Shows to look forward to in July 2019

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

Off-West End


CHASING RAINBOWS is an engaging and heartfelt examination of the many tensions of modern motherhood, as seen through the eyes of the first black woman astronaut. As she orbits the Earth, preparing to record a speech for her daughter’s school graduation ceremony, she reflects on the joys and costs of achieving her goals whilst trying to stay true to her roles as a mother and a woman. An ear-catching verse script is brought to life effectively by actor Donna Berlin as Ama the astronaut as she floats through space, separated from her daughter by more than distance. Berlin gives an committed performance which makes this show worth seeing. At the Hoxton Hall, another glorious old survival of a Victorian music hall. Playing Thursdays-Saturdays until July 20th.


SPITFIRE SISTERS is an intriguing-sounding new play at the Space from 2 to 6 July. A long overdue celebration of women in World War Two, this play centres on a 19-year-old Northern lass who takes to the air in a fighter plane, armed with only a compass. Her mission? To deliver fighter aircraft to the forces on the front. And she wasn’t the only one.

Discover the true, untold story of a collection of fierce, pioneering British and American women who took to the skies in World War II to fight for victory alongside the allies, all whilst achieving equal pay with their male counterparts. From award-winning play-writing trio, Three of a Kind, and directed by the Space’s Artistic Director Adam Hemming, SPITFIRE SISTERS is a celebration of the passion and determination of these unsung heroines ‘eager for the air’.


The Finborough Theatre has come up with a full-throttled treat of melodrama which is playing its last week, closing July 6th. Directed by the reliable Phil Wilmott, AFTER DARK is a mid-Victorian hit play by highly-successful writer Dion Boucicault (The Shaughraun, London Assurance, The Octoroon, etc). The tiny 50-seat Finborough hosts a cast of twelve (!) and the many melodramatic scenes include train crashes, river rescues, dastardly villains, plucky heroines, salacious scandal and dark secrets, all crackling with the energy of a London of fresh peril and opportunity. All this and the new-fangled London Underground railway too! A treat not to be missed.


Opening July 2nd and running to 27th July – 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! Let’s hope this production lives up to its promise. Now where did I put those sardines……..


PETER GYNT Weighing in at three and a half hours, this’ll give you value for money! Ibsen’s classic PEER GYNT is reinvented as a riotous musical adventure for the 21st century in this National Theatre co-production with the Edinburgh International Festival (the show visits Edinburgh in August). Peter Gynt is searching for something: himself. Traveling from the mountains of Scotland to the pool-sides of Florida, he’ll meet talking hyenas, two-headed trolls and even an Egyptian Sphinx.  But his ultimate transformation may not be all that he hoped for…

Playing the rebellious antihero, James McArdle (Angels In America) is reunited with writer David Hare and director Jonathan Kent, the partnership behind the triumphant Young Chekhov at Chichester Festival Theatre and the National Theatre. This outrageous modern myth is designed by the Tony award-winning Richard Hudson (The Lion King), with an original score from Paul Englishby (BBC’s Luther and Dr Foster) and movement direction from Polly Bennett (Bohemian Rhapsody).


Now here’s a cast for you! From 18 July, the The Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT sees its first major London revival in 30 years at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn. 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….


Also from July 18th, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is the European premiere of a new musical coming to London following a hit off-Broadway season, starring John Partridge and Tyrone Huntley, amongst others. 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. It plays at the Soho Theatre until Aug 24th.


DEATH OF A SALESMAN is the much-lauded new production of the Arthur Miller classic from star director Marianne Elliott, with a standout cast including Olivier Award-winner Sharon D Clarke (Caroline, or Change), Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Suits, Selma) who makes his UK stage debut, and Arinzé Kene (Misty), in one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century, as seen here through the eyes of an African American family. Not quite the ground-breaker we were hyped up to expect, nevertheless a very solid production well worth seeing. Running at the Young Vic to July 13, it has been announced to transfer into the Piccadilly from October until January 2020.


Having received very good reviews across the board, the Orange Tree in Richmond continues with Paul Miller’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s World War II hit WHILE THE SUN SHINES until 27th July, after scoring another big hit with Rattigan’s FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS two years ago.

I’ll tell you but you won’t believe me. I slept in the same bed with an earl… No, not a girl, stupid, an earl.” 1943. On the eve of his wedding, the young Earl of Harpenden – Bobby to his friends – has offered his room to Joe, an American soldier he drunkenly met the night before. When Bobby’s fiancée Lady Elizabeth turns up, Joe makes a move, thinking she must be Bobby’s ex, the wonderful Mabel Crum. But a Free French lieutenant also has eyes for her… And to complicate matters, Bobby’s future father in law turns up too. It’s London in the Blitz, and identities get confused: time to make hay…


Here’s the perfect Summer show to raise the temperature! Now playing at the Coliseum for a season until 31st August, after which it embarks on a UK tour, ON YOUR FEET! has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show.

Gloria Estefan has sold over 100 million records worldwide and is the most successful Latin crossover performer in the history of pop music.  Featuring the best of her 38 number 1 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).


Touring the UK

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 July at Bradford, Leicester, Bristol, Birmingham and Malvern . Read my review of the show here


LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is out on a national tour until September . See it in July at Glasgow, Sheffield, Birmingham and Canterbury. Read my review of the show here


Now well into its stride, the 50th anniversary UK tour of the tribal rock musical HAIR carries on with abandon, starring Jake Quickenden, Marcus Collins and Kelly Sweeney. See it in July at Sheffield, Brighton, Milton Keynes, Wolverhampton and then a week’s trip abroad to Cologne before returning to play Glasgow.


Also….

For musical fans, Lloyd Webber and Rice’s JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT plays the London Palladium, opening on July 11th. Meanwhile at the Barbican Theatre, another Lloyd Webber / Rice musical, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, sets up for a Summer season from 4 July for 60 performances only.


NT Live Broadcasts

25 July – The much-praised National Theatre production of THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is now playing the Piccadilly Theatre and runs to the end of August. With a stunning cast including Simon Russell Beale and Ben Miles as well as having such brilliant reviews behind it, I am sure it will be worth seeing. It is broadcast to cinemas across the country in the schedule of NT Live in 25 July, details here.


Review: AFTER DARK

After dark play finborough theatre review
AFTER DARK at the Finborough Theatre until July 6th. Information and tickets here

IN BRIEF Creative staging of this bustling Victorian melodrama helps it rattle along, making a jolly romp of its labyrinthine plot.

With more plot lines than the current Tube map has colours, it’s a wonder that bustling 1868 melodrama AFTER DARK has stood up as well as it has, in large part thanks to Phil Wilmott’s inventive and jaunty production.

Writer Dion Boucicault (London Assurance, The Octoroon, The Shaughraun, etc) has adapted a French play which embraces much of London’s variety, stuffing the stage with incident, in scenes including an underground station, a music hall, the slums of Rotherhithe, to the icy Thames itself and much more. Well-spotted lighting and exciting moments of visual invention (which almost all come off very effectively) are highlights which partly compensate for the creaky, heavily-wordy script.

Opening with another opening, of the first London Underground Railway, in a clever sequence which prefaces the rest of the story, AFTER DARK steams into its plots of love frustrated, mixed-up marriages, fortunes and disgraced nobility; asides to the audience and descriptive speeches about events offstage abound in the time-honoured tradition.

A brief untangling of the plot? Eliza is the daughter of an ex-soldier who now lives on the streets and her mother is in the workhouse. Surviving as a maid, she has married George under an assumed name. George is the son of nobility, brought low by gambling and drink at the hands of gambling den and music hall owner Dicey Morris (“Queen of Crime”). George’s forged signature on his father’s cheque proves ideal blackmail fodder for Dicey and her partner in crime, crooked lawyer Chandos Bellingham. With George’s father just deceased, a title and a large inheritance is in sight, but stipulations in the will mean that there are many twists ahead for everyone (including villainy, heroics, near-suicides, druggings and deceptions) before the final curtain.

Woven into the play’s colourful fabric are ex-soldiers down on their luck (brief social comment here), incognito maids, music hall girls in a state of expectancy, the Salvation Army and various victims of gambling and drink (mostly at the various establishments of Dicey)

Lightening the conveyor belt of revelations and deceptions, some cleverly-conceived visuals are wisely spotted at the opening, act one close and finale. The first act curtain scene where Eliza throws herself into the Thames is created skilfully by the cast with a series of mirrors, picturing both above and below water, allowing for an heroic “nick of time” rescue.

The majority of the cast play this specialised, fragile material well. Standouts in the cast are the two villains; Victoria Jeffrey plays with relish as Dicey – living up to her name, peppering her gutter chat with amusing high-falutin’ malapropisms. She makes a great sparring partner for reptilian Chandos, played with equal lip-smacking fervour by Toby Wynn Davies. Jemima Watling underplays most successfully as the hard-done by Eliza, emphasising her heroism and selfless devotion for her lover who is promised to another, earning the audience’s affection. Praise, too, for the skilful musical trio in the cast who provide tuneful renditions of the music hall songs (some with a distinct edge) and other well-timed musical interjections.

Shunting this large cast (of 12) on and off the Finborough’s tiny stage is a real issue here, and I do feel that the mechanics of this small space have impacted on the pace of the show; it feels like it needs more of a head of steam to keep it chugging along. Having said that, the simple but hugely effective set of two brick arches on trucks are moved into every conceivable position and work very well, a clever design by Hannah Postlethwaite, especially effective when two characters weave through the alleyways of Rotherhithe, the arches move and twist to create unending tight, dark, populated corridors. Lighting, too, is often creative and well-used, vital in this small space, and the smattering of dry ice to conjure up foggy Old London Town works well, though it’s rather missed in the second act when the action moves to Hammersmith, the pace sags a little, and the darkness recedes for a while.

And so to the finale, “a climax of villainy”, and a rescue from death on the Underground rails which cues a veritable queue of revelations, unmaskings and comeuppances bringing the requisite happy endings to all (including the villains) and topped off by a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia, led by Britannia herself. Huzzah! So it’s three cheers for this enjoyably tongue-in-cheek AFTER DARK! And three stars.


AFTER DARK plays at The Finborough Theatre until July 6th. Information and Tickets here