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

DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS – White Bear Theatre – 15 November

The story behind the making of the 1919 film called DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS (also the title of this play) is a fascinating one. It’s just a pity that it doesn’t fully come to life on stage. It’s also telling that some of the most potent moments of DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS are those on film.

In Claudio Macor’s 80-minute play, we are introduced to a number of historical characters. It doesn’t help that they are largely forgotten now, and that we have to have a number of introductions which eat into the available dramatic time. The linear plot follows Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, a “sexologist”, who is determined to make a film which positively expresses same-sex love. With money no object, he engages a director and then a cast, and the film is shot and exhibited, which causes an outcry; the film is withdrawn and eventually destroyed by the Nazis. Thankfully, somehow one copy survives in the Ukraine and in 2012 the film is rescued and eventually restored.

The best of the performances are from Simon Stallard as Kurt, the personification of pool-eyed innocence who is not afraid to engage with his deeper feelings. His later descent into hard-shelled Nazidom is merely a front – the boy still shines in those eyes.

Jeremy Booth as Dr Hirschfeld is earnest, driven, but at times over-expressive, however he delivers key speeches with commitment and sincerity.

Macor’s script allows little time for exploring the characters in depth, and therefore sadly it feels rather insubstantial. However, there are some very strong passages, especially the “Face in the Crowd” speech from Hirschfeld.

The stage show is undoubtedly sincere and earnest about its celebration of this iconic work and the circumstances surrounding its creation, and we should be grateful for it being brought to more public awareness. It just feels to me that it could have worked better as a documentary and not a stage show.

DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS ran at The White Bear Theatre from October 29th to November 16th

Note: For anyone interested in the actual film production, it can be found on YouTube here (with thanks to YouTube poster Cinema Lgbt)

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.


An Appreciation of GARRY by Sophie Treadwell

GARRY by Sophie Treadwell at The White Bear Theatre until June 22nd

First off, I must say that in my opinion this is not a great play, however the issues it puts centre stage are fascinating and make the play worth exploring.

The story of young people in trouble was a popular post-war theme picked up in movies like Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1948) and Anthony Mann’s Side Street (1949). However, what makes Sophie Treadwell’s 1954 (previously unproduced) play GARRY so extraordinary is that she is dealing explicitly with multiple taboos- homosexuality, prostitution, sexual violence – in a time when these themes were completely unacceptable stage material unless deeply coded and/or so hopelessly vague as to be unreadable.

So in reality Treadwell was writing a play that had zero chance of being performed in any theatre, apart possibly from club theatres – which again had their own restrictions.

American playwright and journalist Treadwell’s only hit was 1928’s much-revived MACHINAL, seen in London as recently as last year at the Almeida, the play inspired by the real-life case of convicted and executed murderer Ruth Snyder, about a woman weighed down by society’s expectations which ultimately drive her to murder.

26 years after MACHINAL Treadwell wrote GARRY, which is set in New York; Garry is a “punk” – a young, bored reform school kid who gets his “kicks” from stealing. On parole and trying to reform for his new wife, he gets fired from his job and reverts to type, picking up a businessman in a bar and choking him to death during sex in his hotel room, stealing his wallet in the process.

His young, trusting wife Wilma takes upon herself the unrealistic task of “saving” Garry from himself, from being a weak person like her father was, and in doing so torturing herself trying to “love him enough” to un-see the failings and lies he instinctively resorts to. “You gotta love me, Wil, It’ll make a man of me” he says in desperation, asking the impossible.

Everything he gravitates to is “dirty” to Wilma – sex with men, violence, stolen money. Garry recognises this, but as it connects directly to his ambivalence about his homosexuality he knows that these are a part of him. All sex becomes dirty, as in explaining why they have not yet consummated their marriage, Garry tells Wilma “I wanted to keep you clean”. There is little tenderness in their single, eventual lovemaking, mostly aggression and submission.

Garry goes on the run and leaves Wilma to do her own kind of sentence – just waiting for news, powerless. Meanwhile a reporter comes sniffing around for information and proves sympathetic (a rather unlikely quality for a NY newshound, perhaps here Treadwell projects herself a little too heavily onto the character) to the point where he seems a viable new partner for Wilma.

Garry returns briefly, to see Wilma, having run away from his new sugar daddy in Mexico, and eventually returns there, realising that Wilma has nothing to offer him, and vice-versa.

The direction (by Graham Watts) and the performances get what they can out of the material. Thomas Martin is suitably conflicted as Garry, Phebe Alys as Wilma provokes sympathy in her journey from fragile, hopeful new wife to discarded “beard”, and Claire Bowman provides a welcome shot of sass as Garry’s prostitute sister, shedding her principles faster than her clothing for the right price.

This is dark, edgy stuff but as presented it doesn’t look it – the lighting should have more of its own character, be more noir-ish, but everything here is flat and somewhat two-dimensional which again dilutes any atmosphere the actors try to create, which is a disappointment. The set is very straightforward with little sense of time or place, only the sound helping with 50s music and radio broadcasts.

Treadwell clearly has an understanding of – and compassion for – these characters and the troubled ways in which they interact, but there is very little action within the play, which makes it feel more like a series of dialogues creating character studies, clunky in its assembly and dramatically not that satisfying. To me, it felt like more of a draft than a finished play.

However, the issues raised – the complex homosexual connections with street crime and reformatory, in a time when men were not “allowed” to be gay and live normally in society, when most men simply suppressed their true selves – as to make a life outside the norm would have been too restricting- and further, required the independence of considerable wealth which was way beyond regular people.

Despite the show being called GARRY, this is Wilma’s show. The real revelation here is the impact upon the woman. Homosexual men who suppressed their true selves often married to attempt to “keep themselves in check” or simply hide away. In truth, of course, it was a non-solution that made victims of both partners.

Gay men’s anguish in this time has been dramatized occasionally; but what has been more rarely covered (and partly why this play is valuable) is the impact upon their wives, most likely not ever being allowed to fully understand that what has happened was not in some way their fault, and that actions to try to sort it out would prove limited at best, futile at worst. The damage caused to both parties by society’s strictures are indeed shocking and tragic, and Treadwell should be applauded for taking a bold and raw look at the impact on one woman. Thanks also to director/producer Graham Watts for giving us the chance to see this play after a 65 year wait.


GARRY plays at the White Bear Theatre until June 22. Information and tickets here