I am finally back in London: I left town six weeks ago today and, apart from one night of less than ten hours, between flying in from New York late one Friday night and heading up to Edinburgh the very next morning, I’ve not slept in my own bed again until Monday night!
During all that time away, regular readers of this blog will know I’ve got married; had a two-week honeymoon on Cape Cod; spent another week in New York; seen 31 shows in a week in Edinburgh; and then 11 more shows in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada last week (and one more at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake as well).
Though the Stratford Shakespeare Festival isn’t all Shakespeare — in fact, as their production slate has now expanded to 14 a year, Shakespeare is proportionately shrinking there, with only three being the work of the Bard — I’ve returned to a mini-Shakespeare fest of my own, finally catching the Regent’s Park A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Monday night, and I’m also going to Simon Russell Beale’s Timon of Athens at the NT this afternoon and Mark Rylance’s Richard III at the Globe on Friday afternoon. I’ve also still got to schedule the RSC’s West End run of Julius Caesar, and the week after next, of course, there’s the opening of Jonathan Pryce’s King Lear at the Almeida (on Sept. 11).
Visiting Regent’s Park on Monday was a special treat: I’d missed the press night, but it had got rained off mid-performance anyway, and then the two subsequent times I tried to schedule to see it the weather was not looking at all promising, so I called it off before I got there. But better late than never — and on a balmy night, as Monday’s was, there’s nothing better. Especially when the production is as fast, funny and surprising as this one.
All of this proves that there’s routinely more Shakespeare to be seen in London, especially during the summer, than at what may well be North America’s most important classical producing theatre in Stratford (Ontario, not Warwickshire, about 2 hours from Toronto) I hasten to add this isn’t a competition; thank God there is another Stratford in Canada!
But I’ve also got plenty of other things to catch up with. Last night I saw the West End premiere of Noel Coward’s late play Volcano, unseen in his lifetime, at the Vaudeville; as Matt Wolf pointed out in his review for the Arts Desk, “This has been quite the season for dramatists delivering up their esoterica, from Ibsen’s St John’s Night just recently through to the concurrent opening this week of JB Priestley’s Cornelius and a rarely seen Beckett play (All That Fall), with Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins) still to come.”
Then there’s the world premiere full production of Stiles and Drewe’s Soho Cinders, appropriately enough at Soho Theatre, which I previously saw in a one-night concert performance at the Queen’s Theatre last year, which I blogged about the time here. I can’t wait to see it again on Saturday evening (though the ticket prices are a eye-watering £37.50, which is surely a new high for ‘Off-West End’).
That earlier concert version was choreographed by Drew McOnie, who is reprising his choreographic duties at Soho Theatre; and is also turning into one busy bee. He’s just finished a tour as a dancer with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures in their Early Adventures programme, and tomorrow night is choreographing the West End premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s 13 for the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT), which the composer is directing himself and I’m not going to be miss, either! (I’ve seen it before in its pre-Broadway incarnation at Goodspeed Opera house in Connecticut, tthen on Broadway itself — though not in the version that preceded both of those in LA.)
I will also, of course, be at Jason’s own one-night only gala concert of his work to benefit the NYMT. I’ve seen Jason many times in concert, from the West End to Sydney (!), and he’s his own best exponent.
That’s not the only opening of the week: we’ve also got the West End arrival of Soul Sister, transferring to the West End’s Savoy Theatre for a brief season, ahead of a national tour launching in October. When this jukebox musical first premiered at Hackney Empire earlier this year, I said in my review for The Stage, “In a West End already saturated by jukebox shows like Rock of Ages, it’s not necessarily a compliment to say that Soul Sister could transfer there tomorrow. But this one - far better than Thriller - Live but not as good as Jersey Boys - is an effective biographical tribute to Tina Turner.” I’ll be there tomorrow to see my prediction of its transfer come true.
That’s my dance card nearly full - but there’s one more show I have to take in this week, too, and that’s Le Gateau Chocolat at the Menier Chocolate Factory, whom I previously saw solo for the first time at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. It was a show that the Menier’s David Babani, then unconnected to the show, texted me personally to urge me to see even as I was on the train to Edinburgh at the time, and I’m glad I heeded his recommendation; I’m even gladder that he has now brought it to the Menier, where I’ll be seeing it on Sunday afternoon.
All of the above, however, means that I’m sorry I’ll be missing a couple more one-off’s: on Friday (Aug 24), front-of-house staff from London’s theatres will take to the stage of the Old Vic for a one-night variety show, Hidden Talents of the Ticket Tearers, produced by Krista Hudson who is also a member of The Old Vic Front of House team. Inspired by the wealth of actors, musicians, dancers and writers among the Front of House Team, Ticket Tearer Talents was founded to help showcase their talent in a non-conventional way.
And on Sunday (Aug 26), Peter Polycarpou (currently playing Beadle Bamford in Sweeney Todd will be joined by Josafina Gabrielle, Clive Rowe, Nick Holder and others for a one-night retrospective of the work of Randy Newman called Laugh and Be Happy at the Hippodrome Casino’s Matcham Room.
I obviously can’t be everywhere (though I certainly try!). I also can’t be in New York all the time (though I try to be there, too!), but tomorrow I am going to offer a season’s preview of some of the autumn highlights there that I hope to make it over for in the coming months.