Theatre news – buildings in the spotlight

Palace Theatre, London, Stage Door
London Coliseum, architect Frank Matcham.

I’d guess that we’re all missing visits to our favourite theatres by now. As most will agree, online theatre – while most enjoyable – isn’t the same as “the real thing”. Part of that is the atmosphere created – which is to do with going out and congregating with others to form a unique, never to be repeated audience in a specially built environment that heightens our sense of occasion.

Part of this unfathomable equation is down to the venues themselves, and if you, like me, particularly miss venturing inside our great London theatres, then I have some comforting news for you.

For those of you who have Amazon Prime, may I point you to a lovely series called Great West End Theatres, dating from 2012, in which Sir Donald Sinden pours his caramelised voice all over ten of London’s most prestigious playhouses, giving us a nice potted history along the way. (By a funny coincidence, I remember bumping into Sir Donald as I was coming out of the Noel Coward Theatre, as he was filming this show – and I ruined his take. I must say he was as gracious as always – a lovely man.). There were two series made, I believe, but currently only series one is available.

For those who may prefer a more avant-garde alternative, the Royal Court Theatre- in a very Royal Court type of thing- is real-time livestreaming their auditorium, still with its set up for its interrupted show, SHOE LADY. There’s nothing actually going on there, so if you stay too long it might feel like the world’s longest incoming. However, it serves rather poignantly as a reminder that the glorious spaces, usually hidden away from public gaze, are still there, patiently waiting for our return, as we will.

On a sadder note, NST – Nuffield Southampton Theatres – collapsed into administration last week and is at risk of being sold off to developers, demolished, who knows what may become of it. A petition has been started (gaining 10,000 signatures in just 4 days already), to which I would encourage you to add your names to demonstrate the strength of feeling that every one of our theatres- big or small, local or national, wherever in the world- they all make a difference to people’s lives, and as such, we should stand up for theatres now. It is certain that more theatres will face this fate unless we speak up loudly and quickly, and do whatever we can to help them- even if that’s just signing a petition. Please, do it Now. You can find the petition here

Tomorrow, Saturday 16th May, is the very first Music Hall and Variety Day, celebrating not only the stars and songs that made these forms of entertainment so enduringly popular but also the great buildings that were created for this hugely popular style of entertainment. You can read more about the celebration by visiting the British Music Hall Society website here.

And there’s more – this coming Sunday (17th May) will mark the centenary of master theatre architect Frank Matcham’s death. So expect a good read next week from me – an inside view of how his theatres actually worked.


March’s Top Shows

The stained glass auditorium ceiling of the Palau de la Música, Barcelona

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

Off-West End

Opening

Hard on the heels of a first-rate Orange Tree revival of Lucy Prebble’s THE SUGAR SYNDROME, another of her plays THE EFFECT runs from 19th March to 30th May at the Boulevard Theatre.

Placing modern medicine under the microscope, it examines the fallout from a collision between love and science.

Connie and Tristan meet; symptoms develop. Racing hearts. Lost appetites. Erratic emotions. Is this the frenzy of falling in love, or simply the side effects of the new anti-depressant drug they’re testing?

Addiction comes hard and fast. But have the clinicians running the trial lost control?


Anyone who has seen the exceptionally good OPERATION MINCEMEAT (soon to return to Southwark Playhouse for a third sell-out season) will have enjoyed the brilliant performance of Jak Malone. Now Malone gets his own show in DIVA: LIVE FROM HELL, a darkly comic one-man musical, loosely based on All About Eve, has its European premiere at Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre from March 17th to 28th.

As president of the drama club and star of every school show, Desmond Channing spent most of his short life in the spotlight. When a rival student Evan Harris, a hotshot transfer from New York, challenges his throne, Desmond responds as any diva would, with lethal force…

Now stuck in the ‘Seventh Circle’, Hell’s most squalid cabaret venue, Desmond is forced to relive his disturbing tale of woe.  As we join him and his band for their one-millionth consecutive show, Desmond performs with a desperate vigour in the hopes that he can prove he’s repented and can be freed from this eternal, campy torment!

Jak Malone plays Desmond Channing and the entire company of larger than life characters.  I’m confidently predicting a tour de force from this talented actor!


RUN SISTER RUN plays from March 25th to May 2nd at the Soho Theatre

“You can’t pick your family but if you could I’d still pick you”

Sisters Connie and Ursula were once everything to each other. Years on they’re almost strangers. When a family bombshell is dropped, Connie is forced to retrace forty years of sisterhood and confront a web of secrets and conflicting loyalties. Nurture competes with nature as the pair navigate their unbreakable bond, united by the same beginning but headed in different directions.

Award-winning playwright Chloë Moss’ (HOW LOVE IS SPELT) new play is a witty and heartfelt story of family, class and dependence, asking what does it really mean to belong to someone?


At the Yard in East London, NEW NORDICS is an exciting festival of Nordic work from 18th to 21st March with a new bill each day.

Six directors from the UK have travelled abroad to explore what Nordic theatre and culture is – and now they present a play from each of the Nordic countries for the first time in the UK. Shows about climate change, fir trees, garages, loneliness, cows… and IKEA. The festival is full of funny, dark and explosive plays, each giving a glimpse of the countries they come from.

For the first time, Cut the Cord Theatre present New Nordics Festival, showcasing the best new Nordic plays from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This is great way to see some contemporary Nordic theatre combined with some of the best upcoming talent from the UK.


Katherine Parkinson returns to star at the Royal Court Theatre in E V Crowe’s new play SHOE LADY from March 4th to 21st.

“It’s incredibly hard isn’t it. To stay afloat.
It’s incredibly hard not to sink to the bottom.”

Viv has lost a shoe. They’re her work shoes, her weekend shoes, her only pair of shoes, and she doesn’t know what to do.

The curtains are falling, her foot is bleeding, and she’s starting to feel a little overwhelmed.
But all will be well in the world once she finds that missing shoe.


A bit close to home for some, this one? From 11th to 15th March at Greenwich Theatre, Ferodo Bridges present their immersive production, THE WHITE PLAGUE, experienced in ‘white blindness’ for a strictly limited number of audience members who will experience a city beset by an epidemic with every sense but their sight. 

When a mysterious and fiercely contagious virus starts spreading among a major city’s population, causing all infected victims to lose their sight, the government takes emergency action and isolates those affected in unprepared quarantine facilities. We follow the stories of five infected strangers who have been left to fend for themselves.  As the consequences of the epidemic are revealed, citizens are driven to expose the very brightest and darkest aspects of their human nature. 


At the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, company Playing On brings to life Philip (This Island’s Mine) Osment’s final play. CAN I HELP YOU? is a magical realist examination of the role race and gender have to play in mental health and suicide.  

An off-duty English policeman is about to throw himself off Beachy Head when he is met by a woman carrying a laundry bag and a cat box. Over the course of one night, two disparate characters learn what it truly means to be touched by the magic of hope.  

The show plays from March 3rd to 21st.


From March 18th to May 16th at the National Theatre’s Dorfman space, writer and comedian Francesca Martinez leads an ensemble cast in her debut play ALL OF US , a new play about what defines us, directed by Ian Rickson.

Jess has a job she loves, great friends and a sharp sense of humour. So, when the life she has worked hard to build is threatened, she decides to take a stand.

This powerful and timely drama explores life, love and the struggle to survive for those who don’t fit in during a time of austerity.


“Sorry I don’t fit into your preconceived notions of me

Tommy is scared of everything. Especially the kids at school who would call him gay if they saw him putting on lipstick. Jordan isn’t scared of anything. He’s not scared that he likes the way Tommy looks in lipstick. Really, he’s not.

Two women play two teenage boys in this timely story of young hearts and the rules that surround us all. LIPSTICK plays the Southwark Playhouse from March 4th to 28th.


DRIP DRIP DRIP is a dark love-letter to the NHS and the people who keep it alive.

Encountered on a ward round are Daniel, a refugee from Eritrea, now a trainee nurse; Rahmiya, a Muslim doctor; and David, an elderly white cancer patient. Just another dysfunctional NHS ‘family’. But drip by drip David’s far-right ideology seeps out, poisoning Daniel and Rahmiya’s sense of belonging…

Pipeline Theatre dissects care and cruelty with dark humour while busting taboos. At the Pleasance Theatre London from March 3rd to 21st.


Theatre 503 presents PAPER CUT from March 18th to April 11th

A young gay American soldier, Kyle, returns from Afghanistan after being injured. Only a paper cut. Or that’s what he wants his friends, family, and a potential new love to believe. PAPER CUT is a raw exploration of the physical and emotional toll of returning soldiers and how they navigate their way through another minefield – of returning home.

This is a love story told through the prism of a soldier. Someone who will die for their country, even when their country tells them every day – in small and large ways – that they are less than. It’s an examination of what it means to be a man. And even more so, what it means to be a gay man.

STICKS AND STONES is an intriguing-sounding new play at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 3rd to 21st March.

Afua, a black senior manager in a secondary school, is asked to investigate online comments by a white colleague, Tina; a woman she viewed as a friend. Do Tina’s comments constitute hate speech, and, if so, should the police get involved? Afua has always fought for women’s rights, and Tina is a wronged woman, but with an axe to grind that even Afua is not prepared for. In an intensely claustrophobic setting, the clash between the two women becomes increasingly explosive; opening up questions around speech, power, race and class, that perhaps modern Britain is not ready to answer.


West End Opening

As you’ll know, I rarely venture into West End territory for my top picks, but the classy musical CITY OF ANGELS is a rare show with a superb, starry cast that demands attention. It’s a musical love letter to the glamorous world of old Hollywood and film noir.

A screenwriter with a movie to finish. A private eye with a case to crack. And a femme fatale. Just to make things interesting.

The Donmar Warehouse’s Olivier Award-winning 2014 production finally returns to London, featuring a swinging score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel and a brilliantly witty book by Larry Gelbart, CITY OF ANGELS plays at the Garrick Theatre from March 5th to September 5th (NB with significant cast changes at the end of May and July).


Off West End – continuing

In THE HIGH TABLE , the dresses are chosen, the venue’s been booked and the RSVPs are flooding in. But Tara’s perfect Nigerian wedding to her girlfriend Leah is suddenly derailed when her parents refuse to attend. 

High above London, suspended between the stars, three of Tara’s ancestors are jolted from their eternal rest. Can these representatives of generations passed keep the family together? And will Tara’s decision ever get their blessing?

An epic family drama played out between the heavens and earth, THE HIGH TABLE is the accomplished debut play from Temi Wilkey, which plays at the Bush Theatre until 21 March.

Read my **** review of THE HIGH TABLE here


Running to 3 May, BE MORE CHILL is the long-awaited UK premiere of this on- and off- Broadway hit musical.

Featuring a Tony Award®-nominated score bursting with memorable songs, BE MORE CHILL is a very modern musical comedy about the competing voices in all of our heads.

It’s about a guy who wants to fit in, a girl who wants to be noticed, and the supercomputer inside the guy’s head that tells him what to do (it wants to take over the world!). According to The New Yorker, “If you fed Dear Evan Hansen to the Little Shop of Horrors plant, you’d get BE MORE CHILL.” In other words, it’s both a relatable tale about how far we’ll go for a little validation… and an otherworldly delight about a loveable geek and his very invasive (im)plant. Sounds fun!


At the Park Theatre until March 21 is LA CAGE AUX FOLLES – THE PLAY

Many people recall with pleasure the Tony Award-winning musical, but not everyone knew that the story was originally a hilarious French play which ran for years, and which then was made into four feature films which broke worldwide box office records and were multi-award nominated . Now the Park Theatre gives you the first opportunity to see the original, riotous and heartfelt farce translated into the English language.

Nightclub owner Georges and his dazzling drag artiste partner Albin create the most spectacular shows in St. Tropez. But when Georges’ son Laurent announces his engagement to the daughter of a notoriously right-wing politician determined to bring the curtain down on the town’s vibrant nightlife, the real performance begins.

As Georges and Albin entertain their soon-to-be in laws and attempt to conceal their true nature for the sake of their son, how long can the façade last?

Directed by Simon Callow, and with a great cast including Michael Matus, Paul Hunter and Peter Straker amongst others, this should be a very entertaining evening.


At the Bush Theatre studio until March 21 is COLLAPSIBLE. Essie’s lost her job. Her girlfriend’s left. But she’s alright. Except lately she feels more like a chair than a person. One of those folding chairs. Solid one minute. And then.

From award-winning Irish writer Margaret Perry (Porcelain, Abbey Theatre), this is the hilarious, multi award-winning play about holding on in this collapsing world, starring the “mesmeric” (Guardian) Breffni Holahan, COLLAPSIBLE is for anyone who has ever felt crumbly. So that’s all of us, then!


NO SHOW at The Yard runs until March 14. Christopher Green is best known for his cabaret alter egos Ida Barr and Tina C.

This is the show that Christopher has spent over two decades making. It’s the culmination of 25 years of entertaining tens of thousands of audience members and learning exactly what makes them tick. What they want. It’s the leadership we’ve been seeking in troubling times. Frankly, I haven’t a clue but with this performer you can bet it won’t be dull!!


VAULT Festival

The VAULT FESTIVAL 2020 runs until 22 March. London’s largest and most interesting festival of upcoming work and rising artists, it’s like having all the fun of going to the Edinburgh Fringe but without the pricey travel and accommodation. Established in 2014 by Tim Wilson, Mat Burtcher and Andy George, it has rapidly grown to be an integral part of London’s winter scene. Last year 80,000 people enjoyed over 420 performances, which is why this is a festival with something for everyone.


Outside London

Here’s an interesting new British musical with music and lyrics by Darren Clark, who wrote the very good THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON seen last year at Southwark Playhouse.

Receiving its world premiere, THE WICKER HUSBAND is a folk-inspired show which tells the timeless tale of the outsider.


In a superficial world, where beauty is only skin-deep, meet the so-called ‘Ugly Girl’.
Ostracised by the shallow townsfolk because she doesn’t fit in, the Ugly Girl becomes the envy of her neighbours when the mysterious Old Basketmaker makes her a strong and loving husband woven from living wicker. As bitter rivalry and jealousy threaten to tear the community apart, the townsfolk embark on a cruel and destructive plan. Will the Ugly Girl’s happiness be ruined forever?

Featuring mesmerising wicker-made puppets from master puppeteers, THE WICKER HUSBAND plays at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre from March 12th to April 4th.


Also…

NT CONNECTIONS, the National Theatre’s nationwide youth theatre festival is back. Connections is open to any company of young people aged 13-19. Each Company chooses one play from a set list of ten, that they will then rehearse and perform at their ‘home’ venue, and later at a participating professional venue.

All across the UK, from Inverness to Plymouth, NT Connections enables young people to perform their chosen play on a local, professional stage, which happens between March and May. In June, the NT Festival will showcase ten of the companies, each performing one of the selected plays in a culmination of the festival. So why not spend an evening supporting your local young talent?

31 Theatres are participating across the country. For participating theatres near you, see the NT Connections page here

In London, artsdepot’s festival runs from March 30th to 5th April. Details here

Touring the UK

Anyone who loves the Latin crossover music of Gloria Estefan 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). See it in March at Glasgow, Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Leeds and Southampton.

Read my ***.5 review of the show here


NT Live Broadcasts

March brings further encore screenings of several NTLive broadcasts to screens around the UK and further afield. You can still enjoy encores of CYRANO DE BERGERAC with James McAvoy, Andrew Scott in Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER, the comedy hit ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS with James Corden, and FLEABAG also appear in selected encore screenings.

To find screenings in your area, check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.


November’s top shows

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

Off-West End

Opening

The new Boulevard Theatre’s opening production is GHOST QUARTET, an intoxicating musical of love, loss and spirits – of both the spectral and alcoholic kind. Three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy’s hauntingly beautiful song cycle is a story about stories themselves; how we tell them, how we hear them, and how they evolve, intertwine and draw us in. With an intriguing cast including Carly Bawden and Zubin Varla this looks set to be a highlight, especially after the triumph of Malloy’s other show, the excellent PRELUDES which played at Southwark Playhouse in October.

But back to GHOST QUARTET. Rose has a problem. She’s been betrayed by her lover, a local tree-dwelling astronomer, with her very own sister. Rose seeks vengeance and a passing bear might just offer the answer. But his services come at a price: a pot of honey, one piece of stardust, a secret baptism – and a photo of a ghost.

A kaleidoscopic journey spanning continents, centuries and the cosmos ensues. But even through the fogs of time and a haze of whiskey, Rose can’t shake the feeling that she’s done this all before…

Dave Malloy is the writer of the Broadway smash-hit Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. GHOST QUARTET runs until January 4th.


C’est Magnifique! Achieving the near-impossible task of translating a unique French movie to the stage, and doing so in some style, this 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. Playing a season at The Other Palace Theatre in London from 29 November to February 1st.

Read my **** review of the show here


At the Royal Court, Ed Thomas’s ON BEAR RIDGE plays until 23rd November

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one.”

In a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders, hidden under a crumb on the map, Bear Ridge Stores still stands. After a hundred years, the family butchers and grocers – a place for odds and ends, contraband goods, and the last petrol pump for 30 miles – is now silent.

But owners John Daniel (Rhys Ifans) and Noni (Rakie Ayola) are not leaving. They are defiantly drinking the remaining whiskey and remembering good times, when everyone was on the same side and the old language shone.

Outside in the dark, a figure is making their way towards them.

A semi-autobiographical story about the places we leave behind, the indelible marks they make on us, and the unreliable memories we hold onto.


#WeAreArrested  (running from 13 November to 7 December) is Arcola Theatre’s first co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s a vital story about the cost of reporting the truth in the age of fake news.

When a journalist is sent a flash-drive containing critical evidence of illegal government activity, he is duty-bound to publish the story. But with the nation destabilised and divided, a sinister power is eroding the rule of law. What price will he pay for speaking out?

Adapted from the book by Can Dündar, who was arrested for publishing footage of Turkish State Intelligence sending weapons into Syria, this deeply personal and universal story finds urgent new life as authoritarian politics spread across the globe.


“It doesn’t feel like a disease, it feels like… falling in love. Your heart races, and your skin tingles. It’s perfect. At first.”

Running until 23 November, CHEMISTRY receives its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre

Steph struggles with chronic depression. Jamie just overachieved himself off the deep end. When they meet in their psychiatrist’s office, sparks fly and they stumble unexpectedly into a beautiful relationship. But how do you trust someone else when you are already in a battle with your own brain? 



Last year, 70.9 million prescriptions for antidepressants were dispensed in England alone, while, in the United States, an estimated 15.5 million Americans have taken antidepressant medication for at least five years and over. With dark humour, a beautiful soundtrack and captivating visuals, CHEMISTRY is an intimate, frank and uncompromising examination of the chemicals we take and how they impact our ability to love.


GERM FREE ADOLESCENT is an OCD love story that asks: what exactly is ‘normal’ anyway…? Running until November 9th at The Bunker.

Ashley is 16. She’s lived in Medway for 15 years and 6 months. She has 2,354 leaflets on sexual health. She knows exactly how many she has, because she’s counted them 1,582 times… At 7.48pm tonight, she will have been going out with Ollie for exactly 3 months, which he thinks means it’s time to take their relationship to the next level; especially given her position as their school’s resident expert on sexual health. But what if counting leaflets can’t protect Ashley from getting hurt when she decides to take her biggest risk yet?

1 in 10 young people experience a mental health problem, but how do you go about discussing this with your first boyfriend or girlfriend? Written by Natalie Mitchell, the play draws on her own mental health experiences, and the painful yet often funny stories collected during an extensive research and development process. Fierce and funny, serious and irreverent – this play will resonate with anyone who’s ever worried they’re not “normal.”


“He’ll look different. My little boy. When I get out. Like… to the picture I’ve got in my head. Be like meeting him all over again. Be a whole new start.”

The winner of the annual Papatango New Writing Prize is always worth seeing. This year’s winner, Samuel Bailey’s SHOOK, tenderly and honestly examines the young men society shuts away.

Instead of GCSEs, Cain, Riyad and Jonjo got sentences. Locked up in a young offenders’ institution, they trade sweets, chat rubbish, kill time – and await fatherhood.

Grace’s job is to turn these teenagers into parents, ready to take charge of their futures. But can they grow up quickly enough to escape the system?

Running at Southwark Playhouse until 23rd November.


“I’ve spent so much of my life wondering…passing people on the street… and now, yeah… you’re here”.

A World Premiere written and directed by Olivier Award-winning director Bijan Sheibani (Barber Shop Chronicles, The Brothers Size), THE ARRIVAL plays the Bush Theatre from 21 November to 18 January.

When Tom and Samad meet for the first time, they are stunned by the similarities they share. In spite of Tom’s adoption and all the years spent apart, the two brothers are joined by an undeniable biological bond.

But as they become closer and their lives entangle, they realise that finding each other comes at a price. THE ARRIVAL is a taut family drama about obsession, betrayal and the human need to belong.


Following the sold-out hit MADAME RUBINSTEIN in 2017, Miriam Margolyes returns to Park Theatre in the World Premiere black comedy SYDNEY AND THE OLD GIRL.

Nell and Sydney Stock are at war – and it’s mutually assured destruction. After 50 years cooped up in the same shabby East London house where ghosts of a hard life still linger, the points scored in never ending arguments continue to bind the pair together. And then, there is the not so simple matter of the inheritance…

As the twisted game between mother and son reaches breaking point, the care worker finds herself an unwitting pawn, played from both sides. Nell will stop at nothing for her bitter triumph over Sydney – but he has his own plans on how to end this for ever.

Acerbic humour from the inimitable Miriam Margolyes in a rare London stage performance alongside co-stars Mark Hadfield and Vivien Parry make SYDNEY AND THE OLD GIRL a production worth seeing. Running Until 30 November.


“If I had Wings I’d fly.”

Following a run in Swansea, London audiences have a rare chance to see the renowned stage and screen director Sean Mathias revive his award-winning 1985 play A PRAYER FOR WINGS.

Rita lives in a derelict church in Swansea with her disabled mother, for whom she has been carer since she was ten years old. With Mam suffering from multiple sclerosis, and no family or friends to turn to for support, Rita fills her days with romantic dreams. She yearns for the love of a man, fantasises of escaping on a cruise ship to America and aches to fly away to a life of beauty and love.

With an all-Welsh cast, this mesmerising and darkly entertaining production tells a tale of bravery with startling humour and passion, exploring the intense conflict of care, family and interdependence, set against a woman’s hopes and dreams. The show runs at the King’s Head Theatre until November 23rd.


I have to draw a new map. I have to be seen. For her. For all of us!

Since her ordeal five years ago, nineteen-year-old Nene rarely leaves home. Secure within her mum’s embrace, Nene now keeps the outside world securely on the other side of her bedroom window.

But weekly visits from her best friend Lea start to fill the void and on one unexpected day, when she is finally beyond the walls of her sanctuary with her vibrant, funny, and spirited girlfriends, a long-forgotten spark is powerfully reignited in Nene, one which will change her direction forever…

Chinonyerem Odimba’s poignant and life affirming new play UNKNOWN RIVERS is a testament to the extraordinary powers of female friendship – where there’s turmoil, trauma and hardship, there’s also love, bravery and hope, making it possible to go with the flow… and live.  Odimba’s plays include Princess and the Hustler, which is currently on a UK Tour. UNKNOWN RIVERS runs at Hampstead Downstairs until December 7.


Nouveau Riche and Omnibus Theatre present QUEENS OF SHEBA at Battersea Arts Centre from 18 to 23 November.

At a London nightclub in 2015, the lives of a group of friends were changed forever when confronted with misogynoir – where sexism meets racism – in its most vicious form.

Turned away from a nightclub for being “too black”, four passionate women re-affirm the joys of sisterhood as they tell hilarious, moving and uplifting stories that shed light on the lives of everyday women battling what shouldn’t be an everyday problem.

Written by Jessica L. Hagan, QUEENS OF SHEBA is an hour-long journey of laughter and reflection.


A HAUNTED EXISTENCE
DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS

Two interesting shows addressing gay history appear in November. The first, running from 7 to 9 November at Battersea Arts Centre, is set in the 1950s.

In A HAUNTED EXISTENCE, Tom Marshman weaves together history and hearsay to highlight turmoil, stigma and heartbreak and tell the story of Britain’s very recent, shameful past, through the lives of gay men living at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

In the early 1950s, 17-year-old Geoffrey Patrick Williamson was on the Exeter-to-Bristol train when he got into a conversation with another man – also travelling in his train compartment – who accused Geoffrey of making ‘improper approaches’. The other man was a Railway Officer in plain clothes. Geoffrey was arrested at the next stop. When questioned, Williamson revealed the names of men he had had sex with, so beginning a domino effect of arrests, prison sentences, aversion therapy and suicide.

Tom Marshman skilfully blends creative technology, music and projection as he retraces a forgotten true story.

At the White Bear Theatre until November 16th is DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS an intriguing show about a film made just after the end of World War One. In 1918-1920, there existed a brief, an ever so brief moment, a mere 20 months when sanity prevailed. Men held hands in public, Moscow and St Petersburg were gay and free from discrimination, and Germany, feeling the full brunt of blame had yet to establish itself.

In that tiny window of opportunity came something quite extraordinary. Four years after “Birth of a Nation”, before Valentino and Garbo there came a full-length motion picture so advanced in its depiction of same-sex love that it could have be written by modern gay rights activists.

The author, Claudio Macor, stumbled across the film on YouTube, gay history that demanded to be told. which inspired his show- the World premiere of DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS.


Off West End – Last Chance

Okay listen up, you have seventy-five years to be all you can be!

LITTLE BABY JESUS, a 2011 work by writer/performer Arinzé Kene, introduces three characters. Joanne is dipped in rudeness, rolled in attitude and is fighting to keep her life afloat. Sensitive and mature he may be, yet Kehinde struggles with an obsession for mixed race girls as he eyes his place on the social ladder. Rugrat, class clown and playground loudmouth, just wants to make it past GCSEs and keep their name on the tip of your tongue.

As their lives collide and intertwine, three extraordinary young people relay the moments they ‘grew up’. Three remarkable stories. Three incredible journeys.

Directed by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, winner of the JMK Award 2019, LITTLE BABY JESUS runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 16 November.


Praised as “one of the freshest voices in American theatre” by the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Baker returns to the National Theatre (following acclaimed runs of her mesmerising shows The Flick and John) with her latest extraordinary play THE ANTIPODES. Their phones switched off, a group of people sit around a table telling, categorising and theorising stories. This is a world that is both familiar and fantastical. Their real purpose is never quite clear, but they continue on, searching for the monstrous. THE ANTIPODES asks what value stories have for a world in crisis. Playing at the National Theatre until 23 November.


FALSETTOS , the double Tony Award winning musical from James Lapine and William Finn finally gets its London premiere (courtesy of Selladoor Productions) at the Other Palace until November 23. Featuring a brilliant cast including Laura Pitt-Pulford (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), Natasha J Barnes (WASTED) and Daniel Boys (AVENUE Q) amongst others.

An amusing and poignant look at a modern family, FALSETTOS revolves around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon to be bar mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist, and the lesbian neighbours, Originally created under the spectre of the AIDS crisis, this ground-breaking musical about family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and significant even as it moves towards its heartbreaking conclusion, which reminds us that love is all that really matters.

Read my **** review of the show here


Outside London

Manchester/ Northampton/ Salisbury

Until November 9th With five and four star reviews, Jerry Herman’s classic musical MAME is back- and how! When young Patrick goes to stay with his Auntie Mame, he walks into a fast-living world of fun and and joy. It will be a real treat to see two-time Olivier-winner Tracie Bennett (Follies) (pictured above, top right) as Mame, with the great Tim Flavin (above, left) and Harriet Thorpe (Absolutely Fabulous) (pictured above, centre) as Mame’s “old, old, old friend” Vera Charles. Get set for some high-octane musical fun! The celebrated score includes the rousing title number, plus “Open a New Window,” “If He Walked into My Life,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Bosom Buddies” and “That’s How Young I Feel.” Good to see that rising star producer Katy Lipson -who has now made so many excellent smaller-scale musicals – is starting to move into the bigger shows. Congratulations to everyone involved! MAME plays Hope Mill Theatre till November 9th. The show visits Northampton and Salisbury in January 2020, and must tour the whole country soon!


Touring the UK

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). See it in November at Manchester, Belfast and Norwich before the show takes a break and returns in January 2020 to visit Canterbury and more into May 2020.

Read my ***.5 review of the show here


NT Live Broadcasts

November brings two NTLive broadcasts to screens around the UK and further afield. On November 7th The National Theatre’s sold out production of HANSARD will be coming to a venue near you. And from November 28th you can enjoy Andrew Scott in Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER, recorded earlier in the year at the Old Vic.

To find screenings in your area check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.

Other Broadcasts

The recent spectacular West End revival of 42nd STREET will be screened in over 550 cinemas across the UK and Ireland from November 10th

There is a full list of venues available here.

Advertised as “Broadway’s greatest show on London biggest stage”, the production stars Emmerdale‘s Tom Lister (Julian Marsh), Philip Bertioli (Billy Lawlor), Clare Halse (Peggy Sawyer), and Bonnie Langford (Dorothy Brock).

The classic story of 42nd Street follows the lives of performers as they struggle to fulfil their dreams of stardom on Broadway. The show has a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin. It originally ran in London for five years and most recently its revival ran almost two years at the 2200-seat Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Gaining five and four star reviews from critics and audiences alike, the huge cast of 60 and orchestra of 20 ensure that this will be a spectacular show to enjoy for all the family.


Shows to look forward to in September 2019

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

So, after a rash of festivals in Edinburgh and London, there’s just a moment to catch our breath before the next wave of great shows kicks off in early September. Fasten your seatbelts!

Off-West End

PRELUDES sounds fascinating. Based on a true story of the composer genius Rachmaninoff’s sessions of hypnotherapy, PRELUDES is an intriguing new musical by three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Ghost Quartet). It examines the crippling debilitation and harm the world can do to people, and how the dramatic and musical process can be used as therapy to restore them back into the fullest of creative lives. PRELUDES runs from September 6th until October 12th at Southwark Playhouse.


FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY In a run-down community hall on the edge of town, a woman has been cooking lunch for those in need. A choir is starting up, run by a volunteer who’s looking for a new beginning. A mother is seeking help in her fight to keep her young daughter from being taken into care. An older man sits silently in the corner, the first to arrive, the last to leave. Outside the rain is falling.

FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY is the culmination of a trilogy that began with BEYOND CARING – ‘Unforgettable’ (The Times) – and followed by LOVE – ‘the National’s play of the year, and then some’ (Evening Standard). Alexander Zeldin’s new play promises to be another uncompromising theatrical experience that goes to the heart of our uncertain times. Playing at the National’s Dorfman Theatre from September 9th to October 12th.


Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is an undisputed treasure trove of new writing, and this looks set to continue with EITHER . Running from September 19th to October 26th, Ruby Thomas’ funny, smart and sexy debut play probes our romantic choices in life and explores the human need to connect and be loved – regardless of the ramifications.

A young, loved-up couple are surrounded by life’s infinite possibilities and temptations. And at a time in their lives where they have little responsibility, they’re determined to live this chapter as fully and spontaneously as possible. But in their pursuit to enjoy all that life has to offer, should every opportunity that comes their way be taken?


FALSETTOS , the double Tony Award winning musical from James Lapine and William Finn finally gets its London premiere (courtesy of Selladoor Productions) at the Other Palace from August 30th until November 23rd. Featuring a brilliant cast including Laura Pitt-Pulford (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), Natasha J Barnes (WASTED) and Daniel Boys (AVENUE Q) amongst others.

An hilarious and poignant look at a modern family, FALSETTOS revolves around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon to be bar mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist, and the lesbian neighbours, Originally created under the spectre of the AIDS crisis, this ground-breaking musical about family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and satirically perceptive even as it moves towards its heartbreaking conclusion, which reminds us that love is all that really matters.


ANNA BELLA EEMA  “Something is coming. It’s either the interstate or the end of the world”. Precocious child Annabella lives in a deserted trailer park. Schooled by her eccentric mother Irene, she learns to co-exist with the vampires, werewolves and monsters that lurk in the world outside. Desperate to ward off the new highway that threatens the demolition of their home, Annabella steps outside to build a girl out of mud. The girl comes to life. The girl is Anna Bella Eema.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour’s (Detroit, National Theatre) part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy, ANNA BELLA EEMA is a dazzling burst of storytelling from the dark heart of American Gothic. Playing at the Arcola from September 11th to October 12th.


TORCH SONG, Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning play about the life and loves of a drag artist in 1970s New York runs from September 6th to October 13th at the Turbine Theatre in Battersea, next to the Power Station. This inaugural production at the venue is directed by Olivier-winner Drew McOnie


FOR SERVICES RENDERED A warm September afternoon in an idyllic English village. Tea is served on the terrace. Sounds of a tennis party float across the lawn. But this England has no place for the heroes of the First World War. No jobs to sustain them, no mantelpieces for their medals, and no money for their debts. Against the odds, three sisters must carve new paths in an uncertain world.

Somerset Maugham’s sharply observed and passionate play is a Chekhovian examination of desire, frustration and hope.

FOR SERVICES RENDERED runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre from September 4th to October 5th. Directed by JST’s Artistic Director, Tom Littler.


HOW LOVE IS SPELT “She wanted spontaneity, adventure… I said I can be spontaneous… I just need a little bit of time to plan.” Peta is new in town and ready for whatever London has to throw at her. She’s looking for romance, for friendship, for exciting people to lead her on big adventures. But being an independent woman in the new millennium isn’t easy, especially when there’s a constant reminder of the life you’re trying to escape. With each new encounter, Peta flirts with what might have been, but has the journey to London put enough distance between her and her past?

This is the first major revival of this fascinating and funny play from Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning playwright Chloe Moss (This Wide Night, Soho Theatre; Dickensian, BBC) which was first produced at Bush Theatre in 2004. How Love Is Spelt is directed by Charlotte Peters (Associate Director War Horse, UK Tour and An Inspector Calls, West End). Playing at Southwark Playhouse from September 4th to 28th.


At the Royal Court from September 3rd to 21st, TOTAL IMMEDIATE COLLECTIVE IMMINENT TERRESTRIAL SALVATION by experimental theatre maker Tim Crouch arrives in London after a controversial season at the Edinburgh Festival.

“You should all have a book.  Does everyone have a book? This book is part of the play. 
In a minute, we’ll all open this book and we’ll invite you to turn the pages.”

The writer manipulates a group of people to sit together and believe in something that isn’t true. The book he’s written predicts it all: the equations, the black hole and all the words we’ll speak until the end.

On this last day, at this last hour, a defector finds her voice and returns.

In this new play, presented through stage action and illustrated text, audience and actors turn the book’s pages together, they study the images and they sometimes share the words out loud.


ALL OF ME is an intimate and absurd exploration of wanting to live, wanting to die and what can happen if we sit together with the dark. Olivier Award nominee Caroline Horton reunites with director Alex Swift (★★★★ How to Win Against History, Young Vic) to bring you the show that happens after the curtain call, when the lights have gone down but the mess remains. Playing at the Yard in East London from September 10th to 28th


Until September 7th 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.


West End Opening

Well, we have had quite a slew of film to stage adaptations in the last few years, haven’t we? Whilst it’s true that they will never have the same qualities as the originals, they are often worth seeing for the talent involved. A case in point is the restyling of the classic 1951 Ealing comedy THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT which originally starred Alec Guinness. All about a scientist who creates a miracle fibre which doesn’t wear out, the discovery is seized upon by both the mill owners and the trades unions who all want to suppress it. It will be intriguing to see how Sean Foley (adaptor and director) works with the fifties nature of the story and manages to bring his own quirky eye to the story details. Reuniting Foley with Stephen Mangan, (they worked together on JEEVES AND WOOSTER to great success in 2016), this will be an interesting experiment in itself.


Outside London

Manchester is in for a treat. After 50 years Jerry Herman’s classic musical MAME is back! When young Patrick goes to stay with his Auntie Mame, he walks into a fast-living world of fun and and joy. It will be a real treat to see two-time Olivier-winner Tracie Bennett (Follies) (pictured above, top right) as Mame, with the great Tim Flavin and Harriet Thorpe (Absolutely Fabulous) (pictured above, centre) as Mame’s “old, old, old friend” Vera Charles. Get set for some high-octane musical fun! The celebrated score includes the rousing title number, plus “Open a New Window,” “If He Walked into My Life,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Bosom Buddies” and “That’s How Young I Feel.” A tour must follow. Previews from September 28th and playing till November 9th.


Touring the UK

C’est 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 September at Eastbourne, Inverness and Southampton . 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). See it in September at Birmingham, Plymouth, Nottingham and Sunderland. Read my review of the show here


James Lapine and William Finn’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is a musical adaptation of the hit 2006 quirky road movie. It’s touring the UK and is worth a visit. See it in September at Leicester, Cardiff, Aberdeen and Liverpool, where the tour closes. Read my review of the show here


Also….

From 13 to 22 September, there are over 100 theatre-related events going on across the country during Heritage Open Days. Most likely a theatre near you will be opening its doors to offer tours of the buildings. Intrigued? Then take a look at their website here where you can search what’s happening near you.


Every September since 1992, London Open House has enabled public access to 800+ buildings, many of which are inaccessible at any other time of the year, with associated walks, talks and tours over one very busy weekend, now attracting over a quarter of a million people annually.

22 theatres and 5 cinemas are listed in this year’s offerings, ranging from the grandeur of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s freshly-refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre to the Victorian charms of Hoxton Hall and Wilton’s Music Hall, to more modern offerings such as the National Theatre. All will be open for exploration via tours and/or talks on-site. Tucked away in the “entertainment” category is the first cinema to be Grade-I listed, the incredible Tooting Granada (now rather cheesily-titled Buzz Bingo, but inside still an awe-inspiring and richly-detailed movie palace)

Please note that some sites require advance booking while others do not. Do check with the Open House website on each venue’s individual listing page for full details. Also, a lot of venues will open on just one day of the weekend, not both, so do please check before you travel.

Find out more at the Open House website which you can find here


NT Live Broadcasts

September brings two NTLive broadcasts to screens around the UK and further afield. On September 12th Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings her hit show FLEABAG to UK-wide audiences from the stage of Wyndham’s Theatre.

Then on September 26th (and later dates) it’s the welcome return of one of the National’s biggest successes of recent years, Richard Bean’s ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS starring James Corden in a career-boosting role for him.

To find screenings in your area check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.


London Shows closing

September 7th- BLUES IN THE NIGHT closes at The Kiln Theatre

September 8th- JOSEPH closes at the London Palladium

September 9th- EQUUS closes at Trafalgar Studios

September 14th – THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY closes at the Menier Chocolate Factory

September 21st – EVITA closes at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park

September 28th – THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at the Noel Coward Theatre

ROYAL COURT WRITERS’ SCHEME – free courses for aspiring writers – apply by June 26th!

Royal Court Theatre. Image courtesy Royal Court website.

Great news for all aspiring playwrights, whatever your level of experience. Applications for the Royal Court’s Introduction to Playwriting groups are now open and close at midday on Wednesday 26 June.

This is a myth-busting introduction to theatre writing, led by writers currently associated with the Royal Court. Running one evening a week for eight weeks, there are three separate intakes starting in August and October this year, and January 2020. All you need to have is an interest in writing and the thirst to write a play. At the end of the course participants are encouraged to submit a play for feedback from Royal Court readers.

Places are assigned based on potential; writers are not expected to have extensive experience of writing for stage. Application is through a short extract of written work.

There is no fee for attending the course, and The Royal Court say that they are often able to help successful applicants with travel costs into London too, so don’t let your location put you off.

This could be the break you have waited for. Make sure you apply! Details here