Rain stopped (the) play at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park at Monday’s press night for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it hasn’t stopped (some of) the reviews from appearing. Michael Coveney, reviewing it here for The Stage and Libby Purves for The Times both reviewed as much as they managed to see before the theatre was forced to abandon the performance.
In the process, they partly turned into reporters of the weather as much as of the show: as Libby noted, “Open air theatre is always an heroic risk, and the weather had no mercy on the opening night of Regent’s Park’s most traditional play…. This is an experience to warm the heart: it is not often that a mere critic gets to help the Lord Mayor of Westminster to manoeuvre a crackly plastic poncho over her chain of office and velvet cloak and insignia. And it was good to see the soaking audience cheering the players, and the cast applauding us back, when an hour in, the Met Office promised still worse rain. To cries of aaaaahhhh! the second half of the performance was cancelled.”
But Michael Billington told me that, despite making such jokes as seeing enough to whet his appetite and it being a wet dream, The Guardian chose not to run a review of a less than complete performance. But if such reviews are of only a partial experience of the production, they’re a valuable reminder of the risks of open air theatre — and if a venue chooses to go ahead with a performance in those kind of conditions, it should also expect to be reviewed on the basis of as much as it can present.
If Dream got curtailed, this week has otherwise seen three consecutive days of theatrical epics to numb the bum as much as warm the heart. On Tuesday, the Menier Chocolate Factory opened a new production of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, returning Fierstein (who also wrote the book for La Cage Aux Folles) there and also maintaining a further element of continuity with Douglas Hodge, who played the drag queen in that show, returning as director here.
Then on Wednesday it was the turn of Gatz, an eight-hour plus theatrical reading of the entire text of F.Scott Fizgerald’s The Great Gatsby at the Noel Coward (including a one and a half hour dinner break, and two short 15 minute intervals). That, meanwhile, also clashed with the first part of the RSC’s transfer of its Shipwreck Trilogy to the Roundhouse, which after opening The Comedy of Errors on Wednesday, saw the double openings of Twelfth Night and The Tempest yesterday.
At this point, I was caught slacking — if not napping — as I only managed to get to The Tempest last night, and have missed the other two in the trilogy. But then, as I have also regularly pointed out here, it is simply impossible to get to everything, as much as I try. A lot of demands are made on our critical attentions — not a day goes by without multiple shows clamouring for coverage.
Sometimes we just have to say no. And as I was away last week in New York, I’m also having to do a bit of a catch up on some of what I missed while I was there. So I’ll be seeing the Donmar’s The Physicists on Monday. So that means missing both ENO’s opening of a new production of Billy Budd and the return of Yes, Prime Minister to the Trafalgar Studios.
I’ve also got a few gigs of my own to look after. Both at the ICA today and at Soho Theatre on Sunday week (June 24) I’ll be interviewing the amazing Penny Arcade live (assuming I can get a word in edgeways, that is!), ahead of the London return of her show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! to the Arcola from June 27, a show I first saw on the Edinburgh fringe 20 years ago and which subsequently came to the ICA.
I’ll also be at Soho Theatre this Sunday interviewing my favourite British theatre composer Howard Goodall, and talking to him about a few of his favourite songs (some of them written by himself), as part of the return of the interview series I initiated at Jermyn Street last year. We’ll be joined by Emma Williams, who starred in his last West End musical Love Story, to sing some of them. Meanwhile, the first show in the series in which I interviewed Simon Russell Beale can now be heard on Theatrevoice here.
And next Sunday, after interviewing Penny Arcade at Soho, I’ll be popping down to the Playhouse Theatre to host a concert performance of a new British musical version of Little Women with an all-star West End cast that includes Gina Beck, Norman Bowman, Helena Blackman, Sarah Lark, Shona Lindsay, Jon Robyns, Lisa-Anne Wood, Nikki Davis-Jones, Daniel Boys and more.
Regular readers will know what a champion I am of new musicals generally, and that starts, of course, by seeing them. So tomorrow I’ll be at the Bridewell to see Musical Theatre Academy (MTA) students performing Dougal Irvine’s In Touch; and two weeks today I’ll be at another drama school, the Guildhall, to see its rare outing for a musical called Chaplin that was previously aborted en route to Broadway. (Intriguingly, Broadway is about to get another Chaplin musical instead, beginning performances at the Barrymore in August).
I’m also trying to find a spot in my diary for Daybreak, a new musical at the Tristan Bates Theatre, running now to June 30.
Finally, at last Sunday’s Tony Awards, there was one big upset: Porgy and Bess beat Follies to be named Best Musical revival. And as Michael Riedel reminded us in his column in Monday’s New York Post, this was a production that Sondheim had launched “a scathing attack” upon last summer, after he read a New York Times interview with the director (before the show had opened its out-of-town run in Cambridge, Massachusetts) of her intentions to make it more accessible to Broadway audiences. The producers, Sondheim said, should “advertise it honestly and call it ‘Diane Paulus’ Porgy and Bess.’ And to hell with the real one.”
Riedel writes, “Sondheim’s missive nearly derailed the production. Investors got cold feet and producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel spent the fall scrambling for money. They managed to get the show on, but such is Sondheim’s clout that nearly everyone on Broadway was predicting doom for Porgy at the Tonys.” But in fact it triumphed over Follies. Likewise, Clybourne Park, which also nearly got derailed when its original producer Scott Rudin withdrew after a feud with its playwright Bruce Norris, scooped the Best New Play award; as Riedel says, in what is this week’s quote of the week, “This year’s Tony lesson: If you get knocked by the big boys, you win!”