It may be another symptom of global warming, but whereas you once knew it was summer in the theatre (if not in the temperature) when the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park opened for business in late May, the timetable has imperceptibly shifted to the beginning of May.
Of course the opening of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s annual summer season (which kicked off this week under a new artistic director and a new play, Entertaining Angels, starring Penny Keith in a perfect match of venue and star that’s a strong marker for locals that its business-as-it-used-to-be there after three years of experimentation by a different artistic regime that emptied the theatre) and the Brighton Festival (this year celebrating its 40th anniversary) have always been early-warning signs of approaching summer. But the big change is the early kick-off for the Shakespeare’s Globe season, which not only begins early – previews began this year on May 5 – but also optimistically ends late, carrying the ‘summer’ through to October 8.
It was press night for their opening production, Coriolanus, last night, and the Globe couldn’t have hoped for a more spectacularly balmy London night. So balmy, in fact, that we got the first sight of another annual London occurrence: the baring of Evening Standard critic Nicholas de Jongh’s “too, too solid pound of flesh” body.
He regularly likes to unbutton to the waist when the summer arrives – I’m sure those who work in offices would like to do the same – and sometimes has been even known to throw off his shirt entirely. There was a remarkable sight at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End three summers ago when the velvet-seated splendour of that theatre was subjected to a naked encounter with his sweaty flesh as he took his shirt off and put it under the seat.
I’m sure that any other theatregoer would be politely asked to keep their clothing on or leave the theatre. Somehow, though, Mr de Jongh claims immunity. Ditto, the disturbances he routinely makes in the theatre – whether chastising fellow theatregoers, or even fellow critics (one of my colleagues was once shouted at for putting a bag beside him that interfered with de Jongh’s legroom; my friend politely told him to go home and look up the ‘c’ word – Courtesy). But though he regularly whispers and passes notes to his companions during performances, if you sit near him and dare to turn a page of your notebook, you get a sharp, irritated look.
About five years ago I wrote a piece on London critics that Nick mysteriously only stumbled upon online a few months ago for the first time. The next time he saw me, he called me to task for what I had written. My partner asked if there was a full moon. When Nick asked why, my partner replied, “Well, you should stop digging in graveyards and digging up old corpses.” But clearly he is tired of being referred to as hard-to-please and acerbic; but those are not, of course, necessarily bad qualities in a critic. But going bare-chested in the stalls is hardly the way to go to work.
SOUND OF MUSIC UPDATE…. Further to my blog entry on Monday drawing attention to news that appears on online sources before it is confirmed by official channels, the source of the story of the “confirmed dates” for The Sound of Music has written to insist that they “do have written – official – confirmation of The Sound of Music dates. The press release may not have been written or approved yet – but then, if I waited for press releases all the time, we wouldn’t break the number of stories that we do .”
But when I checked in with the press agent concerned representing the show again today, he told me that they are still juggling with three different sets of dates for the opening, and although the date reported may indeed be accurate in the end, neither Patrick Murphy of Really Useful nor David Ian of Live Nation that he has spoken to have agreed which of the possibilities – early November, mid November or December – is likely to be the final one. The decision is dependent on the final closure date for Sinatra, currently playing at the London Palladium, that has not yet been settled. Group bookings are, however, already being accepted for the show – from a date, presumably, when they are sure that the production will already be on. But the premature release of the information of the dates suggests that someone’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Could it be that there are too many producers involved here?