After a two-week near-famine of theatre openings, this week (in which we lost Monday, of course, because of the bank holiday) has seen a sudden flurry of activity, and I’ve been chasing my tail to accommodate it all – before I fly off to Australia tomorrow. But first I’m heading for another marathon today: Trevor Nunn’s new production of King Lear is finally being unveiled to the press this afternoon, some 10 weeks since it began performances at Stratford-upon-Avon, followed by (on schedule) the opening of The Seagull tonight. We’ve been told to expect running times of 3hours 35minutes and 3hours 10minutes respectively (an earlier release from the RSC specified 3hours 9minutes for the latter, which sounded like taking the stage manager’s stop watch a little too literally), so it’s a Nicholas Nickleby of a day ahead. But, somewhat bizarrely, having kept us waiting so long to see the shows at all, the RSC just yesterday made an announcement that both productions will come to London, opening at the New London in November – so I needn’t have rushed up the M40 today after all. (Though I’m sure seeing the shows at Stratford will have a bit more atmosphere that in that concrete lump of the New London, unloved since Cats – another Nunn production, as it happens – long departed).
But there have been double (and triple) bookings most nights this week. On Tuesday, both Fiddler on the Roof transferred from Sheffield to the Savoy, and the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs opened their latest new play Alaska. Meanwhile, out-of-town, Manchester opened a new production of The Tempest with Pete Postlethwaite as Prospero, and Northampton’s Royal opened Patrick Marber’s Closer. Then last night, the West End’s new production of Sartre’s Kean (starring Antony Sher in the title role) went head-to-head with the National’s Philistines; and today, as well as Stratford, the Menier are opening All Mouth here in London. And there’s no let up tomorrow (though there is for me!) when Riverside Studios open Forgotten Voices (and in an unusual step, take it to Edinburgh after London, rather than the other way around) and Chichester’s Minerva has Patrick Stewart giving us his Macbeth.
And to complicate matters even more for me, in the midst of all of this I had a 60th birthday party for a colleague I share an office with – yes, critics have personal lives, sometimes! – so that knocked last night out for me entirely (but not, in fact, going to a theatre: her party was held at a place called the 20th Century Theatre in Westbourne Park, which is one of London’s “ghost” theatres that is now used for private functions, but was once variously a repertory theatre and a music hall, and is where a 17-year-old Laurence Olivier made his professional debut. Last night, entertainment was provided onstage, inbetween courses of dinner, by members of the Carla Rosa opera company).
So I moved everything around: I snuck in (with permission) to Kean early by going to see last Saturday’s matinee; then saw Alaska at the Royal Court on Saturday evening (without permission, so I bought a ticket – yes, critics pay for their seats sometimes! — only to discover that the director had relented on her decision not to allow critics in early after I had already made my own arrangements. Obviously I was breaking the official embargo in trying to do so, but it was the last preview before the press were coming in anyway, so how much would it change between then and Tuesday? And as it happens, I loved it anyway, so I needed to make no allowances in my review.)
Then on Sunday, I went to an early preview matinee of All Mouth at the Menier, where more allowances will have to be made for seeing it early; on Monday, I went up to Northampton for Closer (it’s a play I remember fondly from the original National Theatre, West End and Broadway productions – I saw it in each incarnation—so I was keen to see it again ten years on); then on Tuesday went in a night early for Philistines before doing the matinee of Fiddler on the Roof yesterday afternoon. Phew! Now I’m off for one final marathon run today at Stratford, before leaving London behind me tomorrow. I will catch up with you again from Sydney.