Dame Diana Rigg

March provides a chance to share An Evening with Dame Diana Rigg in London. Tickets and more information can be found here.

This event reminded me that whenever I travel by air I am most grateful to Dame Diana. Some years ago she compiled a book entitled No Turn Unstoned, subtitled ‘the worst ever theatrical reviews’. And she has found some real stingers, although I am glad to say that the contemporary theatre world’s high standards gives very few opportunities for this kind of criticism anymore.

Whenever I travel I always take it as a calmer (I am not a good flyer) and rather than well up with anxiety, this little book has given me many smiles and at time outright laughs just when I need them most. You can dip in and out of it very easily so it is the perfect travelling companion (alongside a husband/wife/significant other/ partner/ gigolo/gigolette/ farmyard animal (if that’s your bag)) As you can see, my copy is well-travelled and somewhat dog-eared.

Bought for me by a dear actor friend, it is still available- only in second-hand condition, I would imagine- on Amazon, abebooks and lots of other fine online booksellers.

News: Critics Circle Drama Awards 2018

In a ceremony earlier this week at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre, The Critics Circle drama awards celebrated winners including Matthew Lopez’s epic play The Inheritance which won Best Play as well as Kyle Soller for Best Actor and Stephen Daldry for Best Director. Company was Best Musical, Best Actress was Patsy Ferran in Summer and Smoke and Sophie Okonedo won the Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance for Antony and Cleopatra. Best Newcomer was Chris Walley for The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Best Lighting was won by multi-nominated Bunny Christie. Most Promising Playwright was Natasha Gordon for her play Nine Night which is just completing a West End run after transferring from the National.

The Special Award for Services to the Theatre was awarded to Neil McPherson for his magnificent 20-year tenure as Artistic Director at the much-loved, oft-threatened but proudly “still here” Finborough Theatre in Fulham. To my mind, no other “room above a pub” can have produced as many memorable shows to such a consistently high standard as this venue (and AD ) has presented. It was great to see yet more recognition of Neil’s work which has made this intimate venue a jewel in the crown of its locality. If you haven’t been there yet, please go!

Previews: Coming up in February 2019

From February 1st It’s OK to not be OK. That’s the message of A SUPER HAPPY STORY (ABOUT FEELING SUPER SAD) a very funny, helpfully honest and insightful cabaret musical about depression. Sally’s a happy person. She doesn’t let little things get her down and almost never cries. But she’s got an illness. It makes her feel like she isn’t the person she wants to be, but she doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Written by Olivier Award winner Jon Brittain (Rotterdam and Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho) with music by Matthew Floyd Jones (Frisky & Mannish). It’s a joyful, buoyant, gleeful, slightly silly, sugar-coated, unrelenting and completely super happy show! Except for the bits about depression. “A Super Happy Story is Superb” said The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner.. and she was right! I am so glad that I went and I think you will be too. Touring UK-wide through to June.

From February 1st, COUGAR premieres at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre until March 2, directed by award-winning Chelsea Walker. Leila wants to inspire global change. John really needs to get his act together. They have an arrangement. But managing an affair isn’t easy when the world around you is falling apart. A new play about what – and who – we consume. Rising star writer Rose Lewenstein has already produced several arresting works, including (with Russell Bender) the intricately choreographed and intriguing show Game Of Life, produced at the Yard Theatre in East London in 2014 (someone smart will revive this and do very well from it). COUGAR is co-produced with English Touring Theatre.

From 12 February. Stephen Sondheim’s lovingly-crafted, bittersweet musical FOLLIES returns to the National Theatre after a sold-out run last year (and winning Best Musical Revival at the Olivier Awards). On the eve of demolition of Weissman’s Theatre, past performers gather to drink, dream and reminisce….and somehow, try to make sense of it all. New cast members this season are all top-notch: Joanna Riding (The Pajama Game, Flowers for Mrs Harris), Alexander Hanson (A Little Night Music) and Claire Moore (Phantom of the Opera). Returning cast include the phenomenal Tracie Bennett, assured Janie Dee and (from mid-April) the spine-tingling operatic septugenarian Josephine Barstow, with perfectly-drilled choreography once again courtesy of Olivier-Award-winning Bill Deamer. In an ongoing repertory season.

From 12 February at the Park Theatre, Robert Fox and Alex Turner present Martin (BENT) Sherman’s acclaimed new play GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM, to celebrate his 80th year, with a cast that includes Jonathan Hyde (The King’s Speech) and directed by Sean Matthias. Concerning an unexpected age gap relationship, the play explores the differences between generations of gay men and their life experiences and explores whether generation gap affairs can sustain. Recently acclaimed in New York, it comes to the Park Theatre until 6 April.

From 19 February Wherever company 1927 appear, you can expect dazzling visual artistry and inspired invention, something akin to a graphic novel burst into theatrical life. Their most recent show, Golem, has now been touring the world for the last four years and has delighted audiences in astonishment at their technical and artistic imagination. Now there is another chance to see 1927’s previous show entitled THE ANIMALS AND CHILDREN TOOK TO THE STREETS! at the Lyric Hammersmith until 16 March. In the Bayou, a part of the city feared and loathed, stands infamous Bayou Mansions; a sprawling stinking tenement block, where curtain-twitchers and peeping-toms live side by side… and the wolf is always at the door. When Agnes Eaves and her daughter arrive late one night, does it signal hope in this hopeless place, or has the real horror only just begun? Seamlessly synchronising live music, intricate performance and storytelling with stunning film and animation, this is a show to savour.

Review: Don Quixote

Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre, London, until Feb 2, 2019

IN BRIEF A joyous, madcap journey with our deluded hero touches on frailty and loss in a show shot through with humanity, showcasing a great central performance.

Perhaps like you, I have not read Miguel Cervantes original story, but this production is probably the most effective (and entertaining) distillation of the work we shall see. Making an audience dream with you is a difficult ask, but the fantastic elements shine through in this loving adaptation by James Fenton enacted by an assured cast of 20.

The story? After a lifetime of reading books on the romance of chivalry, an eccentric old man embarks on a ramshackle quest to become a wandering knight, accompanied by his faithful and equally ill-suited servant, Sancho Panza. The self-styled Don Quixote sets out on a hilarious journey across medieval Spain, defending the helpless and vanquishing the wicked. Hopelessly unprepared and increasingly losing his grip on reality, we share his efforts to achieve his romantic ideal.

David Threlfall is superb as Don Quixote, capturing an other-worldliness in the man which is at once captivating and challenging. On stage for most of the running time, this is a very demanding role, and Threlfall plays it with such palpable commitment and sincerity that his demise is genuinely affecting. Rufus Hound as Sancho Panza fully inhabits the fat suit of his character as well as his personality. He acts as the bridge between the audience and the action, fantasy and reality. Messrs Threlfall and Hound clearly have a special rapport which charmingly underscores their playing and gives the relationship credibility.

The first act has an overextended “warm up” by Mr Hound, and after this the first act occasionally lurches into farce -with audience participation- to bring us on board, but it does not prepare us for the change of mood in the second act where Quixote finally succumbs to the realities of human frailty. Quixote’s death is poetically achieved in a memorable scene which stilled the audience totally.

The music which peppers the show is charming and “in character” but perhaps a few too many numbers? (The overall show is about 15 minutes too long in my opinion.) Staging using a simple set is very effective and the design renders a usefully quirky quality to the whole show, with the wooden horses a particular highlight.

With our contemporary fixations on Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is easy to see how this adaptation of the story drills a direct line into our consciousness and renders a charming fable up into a scorching yet tender reminder of our own mortality.

Finally, this DON QUIXOTE’s finest gift is that it poignantly reminds us that magic is wherever we choose to see it. I, and the audience I was with, loved it.

News: Sir Cameron Mackintosh raises the roof

Interesting news that Sir Cameron Mackintosh has submitted plans for a two-storey penthouse and roof garden above the 1100-seat Novello Theatre, part of his Delfont Mackintosh Theatres group of eight fine and well-cared for West End theatres. It is reported that the design has a mix of work/life spaces where he can also conduct business. The upper area accommodations that already existed have been occupied by many others over the years, most notably acting as the home for the legendary Welsh composer and actor Ivor Novello from 1913 to his death in 1951. The theatre was originally built as The Waldorf (but quite soon renamed The Strand), and was renamed in 2005, its centenary year, by new owner Sir Cameron after a thorough, loving refurbishment. The Novello is currently home to the long-runner MAMMA MIA!, which looks set to run for a few more years yet. Let’s wish Sir Cameron all the best for his proposals, they will no doubt be something even Ivor would envy.