticket prices are now par for the course and £395 “package” seats are a complete norm for the London theatres.

In 2015, the most expensive ticket in the West End was £152.25 for The Book of Mormon. It’s more than doubled in less than a decade. 

In recent months actors Cush Jumbo, Ralph Fiennes, David Tennant, and Andrew Scott have hit out against high and elite theatre ticket prices. Some people seem perfectly happy that theatre is now a luxury item. But not me.

This week, Patti LuPone remarked: “I don’t believe how expensive the tickets are at the door. It’s become an elite sport. If you’re going to develop audiences, you have to get young people in the theatre, and they have to see more than Back to the Future.”

On Broadway, the most expensive tickets cost $599 (£480) for Merrily We Roll Along

According to the Broadway League, the average ticket price for a Broadway show has hit a new record high — last season’s (2022-2023) ticket prices corresponded to more than $128.

But if that’s what the markets will bear, what are you supposed to do?

Indeed, while three quarters of Britons are willing to go to the theatre, fewer than half have been in the last 12 months.

A recent survey by YouGov found that 41 per cent of Londoners had been to the theatre in the past year (nationwide it was 31 per cent).

How much is too much for a theatre ticket? During a cost-of-living crisis anyone using dynamic pricing, a pricing strategy that businesses use to gain increased profits by driving up prices during high demand, needs to examine what exactly they are contributing to UK Theatre.

Newsflash: The cost of theatre tickets is the main reason people don’t go.

So, what’s the answer? Will commercial theatre ever not use dynamic pricing? Short answer: No. Because it’s easier, because it’s a habit, because producers and theatre owners can’t think of anything more constructive to do, and because it gets them instant cash.

For example, leading player Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) and their monopoly in the industry is harming customers and artists alike. Premium tickets for the Aladdin UK Tour at ATG’s Theatre Royal Glasgow are as much as £175.

What may sweeten the pill for theatregoers is that in some honest cases at least, the expensive premium seats are subsidising much cheaper tickets aimed at bringing in new, younger audiences.

Across the limited run of Jamie Lloyd’s Romeo & Juliet at the Duke of York’s Theatre, around 10,000 tickets for all tiers (including the front row) have sold out for £25 or less, 5,000 tickets were reserved for people under 30, key workers and in receipt of government benefits.

(Interestingly, Jamie Lloyd’s company recently became fully independent, after 10 years partnering with ATG.)

Up the road, at the Phoenix Theatre (ATG) Sonia Friedman recently revealed Netflix sci-fi prequel spin-off Stranger Things: The First Shadow is attracting “thousands of people who are coming to the theatre for the first time.”

Well, that’s great news.

There is a weekly TodayTix lottery for a dozen front-row ‘Shadow Seats’ at £19.50 each. That said, the venue is a 1,028 seat venue – so, around 1 per cent of seats are under £20 that 99.9999% people probably won’t win.

And if you want to sit in the stalls the cheapest seats are £75 — with a severely restricted view, because of the dreadful overhang from the level above. Top price tickets are as much £250. Of course, there is more price volatility, which can push prices higher due to a surge of last-minute demand.

Alas, despite rising wage bills, rampant inflation, dramatic energy costs, profits seem to be up for the usual suspects in the West End.

As for Andrew Lloyd Webber, recent LW Theatres’ accounts, reveal that sales rose by 19% to £190.7 million from £160.8 million in 2022, with the boost attributed to the end of pandemic disruptions.

In a report posted to Companies House LW noted: “We expect another full year of trading next year but anticipate our turnover and profitability will continue to be put under pressure by the cost-of-living crisis and high interest rates and the impact of these factors on consumer spending.”

Taking in the “broader economic environment”, the report emphasised LW Theatre’s aim to head off falling ticket sales by “continually monitoring and adjusting ticket prices”.

But let’s move on to Cameron Mackintosh Ltd – – that operates eight venues and produces Hamilton– the company saw turnover almost double year on year – to £186 million – Profit before tax was £45.5 million, compared with £18.9 million in 2022.

It was revealed recently that Delfont Mackintosh’s average ticket price for a play is £54. For a musical it’s £68.

Interviewed recently Cameron Mackintosh chirped, with all apparent sincerity: “You would be bloody lucky to get out of a decent restaurant, including a decent bottle of wine, for under £100. It is expensive … But it is not too expensive,”

Mackintosh added: “This is a very good system. This is capitalism working properly.” 

Honestly, no it is not.

In my wildest fantasies I’d like to think Sir Cameron would dwell on an irony here; in reality, people are contending with stagnant wages, high energy bills, staggering food prices and dreadful living standards — one in five tenants are now spending over half their salary on rent. 

Denying accusations of greed, SOLT responded to David Tennant’s criticism of “ludicrous” West End ticket prices, highlighting that average ticket prices have decreased when adjusted for inflation. Well, now. SOLT’s argument is irrelevant since pay does not go up by inflation.

The cheapest seats, which often have a restricted view, and induce vertigo increased by almost 13% this year compared with last. 

Of course, these conditions mean that rising ticket prices are alienating an entire generation of future audiences, it can’t just be left to the subsidised regional theatres to take moral responsibility for building tomorrow’s audiences

So how’s this for a plan? Transparent, clear up-front information about the cost of theatre – it would be a win for everyone.

It would demonstrate to the public how much it takes to get a show on. More schemes like Jamie Lloyd’s – ring fencing cultural opportunity for those from diverse backgrounds. 

And if Broadway publishes weekly grosses, what makes the West End so special not to?

But I’m not expecting two miracles in a week, ’cos all I’ve ever really wanted was West End theatre owners, producers and corporate companies like ATG to make theatre truly accessible. Theatre should be for everyone.

And the tragedy is that we all know it, and even the brilliant people who come up with the brilliant shows know it – but they’re still pushing premium prices because they think that it works in the very short term.

Yet in the long term, it really, really doesn’t – even the most shrewd producer should realise the damage that short-term financial gain does to public perceptions about theatre and who it is for. 

No doubt that well-oiled theatre PR machine will again defend sky-high ticket prices.

Ultimately, of course, one of the biggest questions for many remains: if theatre ceases to be a popular art for people in their twenties and thirties, will it become extinct for all but the wealthy?

Theatre is already being sidelined in favour of movies and gaming. The prominence of reviews and arts coverage is shrinking. Editors know that theatre is no longer an important part of the national cultural conversation. Yup, The Sunday Times now leads with only one theatre review and has all but given up on the idea of providing an overview of the theatre week in London.

Finally, change will not come from the generosity of those who profit from the existing state of affairs. It will emerge from the continued challenge of those who do not. 

Has the hour of need ever been greater?

The Olivier Awards will broadcast a highlights programme on Sunday 14 April at 10:10pm on ITV1.

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For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy writer and Director Ryan Calais Cameron’s vision is bold and unapologetic, weaving together a tapestry of vignettes that oscillate between introspection and explosive catharsis. 

Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s 1976 work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Calais Cameron’s play opens with six young men: Tobi King Bakare, Shakeel Haakim making his professional debut, Fela Lufadeju, Albert Magashi, Mohammed Mansaray and Posi Morakinyo. 

This is a memorable piece about Black masculinity and Black life in Britain, the wounds and crises of class conditioned by the background weather of race and identity. The nature of manhood is one of Mr. Calais Cameron’s chief concerns.

It’s an entirely unique vision and wrongfoots us from the start. Exhilarating and emotionally rich exploration of masculinity, mental health and the six men’s relationship with black history. The production’s emotional intensity is all the greater for the fierce restraint that the actors—and the characters—display.

One is passed over by the girls playing kiss-chase. Another is subjected to a “routine check” by police in Hackney. There’s the one who accuses his educated friend of being “whitewashed” as he tries to fit in. This was exciting, unnerving, bristling with youth and volume. 

The crucial thing is that this play – now on its second West End run – is urging people to look hard at these profound issues around human behaviour, and really think about what makes people who they are. 

Here, too, the entire ensemble’s acting is elegant, emotional, and superb in all its impacted pain and ongoing struggles. The combination of artistry and emotional directness in this play is overwhelming to me.

Anna Reid’s fluorescent playground set and costume design is terrific. The music — hip-hop, R&B, astute classical sound design and composition by Nicola T. Chang — is both surprising and perfect. 

Lighting wise, Rory Beaton paints the stage not in the gritty, neorealist tones expected of such streetwise stories, but with the rich textures and saturated colours of a waking dream that uniquely mixes music, movement, storytelling, and verse.

Overall, this is a provocative piece of theatre that delves deep into the complexities of the black male experience. With raw honesty and poetic flair, the production navigates themes of identity, mental health, and systemic oppression with an unflinching gaze. 

Red Pitch, a piece about three Black teenagers first seen at the Bush, is running up the road at the new Soho Place theatre. Watching this at the Garrick Theatre I noticed how racially and socially mixed the audience was compared with nearly every other West End show. 

But we’re starved of these narratives in the West End and Calais Cameron’s raw drama showcases why they are so hugely important.

Considering this started life at the 80-seater New Diorama in 2021, it’s a stunning achievement but also proves theatre can flourish on the small scale, by commissioning fresh, interesting work that doesn’t rely on expensive production.

Late to the party, I know. Alas, I doubt that I will see a better play in the West End this year.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is at the Garrick theatre, London until 4 May

National theatre announces two new productions and reveals casting for upcoming shows

National Theatre

Lyndsey Turner directs Lucy Kirkwood and Dave Malloy’s new musical version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, in a co-production with the Roald Dahl Story Company

– Jamie Lloyd directs The Effect by Lucy Prebble with a cast that includes Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell, in association with The Jamie Lloyd Company

– Hiran Abeysekera and Paul Bazely are cast in the revival of Anupama Chandrasekhar’s The Father and the Assassin, directed by Indhu Rubasingham

The National Theatre today announces two new productions, Roald Dahl’s The Witches, in a co-production with the Roald Dahl Story Company, and The Effect, in association with The Jamie Lloyd Company. The Witches will play in the Olivier theatre from November in a new musical version of the iconic story by Lucy Kirkwood and Dave Malloy, directed by Lyndsey Turner, whilst The Effect by Lucy Prebble will play in the Lyttelton theatre from August, directed by Jamie Lloyd. Also announced today is casting for the revival of The Father and the Assassin by Anupama Chandrasekhar, which will play in the Olivier theatre from September, directed by Indhu RubasinghamTickets for all three productions go on sale to the public on Thursday 27 April.

Director of the National Theatre Rufus Norris said:

‘I’m thrilled that the National Theatre and Roald Dahl Story Company are coming together for the first time to bring one of Dahl’s most enduring stories to the Olivier stage. This extraordinary, exciting production of The Witches with Lucy Kirkwood’s brilliant, witty book and Lyndsey Turner’s ambitious vision is the culmination of many years of development at the National Theatre’s exceptional New Work Department. With Dave Malloy at the musical helm, I couldn’t be more excited to be bringing this ambitious new piece of music theatre to the stage.

‘To have Jamie Lloyd returning to the National Theatre with his production of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect – a timelessly prescient play from this singular writer – is a particular joy, not least because of the two wonderful lead actors Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell. It’s also a great delight to welcome Hiran Abeysekera back to the NT for the first time since Behind the Beautiful Forevers, to lead a brilliant company in Indhu Rubasingham’s revival of Anupama Chandrasekhar’s hit play The Father and the Assassin.’

Roald Dahl’s The Witches

The Witches is a rip-roaring musical version of Roald Dahl’s timeless tale, filled with wit, daring and heart.

Everything you know about witches is wrong. Forget the pointy hats and broomsticks: they’re the most dangerous creatures on earth. And now they’ve come up with their most evil plan yet.

The only thing standing in their way is Luke and his Gran. But he’s ten and she’s got a dodgy heart. Time is short, danger is everywhere, and they’ve got just one chance to stop the witches from squalloping every stinking little child in England.

One of Dahl’s most loved stories, The Witches is a brilliant blend of his trademark humour and hair-raising action, featuring one of his most iconic characters, the Grand High Witch. A firm fan favourite across the generations, the book has sold over 11 million copies since it was first published.

Cast includes three-time Olivier-nominated Katherine Kingsley (The Larkins) as the Grand High Witch and BAFTA Award-winner Daniel Rigby (One Man, Two Guvnors) as Mr Stringer, alongside Julie ArmstrongChrissie Bhima, Zoe BirkettDaniele CoombeMolly-May GardinerTiffany GravesTania MathurinJacob MaynardLaura Medforth and Ben Redfern.

Directed by Lyndsey Turner (The Crucible) with book and lyrics by Olivier Award-winner Lucy Kirkwood (Mosquitoes) and music and lyrics by Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812). The set and costume designer is Lizzie Clachan with choreographer Stephen Mear, music supervisor Nigel Lilley, music director Cat Beveridge, lighting designer Bruno Poet, co-sound designers Alexander Caplen and Ian Dickinson, video designer Ash J Woodward, illusions by Chris Fisher and Will Houstoun, casting director Bryony Jarvis-Taylor, associate director Séimí Campbell, staff director Priya Patel Appleby, associate set designer Shankho Chaudhuri, associate costume designer Johanna Coe, associate choreographer Jo Morris, associate music director Natalie Pound and children’s and assistant music director Sarah Morrison.

The Witches will play in the Olivier theatre from 7 November and is recommended for ages 8+.

The Effect

In the Lyttelton theatre from August, Jamie Lloyd (Cyrano de Bergerac) directs The EffectLucy Prebble’s (Succession) funny and intimate examination of love and ethics.

Hearts and minds racing, Connie and Tristan are falling for each other fast. But is their sudden and intoxicating chemistry real, or a side effect of a new antidepressant? As two young volunteers in a clinical drug trial, their romance poses startling dilemmas for the supervising doctors.

Paapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You) is cast as Tristan and Taylor Russell (Bones and All) as Connie, with further casting to be announced. 

Directed by Jamie Lloyd with set and costume designer Soutra Gilmour, lighting designer Jon Clark, composer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, sound designer George Dennis, movement directors Sarah Golding and Yukiko Masui (SAY), , fight director Kate Waters, intimacy co-ordinator Ingrid Mackinnon and casting director Alastair Coomer CDG.

The Effect will play in the Lyttelton theatre from 1 August.

The Father and the Assassin

Director Indhu Rubasingham reunites with writer Anupama Chandrasekhar for this essential exploration of oppression and extremism.

Mahatma Gandhi: lawyer, champion of non-violence, beloved leader. Nathuram Godse: journalist, nationalist – and the man who murdered Gandhi. This gripping play traces Godse’s life over 30 years during India’s fight for independence: from a devout follower of Gandhi, through to his radicalisation and their tragic final encounter in Delhi in 1948.

The cast includes Olivier Award-winner Hiran Abeysekera (Life of Pi) as Nathuram Godse with Paul Bazely reprising his role as Mahatma Gandhi. The cast also includes Azan AhmedRavi AujlaAyesha DharkerRavin J GanatraRaj GhatakHalema HussainNadeem IslamTony JayawardenaNicholas KhanRaj KheraHari MackinnonSid Sagar and Akshay Shah.

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham with set and costume designer Rajha Shakiry, lighting designer Oliver Fenwick, movement director Lucy Cullingford, composer Siddhartha Khosla, additional music by David Shrubsole, sound designer Alexander Caplen, fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown of Rc-Annie Ltd, casting director Alastair Coomer CDG and associate set and costume designer Khadija Raza.

The Father and the Assassin will play in the Olivier theatre 8 September–14 October.

Tickets for The WitchesThe Effect and The Father and the Assassin go on sale to the public on Thursday 27 April. Also going on sale via the National Theatre website are tickets to the previously announced A Strange Loop at the Barbican.

A Strange Loop

The Broadway musical sensation, A Strange Loop, a co-production with Howard Panter for Trafalgar Theatre ProductionsBarbara Whitman and Wessex Grove in association with the Barbican, is transferring from New York to London this summer.

Having co-produced A Strange Loop on Broadway, some of the most influential names in entertainment – Alan Cumming, Ilana Glazer, Jennifer Hudson, Mindy Kaling and Billy Porter – reunite to produce the smash-hit musical in London when it opens at the Barbican Theatre on 17 June for a strictly limited, one-time-only 12-week season.

Nominated for 11 Tony Awards and winner of every Best Musical award in New York, Michael R. Jackson’s critically acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning, blisteringly funny masterwork exposes the heart and soul of Usher – a young, gay, Black writer who hates his day job, writing a musical about a young, gay, Black writer who’s writing a musical about a young, gay, Black writer…a strange loop. Usher grapples with desires, identity and instincts he both loves and loathes, all brought to life on stage by a hilarious, straight-talking ensemble. Casting is to be announced.

Michael R. Jackson is a playwright, composer, and lyricist who is a rising star in the world of contemporary writing and quickly gaining recognition as one of the most innovative voices in American theatre. His latest new musical, White Girl in Danger, is currently running, Off-Broadway, at the Tony Kiser Theatre in New York.

Directed by Stephen Brackett, choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly, with Rona Siddiqui as music supervisor, orchestrations by Charlie Rosen, scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting design by Jen Schriever and sound design by Drew Levy.

Tickets are available from £20. For further information, please visit Strangeloopmusical.com

The Odyssey: The Underworld

Celebrating five years of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s multi-location production of The Odyssey is being told in five locations in England. This epic story of resilience and hope began its journey in Stoke-on-Trent and Doncaster, with the next episodes coming to Trowbridge Town Hall on 22–23 April and The Fire Station in Sunderland on 28–29 April.

The culmination of The Odyssey’s journey, The Underworld, will be staged as a full-scale musical production at the National Theatre on 26–28 August 2023. This fifth and final production will feature community performers from all four previous episodes, as well as members recruited through Public Acts founding community partners, founding theatre partner Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, and Trybe House Theatre in London.

The Underworld is written by Olivier-award winning playwright Chris Bush with music composed by Jim Fortune and directed by Director of Public Acts Emily Lim. Set designed by Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey, movement directed by Dan Canham, costume designed by Fly Davis, music supervised and directed by Tarek Merchant, lighting designed by Joshua Pharo, sound designed by Paul Arditti and casting by Bryony Jarvis-Taylor.

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Unchecked Ticket Hikes Are Pricing People Out Of Theatregoing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phoenix Theatre Glowstick Day Seat Queue

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

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

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

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

What are we to conclude from this?

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

Seven Card Stud



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

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

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

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

Paul Mescal and Patsy Ferran in A Streetcar Named Desire

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

A Streetcar Named Desire runs until 6 May

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Olivier Awards 2023 announces broadcast details and show line up

Olivier Awards

Evening will include performances from all Mastercard Best New Musical nominees including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye 

–       The cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and Sister Act (Magic Radio Best Musical Revival nominees) as well as Disney’s Newsies (Best Theatre Choreography nominee) will also perform  

–       There will be a special performance from multi–Olivier Award winner The Book Of Mormon as the production celebrates 10 years in the West End  

–       Special Award winner Arlene Philips will be honoured with a tribute from the cast of Grease The Musical 

–       The Olivier Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday 2nd April and will be broadcast on ITV at 10.15pm with full live coverage on Magic Radio from 6pm     

The Olivier Awards 2023 with Mastercard have officially announced the shows performing in this year’s ceremony. The Awards will take place on Sunday 2 April at the Royal Albert Hall, hosted by Hannah Waddingham. 

There will be performances from all of the Mastercard Best New Musical nominees – The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. There will also be performances from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for Magic Radio Best Musical Revival. 

Additionally, there will be performances from Disney’s Newsies, whose choreographer Matt Cole is nominated for the Gillian Lynne Award for Best Theatre Choreographer, multi-Olivier winner The Book Of Mormon will be celebrating with a performance marking 10 years in the West End. Special Award winner, Dame Arlene Phillips, will be honoured on the night with a special performance from Grease the Musical. 

The Olivier Awards continues its partnership with ITV, which will broadcast a highlights programme the same evening at 10:15pm on ITV1 and ITVX. The full ceremony will be broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall on Magic Radio, the Official Radio Partner, hosted by Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold from 6pm. Viewers from outside the UK can tune in on Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel. 

TikTok will also be hosting a live stream on the Green Carpet, with theatre performer and content creator Hannah Lowther (Heathers, Snow White: Pantomime, SpongeBob: The Musical) as their host.

officiallondontheatre.com/olivier-awards 

Sunday 2 April 2023 

Normal People’s Paul Mescal, just nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA for his role in the film Aftersun, Olivier Award Winning Patsy Ferran, We are Lady Parts’ Anjana Vasan and Our Girl’s Dawn Walcott will all reprise their roles in the West End transfer

‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

Paul Mescal, just nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA for his leading role in the film Aftersun, and best known for his BAFTA winning role in Normal People, Olivier Award winner Patsy Ferran (Summer & Smoke), Anjana Vasan (We Are Lady Parts) and Dwane Walcott (One Night in Miami, Our Girl) will continue in the roles of Stanley, Blanche, Stella and Harold ‘Mitch’ Mitchell respectively, in the transfer of the Almeida Theatre’s critically acclaimed, hot ticket & sell-out production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Directed by Rebecca Frecknall (Cabaret, Summer & Smoke), the production will run for a strictly limited 6-week run, at the Phoenix Theatre, from 20 March to 29 April 2023.

★★★★★

The Times, The Sunday Times, The Observer, The i

“How pretty the sky is! I ought to go there on a rocket that never comes down.”

On a street in New Orleans, in the blistering summer heat, a sister spirals.

When Blanche unexpectedly visits her estranged sister Stella, she brings with her a past that will threaten their future. As Stella’s husband Stanley stalks closer to the truth, Blanche’s fragile world begins to fracture. Reality and illusion collide and a violent conflict changes their lives forever.

Almeida Associate Director Rebecca Frecknall’s “heart-stopping” (The Telegraph)revival of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece transfers to the West End for a limited six week run. 

Patsy Ferran (“astonishingly good” Time Out) returns as Blanche DuBois, with Paul Mescal (“tremendous” The Times)as Stanley, and Anjana Vasan (“outstanding” New York Times) as Stella in this “mesmerising” (The i) production.

Paul Mescal said “I’m incredibly excited that Streetcar is being transferred to the West End with this formidable cast and creative team, led by the exceptionally talented Rebecca Frecknall. It’s my favourite play and it’s wonderful to be able to share it with a wider audience”.

This is the first production Rebecca has directed following the multi-award-winning production of Cabaret, for which she won the Olivier Award and Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Director (the production won seven Olivier Awards in total).

Rebecca Frecknall, Director, said “I’m thrilled we will have the opportunity to share this production with a wider audience. It’s a testament to this fantastic company and incredible play. It’s been moving to see how audiences have responded to our work and I’m excited to see how the piece will evolve in the West End.”

A Streetcar Named Desire’s creative team is as follows: Director: Rebecca Frecknall; Set Designer: Madeleine Girling; Costume Designer: Merle Hensel; Lighting Designer: Lee Curran; Sound Designer: Peter Rice: Composer: Angus MacRae and Casting Director: Julia Horan CDG.

A Streetcar Named Desire is produced by Ambassador Theatre Group Productions the Almeida TheatreWessex Grove and Gavin Kalin productions.

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.”