It’s a nice problem to have, I know, but critics next week face a major feast after a (relative) critical famine. This week we’ve had some fringe openings at Jermyn Street (Kissing Sid James), Southwark Playhouse (I Am a Camera, which as Michael Coveney reminded me this week Dorothy Parker once memorably damned saying, “Me no Leica”), and Theatre 503 (Life for Beginners, co-directed by Paul Robinson and Tim Roseman in their last show as joint artistic directors of the theatre, before Roseman departs and Robinson takes over as sole chief).
Tonight sees the transfer of Simon Stephens’s Morning from the Edinburgh Fringe to its originating home the Lyric Hammersmith, and Yours for the Asking, the European premiere of a 1973 play by one of Spain’s leading female playwrights Ana Diosdado, at the Orange Tree.
It’s saying something, of course, when the above run of shows counts as a ‘famine’, but next to next week’s offerings, it is. Consider the evidence: on Monday (September 10), Dominic Cooke directs a new play by Tarrell Alvin McCraney Choir Boy in the Royal Courts’ Theatre Upstairs, the Arts offers a new play called Baggage, and Mark Thomas brings Bravo Figaro! from Edinburgh to the Tricycle. Regionally, Monday also sees Daniel Evans directing Geoffrey Streatfeild in the title role of Macbeth at Sheffield’s Crucible.
Then on Tuesday the Almeida’s opening of King Lear with Jonathan Pryce goes head-to-head with the re-opening of Bristol Old Vic, after its £12m auditorium and backstage refurbishment and an 18-month closure, with Wild Oats.
Wednesday is craziest of all, with Sheridan Smith opening in Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss at Hampstead and Boy George’s Taboo returning to London to the Brixton Club House. There’s also yet another Duchess of Malfi at the White Bear, a venue that only rarely gets onto the critical radar, but this seven-actor (and six chairs) version is directed by Cheek by Jowl associate director Owen Horsely would, in any other week, be worth a look, but this week may not get a look-in.
Thursday sees Benedict Andrews directing Three Sisters at the Young Vic, plus Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes at the Finborough with a cast that includes Susan Penhaligon and Anna Carteret, while Friday has the premiere of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information at the Royal Court, and Michael Pennington and Kim Cattrall in the title roles of Antony and Cleopatra at Chichester.
I’m always having to remind myself that I can’t be everywhere and I can’t see everything, but I’m having to be particularly ruthless at the moment: “Not on my schedule” is becoming virtually an auto-response to the endless e-mails requesting my reviewing presence.
It doesn’t help, I know, that I miss Monday entirely as I’m in New York this weekend and return home that day (which is an early birthday gift to myself ahead of a ‘big’ day next Wednesday, which I’ll mark by going to the theatre, naturally, with a private party to follow — not that night, I hasten to add — at Jerwood Space in a couple of weeks time). I’m also being lured next week, of all weeks, on separate press trips to Canterbury (to catch the first leg of the new touring production of The Mousetrap), Truro in Cornwall and Belfast, so I’m not even able to play catch up; and one more theatre trip to Tottenham, of all places, where I have to take in the Mountview production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man, directed by its original Olivier winning star Paul Clarkson, at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre.
Talking of Howard Goodall, I can’t wait to take a day trip to Philadelphia tomorrow to see the US premiere of Love Story, which I adored over here with Emma Williams and Michael Xavier and is featuring the wonderful Alexandra Silber at the Walnut Street Theatre, who lived and worked in the UK for a time after training at Glasgow’s RSAMD where he credits included starring in Fiddler on the Roof and Carousel (both at the Savoy).
My other US theatre dates this weekend include seeing a press performance tonight for the new Broadway musical Chaplin, ahead of its official opening on Monday, the latest edition of Forbidden Broadway which opened officially last night, and one last look at Porgy and Bess with the glorious Audra McDonald before it closes on September 23.
I began this week by blogging about some of the shows I’m looking forward to this autumn in the theatre, which led to a query on Twitter whether I was only seeing star-driven stuff, which I duly responded to in another blog that pointed out some other, non-starry shows, I was also hoping to catch.
This, in turn, led to a response from Rachley Tackley, TMA’s current President and Director of English Touring Theatre, saying, “So not planning to travel out of London to see any theatre for your national paper then Mark. Shame.” She was, of course, referring to my responsibilities as (sole) theatre critic for the Sunday Express; The Stage, of course, has an extensive network of regional reviewers, and I regularly travel beyond London for it as well.
But as someone else in turn replied, “You can’t win Mark can you? Maybe just stay in altogether and watch the telly. I hear Eastenders is good? :)” Actually, I’ve got quite a few regional dates lined up, from the aforementioned trips to Canterbury, Cornwall and Belfast next week, to Brighton the week after (for Blue/Orange at the Theatre Royal) and an imminent trip to Leicester Curve for the premiere of Finding Neverland on October 3.
Earlier this week, too, I visited Bristol to see the refurbished Old Vic (and interview artistic director Tom Morris for next week’s issue of The Stage), though admittedly I didn’t stay to see a show (I did ask if I could see the new tour of The Lion King at Bristol Hippodrome, which opened officially last night, but the producers wouldn’t let me in two nights early). And last weekend I went to see the Ayckbourn double bill at Chichester.
But there are also huge pressures of time and expense, too: review rates don’t include the time taken to get there, just the words written. I can just as easily fill my column by staying closer to home. The fact that I don’t is about my own passion for my job, and a desire to see as much as I can elsewhere.
On the other hand, as a friend Chris Bartlett said to me, “It’s like having a go at a plumber for only working in his county even though there are a few sinks to fix 150 miles away!” I actually choose to try to unblock theatrical sinks wherever I can find them; but there are just too many of them for me to cope with alone!
Finally, my quote of the week is from a review to the RSC/Wooster Group co-production of Troilus and Cressida, now at Riverside Studios till Saturday, that I’m relieved to have missed: according to Matt Trueman, “The RSC and Wooster group have forgotten about - no, obliterated - the play’s narrative. That makes it criminally difficult to watch. Basically, the RSC might as well be playing against a black hole. By speaking the text so flatly - so otherly - the Wooster Group succeed in reducing it to Morse Code. Because they so refuse to pander to the ears of their audience, they give us no help in keeping track of what’s going on; we hear words as notation, more or less another language, rather than for any sense. The intention to treat Shakespeare’s text as a foreign language might look good on paper; in practice, it’s wilfully obtuse. We get next to no sense of half the characters and half the narrative. It’s so deeply frustrating that you just give up.”