Shows to look forward to in August 2019

Welcome to August’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.

As you’ll know, August brings us the Edinburgh Festival where the austerely lovely maiden-aunt of a city becomes a kind of endless lasagne of performance , with hundreds of shows in every conceivable space. Good luck to everyone up there! But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do or see in the rest of the country. Oh no! Just take a look below for a wide range of ideas to suit your own tastes. Enjoy!

Off-West End

SHACKLETON’S CARPENTER , Harry McNish, was pivotal in ensuring the survival of those who went on Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914-17 Antarctica expedition.

When the Endurance sank, leaving the crew of 27 stranded, McNish, brilliant carpenter and shipwright, defied Shackleton, but went all the way with him and ensured all 28 were saved.

For all his bravery and ingenuity, McNish was – oddly- one of the very few who were never awarded the Polar Medal. His health impaired by these shattering Polar experiences, he emigrated to New Zealand where his condition worsened, and he could only get dock work. Now, alone and destitute, one still night on the dockside, in his fevered mind he relives the Endurance expedition, pitting himself once more against Shackleton whilst still plagued by the ghosts of his past. Playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 17 August.


“It would be abnormal if someone didn’t die.
You know, that would be very strange.
We’d pay a lot of attention, I think, if that happened.”

THE COLOURS is the latest play from Harriet Madeley, who gave us the highly-praised THE LISTENING ROOM, which was a collection of interviews around the effects of violent crime. In this show, five people lie on a Welsh beach, moving through fantasy, memory and reality as they process the most profound yet ordinary of experiences: nearing the end of life.

As they describe moments from their lives, dig into their present experience and reflect on what the future has in store, we are taken on a rollercoaster ride of the human imagination… and transported all the way to the brink; as far as the eye can see.

THE COLOURS was created from interviews conducted with patients at Ty Olwen Hospice in Swansea and Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff. THE COLOURS plays at Soho Theatre Upstairs until 17 August.

Please Note: this play deals with medical themes and life-limiting illness.


Until Sat August 3rd. Something different! OUT OF THE WINGS Festival presents its fourth annual festival, exploring untapped theatre from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. Over five days, a series of staged readings bring to life new English translations of works by playwrights from six countries, alongside workshops, talks and events, in celebration of theatre in translation. At the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham. More information and tickets here.


Until August 10th. Howard Zinn was an American historian, professor and social activist, widely considered one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. His book, A People’s History of the United States, has sold two million copies and is read in schools throughout the U.S. THE TIME OF OUR LIES explores Zinn’s personal history, including being a soldier who dropped bombs on Royan, France in WWll. That fateful moment troubled him for the rest of his days and shaped the man who would become a moral compass for the United States in ways that are more relevant today than ever before. 

Starring Daniel Benzali as Howard Zinn, and directed by Che Walker, THE TIME OF OUR LIES is a battle cry for democracy, transparency, and inclusion. The play embodies Zinn’s battle for social justice and his lifelong struggle against false historical narratives written by those in power that poison the well for true democracy. At the Park Theatre.


Extended to August 3rd and then opening in the West End 27 Sep-4 Jan – If it’s laughter you’re after then you can’t go far wrong with Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF, returning to the scene of its first success in 1982 at the Lyric, Hammersmith. In this new production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, Meera Syal stars as Dotty, ageing actress who has sunk her life savings into a cheap production of a tired sex comedy, hoping that a quick UK tour will bag her a comfy retirement pot. Naturally, things go awry in ever-more disastrous ways, from the set to the cast to the sardines, as we see the show deteriorate from the rehearsal to the insanity of the end of the tour. With dizzying split-second timing, physical comedy and an incredibly complex plot, at its best this is a show to relax and enjoy to the full! Now where did I put those sardines……..


Playing now at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn, the Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT is in its first major London revival in 30 years . Directed by Susie McKenna and starring Olivier Award winners Sharon D. Clarke (Death of A Salesman, Caroline or Change, Ghost, Amen Corner) and Clive Rowe (Guys and Dolls, Carousel), Blues in the Night is a steamy compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more, it runs to 7 September – and no doubt continuing elsewhere if the ever busy Ms Clarke will find time….


Playing at the Soho Theatre until Aug 24th, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is the European premiere of Max Vernon’s new musical following its off-Broadway season, here starring John Partridge and Tyrone Huntley, amongst a really first-rate cast of powerful performers. It all starts when Millennial fashion designer Wes buys an abandoned building, not knowing that this forgotten gem was the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant ‘70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans, starting an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration in the summertime heat with the rush of lust, sex and incense mixed in the air. Filled with a collection of beautiful love songs and power rock ballads, this is a hopeful musical about friendship, community, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Although the book could be further developed, it’s the music that will win you- it’s carefully-crafted and authentically 70s-sounding. Read my review of the show here.


If you love the Latin crossover music of Gloria Estefan you will enjoy ON YOUR FEET! It has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show. It looks good and sounds just great, with a brilliant band (worth the price of admission alone) who never let the energy flag.

Featuring 26 hits, this Tony Award nominated show ran on Broadway for two years, for over 750 performances. ON YOUR FEET! is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and charts their journey from Cuba to the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom. Featuring some of the most iconic pop songs of the era, including “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, “Conga”, “Get On Your Feet”, “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “1-2-3” and many more.

ON YOUR FEET! is directed by two-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), with choreography by Olivier Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and book by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman).

Now playing at the Coliseum until 31st August, after which it embarks on a UK tour.

Read my review of the show here


Touring the UK

Now nearing the close of this 50th anniversary UK tour, the tribal rock musical HAIR carries on with abandon, starring Jake Quickenden, Marcus Collins and Kelly Sweeney. See it in August in Cologne (Germany) before it returns to the UK to play Glasgow as the last date of its tour.


Magnifique! Achieving the near-impossible task of translating a unique French movie to the stage, and doing so in some style, this UK tour of AMELIE will bring a smile to your lips and warmth to your heart, as we follow our heroine helping others but finding it hardest to help herself. With a tuneful score and dynamic Audrey Brisson as Amelie, this is your passport to joie de vivre. See it in August at Manchester, Bournemouth, Glasgow and Woking . Read my review of the show here


LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is out on a national tour until September. See it in August at Canterbury, Dublin, Oxford and Worcestershire. Read my review of the show here


Also….

See 1927’s ***** GOLEM for free – now! Right here….

For fans of innovative company 1927 (THE ANIMALS AND CHILDREN TOOK TO THE STREETS and GOLEM), you will be happy to know that 1927 are giving you a second chance to watch the brilliant show GOLEM, until 8th August. It’s right here, above. Enjoy!

Thanks to 1927 for making this available and wishing success to their new show ROOTS which plays the Edinburgh Festival in August, details here


NT Live Broadcasts

Throughout August across the UK there are Encore screenings of the much-praised National Theatre productions of THE LEHMAN TRILOGY and SMALL ISLAND. To find screenings in your area check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.


Kidsweek 2019

For the whole of August, a child aged 16 or under can go to any participating London show for free (where tickets are available) as long as they’re accompanied by a full paying adult. Adults can also buy up to two extra children’s tickets at half price… and there are no booking fees!

Find out more and book here


Shows closing

THE STARRY MESSENGER closes August 10th at Wyndham’s Theatre

PRESENT LAUGHTER closes August 10th at the Old Vic

THE END OF HISTORY closes August 10th at the Royal Court Theatre

SMALL ISLAND closes August 10th at the National Theatre

Disney’s ALADDIN closes August 24th at the Prince Edward Theatre

THE BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES closes August 24th at the Roundhouse

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR closes August 24th at the Barbican Centre

THE LEHMAN TRILOGY closes August 31st at the Piccadilly Theatre

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM closes August 31st at the Bridge Theatre


EXTRA: Shows to look forward to at the Edinburgh Festival 2019

Welcome to this extra section of show highlights. Here are a few shows which are worth seeing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Although I haven’t had much chance to see participating shows in the Fringe Festival, here are four I can definitely recommend as being worth a look.

Luke Rollason’s Infinite Content – at the Monkey Barrel, 12.00 noon Aug 2-25 (not 14)

Big laughs, where no two shows are ever the same.

Switch on your phones and switch off your brains, as one idiot enters the cloud and puts his mind on a spin cycle for your entertainment. Welcome to a slapstick Black Mirror that is guaranteed to make us all mutual friends. Viral nonsense from the ‘amazingly entertaining’ ***** (EdFestMag.com) celebrity internet nonentity Luke Rollason. Unlimited calls and texts and time and space and hope and everybody wins an iPad. ‘Made me cry with laughter’ **** (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘Hugely entertaining’ (Chortle.co.uk). Tickets and information here


SHE SELLS SEA SHELLS – Underbelly, Cowgate at 1.30pm Aug 1-25 (not 12)

Uncovering the almost-lost achievements of an extraordinary woman.

In 1811, the daughter of a Lyme Regis carpenter discovered the world’s first Ichthyosaur. She was twelve. Before she was thirty, Mary Anning made discoveries that transformed our understanding of the universe. Then she was written out of history. Nearly. Scandal and Gallows bring their blend of movement and storytelling to this extraordinary story of genius, gender and dinosaurs. Previous work: ‘Riveting’ **** (Sunday Times). ‘A masterclass in theatrical storytelling’ **** (WhatsOnStage.com). Tickets and information here


TEACH – The Space at the Surgeon’s Hall, 4.05pm Aug 2-24 (not 11)

A vital lesson that we all need to learn from.

Matthew Roberts is a gifted, passionate and dedicated teacher of 16 years. But the system he has to work within consistently fails both teachers and students. Caught in the middle, teachers become our country’s social firefighters, with all the attendant stress, their dedication stretched to breaking point. Should he stay or leave teaching? Over the course of this show, the audience gets to decide. Tickets and information here


FULFILMENT – Underbelly, Cowgate at 3.40pm Aug 1-25 (not 12)

Who’s paying the true cost of your convenience?

Robox is your personal fulfilment device. The one-click wonder, the ultimate convenience. You dream it, he delivers it. Instant fulfilment. But fulfilment isn’t for everyone. Award-winning theatre company SharkLegs uncover the price people really pay for next-day delivery. Disarmingly funny and playful, the show is created live every day from your desires. Join us and let Robox discover what you need, what you want and what you dream of. Then let Robox provide the solution. A solution… Definitely a bit of a solution… Or a solution that other people who bought this solution also bought. . Tickets and information here


Theatre FootNotes for July 2019 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Monday 8th July – Guildhall School of Music and Drama final year students’ graduation show at the Silk Street Theatre, Barbican. Sondheim and Furth’s bittersweet musical complimented by an excellent 20-strong band, as always at Guildhall.


THE LAST SONG OF OLIVER SIPPLE

Sunday 14th July – The Last Song of Oliver Sipple (at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington) tells the story of a forgotten American hero tortured by prejudice, hypocrisy, media intrusion and the rift created within his own family.

“I loved my country, but my country didn’t love me”, laments Oliver (Billy) Sipple, a decorated Vietnam veteran who bravely averted an assassination attempt upon US President Gerald Ford in 1975. An invitation was planned to the White House to thank him. But Oliver Sipple was gay. So the invitation was withdrawn and Sipple received a tiny note of thanks from Ford instead. Sipple’s life story and death at an early age from drink in 1989 after years of media hounding and being preyed on by opportunists makes for a rather sketchy 50-minute play as presented here. It feels like there is a deeper story to tell, but not knowing what research this work is based on it is impossible to say whether anyone connected with the play actually knew Sipple.

The meat of the story is in the central incident, with the rest feeling very much like supporting material. The stories about meeting and working with Harvey Milk are interesting but go no further than a sort of diary entry, so it is difficult to know this character further. What is undoubted is that he was a national hero who was not respected. We hear a lot about what happened but the bio doesn’t leave much time to explore the feelings of this private man reluctantly thrust into the public eye with all the attendant challenges.

Here is another show with no specific theatrical, visual component until the final moments. This would make a fine radio play but I do not see what bringing it to the stage added to the script.

Whilst being grateful to writer David Hendon for bringing Sipple back to the public eye, this show itself is an historically interesting but sketchy introduction to an ordinary man who happened to be in the right place at the right time to avert a potential crisis…and happened to be gay.


THE OFSTED MASSACRE

Monday 15th July – LAMDA final year graduating students’ show. A specially commissioned new comedy by Phil Porter and directed by Joe Murphy. Acting was generally of a very high standard (particularly the leads) and a majority of these actors are clearly stage-ready. The script was relatable and funny, although sadly it ran out of steam halfway through act two, and would have perhaps played better if it was shorter. Nevertheless, by this time the actors had mostly been seen to good advantage.


FERNANDO AND HIS GRANDMOTHER

Wednesday 31st July – At Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre, Out of the Wings ( https://ootwfestival.com/ ) is presenting its fourth annual festival, exploring untapped theatre from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. Over five days, a series of staged readings bring to life new English translations of works by playwrights from six countries, alongside workshops, talks and events, in celebration of theatre in translation.

“It’s the voices, boy, the voices.”

In a dance across the generations, the legendary Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa duets with his irrepressible grandmother Dionísia Seabra. Spanning almost a century, their meetings continue despite illness, distance, and even death. Come what may, some bonds refuse to be broken.

Fernando’s a troubled boy, haunted by his private terrors. From an early age the only refuge is his intimacy with his demented grandmother. They are a conspiracy of two. They are complicit. Faced with a disapproving and seemingly threatening world, they share a private universe of make-believe games and songs.

Are genius and insanity as close as this? These two both spend their lives in different ways as outsiders. Dionísia hears voices in her madness. Fernando as a child is already inventing alter egos which as an adult become the fully fledged fictional “heteronyms” – the many writers under whose names his work is eventually published – and considered among the greatest of the twentieth century.

Written by Armando Nascimento Rosa , translated by Susannah Finzi and directed by Almiro Andrade

Cast Dora DaCruz, Patrick Campbell


Is it me, or is it HOT in here?

The recent heatwave in the UK prompted this recollection, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Back in the 1980s, the onset of scorching summer weather meant two headaches for London’s West End theatres. Firstly, ticket sales would slump as people elected to stay outside. Secondly, those that were brave enough to venture inside on those baking hot days were very good purchasers of drinks- and everything came with ice! Inevitably, on two show days, the resources of the theatres’ own ice-making machines could not keep up and it was just a matter of time before the cry went up “time to call Acorn Ice”. Their little white vans could be seen beetling around Theatreland, supplying just about every large theatre with several large glaciers-worth of the cool stuff each and every summer Saturday night.

The majority of the West End’s theatre stock was built before the advent of air conditioning. From the late 1920s, new cinemas were built with various kinds of (often rudimentary) aircon which varied in effectiveness. Theatres had to wait for aircon until the early 1990s, mainly due to their highly decorated appearance and listed status making it practically impossible to make any kind of major adjustments without impacting the “look” of the auditorium. Another issue was that West End theatres’ original designs squeezed every ounce of space out of their footprints on the most expensive land in the country, which is why you will still come across tiny toilets stuck away in odd-shaped spaces. Installing aircon in these theatres was a tricky (and costly) proposition.

Victoria Palace Theatre after renovation and aircon. Photo by Philip Vile

The kind of modification that aircon required could only take place during scheduled refurbishments which came around very infrequently, and only after a show had concluded a run and “gone dark”. Further, theatre owners were reluctant to keep theatres dark for a moment more than necessary, as in this state they brought in no earnings.

However, some theatres were luckier than others. Whilst a theatre manager in the 1980s, I was very lucky to be at the Victoria Palace – where we had an advantage.

The Victoria Palace was built in 1911 as a variety theatre (dubbed “London’s last great variety house”) and as such demanded a large capacity (1500) and a fast turnaround (for many years giving two shows nightly and three on Saturdays). Built by the doyen of theatre architects, Frank Matcham, the theatre had a number of clever design signatures which made this theatre easier to manage. As a darkened, enclosed box the heat of the day was not an issue on most days as the theatre was kept cool by simply not allowing light and heat in. However, the heat of a 1500-strong audience, combined with lights, etc , on a two show day with the mercury rising outside was quite an issue.

The “dome” within a dome that rolled off – from a pre-refurbishment photo, uncredited (apologies to the photographer)

Frank Matcham understood this, and helped all who have populated his theatres to keep cool – audiences and management both! How? Well, in the centre of the auditorium ceiling is a dome, and within that a smaller dome. But the smaller dome was rather deceptive. It was much shallower than it appeared, and was actually separate from the rest of the ceiling design. It was mounted on a large framework which was on wheels, which sat in a pair of tracks, just like a train track. This meant that on a hot day, our excellent stage crew would know what to do. Had the last people to leave the auditorium looked up, they would have seen the smaller dome moving towards the stage end to reveal – the sky!

After the magnificent renovation – the “dome” that used to roll off, now beautifully lit in blue but sadly static. Photo courtesy BuroHappold Engineeering website.

As we all know, hot air rises, so Matcham created this device to expel the hottest air. When the auditorium doors were opened to exit the first house, that rush of fresh air coming into the auditorium would effectively push through and expel the old, hot air through the hole in the ceiling. Before the house opened again, the dome would be rolled back into its original position, and audiences were none the wiser – but a lot cooler. Air conditioning was finally fully installed in the 1990s. Now superseded by a brand new aircon system (courtesy of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s sparkling renovation of 2017), Matcham’s innovation is a brilliant piece of past history, but all of us who ran the VP will recall his ingenuity with gratitude. And also consigned to history was the sort of phone call I got to my office one Saturday afternoon when the heat and humidity set off some sharp showers outside. “Can we close the dome please? It’s raining in the front stalls!”


Joshua Ford wins LIPA’s Anthony Field Producer Prize 2019

Joshua Ford

Many Congratulations to Joshua Ford, a graduate student of Arts Management at LIPA, the Liverpool School for Performing Arts, who has won the 2019 Anthony Field Producer Prize.

The prize has been awarded annually since 2014. It was created by LIPA’s Founder and continuing CEO, Mark Featherstone-Witty, to honour the memory of my late friend and colleague Anthony Field.

Anthony Field pioneered arts management training in the 1960s in the UK and in America, and worked for decades as Finance Director of the Arts Council of Great Britain. As well as this, he was a successful producer himself, with over 300 shows to his name. Aside from this, he was the driving force behind the fundraising to establish LIPA and to realise Sir Paul McCartney’s dream to see his old school reborn as a hub of arts excellence. LIPA is now rated one of the UK’s top 20 universities.

The Anthony Field Producer Prize is awarded annually for excellence shown by an emerging producer, and Joshua is a worthy winner.

Congratulations Joshua! Remember the name, folks!