It’s Labour Day in the US today, which marks the official end of the summer there; meanwhile in the UK it would have been nice if we’d had one at all. But the arrival of September also means the theatre world both here and there looks forward to the autumn’s new season, after the sluggish summer months.
While Broadway is a very dynamic theatre landscape, with shows fighting a Darwinian struggle for survival that means that each show must constantly pay their way or face immediate closure, the West End is often a more stagnant pool. That isn’t to say that shows mustn’t turn a profit here, too; but running costs are much lower, so its easier to stay in business.
But we’re getting a large turnaround here in some of our major houses here, too, with Drury Lane the latest (and biggest) to announce a change: Shrek will close there on February 24, with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, originally announced for the London Pallladium, switching homes to follow Shrek next May.
The autumn also sees Viva Forever! taking over from Ghost at the Piccadilly and The Bodyguard at the Adelphi. The Prince of Wales has the Beatles concert Let it Be as a filler before next year’s opening of The Book of Mormon, and the Savoy has a return run for Rufus Norris’s Cabaret, the London Palladium sees a return run of Tommy Steele in Scrooge and the Old Vic will host a London run for Chichester’s Kiss Me, Kate.
There’s also the arrival of Loserville to the Garrick, via its summer try-out at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and an earlier incarnation under the auspices of Youth Music Theatre; and the return of Boy George’s Taboo, not to the West End but to a club in Brixton. This year’s Menier Christmas musical sees Maria Friedman making her directorial debut to stage Merrily We Roll Along, in which she once starred at Leicester Haymarket; tonight (September 3), too, Maria kicks off a week-long cabaret run at the Hippodrome’s Matcham Room.
I’m looking forward to a lot of the Live at the Hippodrome season: next week there’s US composer Adam Guettel (grandson of Richard Rodgers) who has written two of the best musicals of the last twenty years, Floyd Collins and Light in the Piazza; then there’s Ruthie Henshall, Kerry Ellis, and Broadway’s wonderful Judy Kuhn. Also from Broadway, Idina Menzel returns to London to do a week-long concert run at the West End’s Apollo next month.
Away from the West End and fringe, there’s also of course the UK arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, kicking off at the O2 Arena from September 21, and regional tours for The Lion King (officially opening at Bristol Hippodrome this Thursday), Green Day’s American Idiot kicking off at Southampton’s Mayflower in October (and coming to London’s Hammersmith Apollo in December); and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 launching at Manchester’s Opera House in October
I also can’t wait to see Scott Frankel and Michael Korie’s Finding Neverland at Leicester’s Curve later this month, with a cast that includes the wonderful Rosalie Craig and Julian Ovenden; or Caroline O’Connor returning there for a Christmas run as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! to follow.
Away from musicals, the West End and National are also teaming with starry classic and new plays. The biggies include Sheridan Smith starts performances this week as Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic; Rob Brydon, Nigel Harman and Ashley Jensen are in a new production of Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval at the Pinter; Roger Rees bringing his solo Shakspeare show What You Will to the Apollo for a short season, and Ken Stott, Anna Friel, Samuel West and Laura Carmichael (from Downton Abbey) star in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville in October, which will be my sixth Vanya of the year so far! (There’s a seventh coming to the Noel Coward for a week via Russia).
The National has Fiona Shaw, Bertie Carvel, Billie Piper and John Lithgow (in Scenes from an Execution, Damned for Despair, The Effect and The Magistrate); plus Nick Hytner directing Frances de la Tour in the latest Alan Bennett, People.
The Royal Court season, which kicks off this week with a brand-new Caryl Churchill play Love and Information, has an extremely hot ticket in the Theatre Upstairs; Ian Rickson directing Dominic West in the premiere of Jez Butterworth’s The River in October, which is expected to be so hot that they’re only going to sell them on the day of the performance itself.
Chichester looks set to continue its winning West End transfer streak, when its stage adaptation of Goodnight Mr Tom arrives at the Phoenix in November as the first new show there for over 20 years, following the departure of Blood Brothers. And talking of winning streaks: Michael Grandage’s West End season at the Noel Coward Theatre launches in December with Simon Russell Beale in Privates on Parade.
Plays beyond the West End
Amongst the dramatic highlights outside of the West End, Hampstead Theatre will see Rupert Everett playing Oscar Wilde in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss (beginning this Wednesday), then Mark Gatiss as Charles I in Howard Brenton’s 55 Days, Juliette Bincoche will star in a modern-day French production of Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie at the Barbican, Mathew Horne will star in Charley’s Aunt at Menier Chocolate Factory, Anne-Marie Duff will play the title role in Racine’s Berenice at the Donmar Warehouse, Laura Michelle Kelly will star in The Second Mrs Tanqueray at the Rose Theatre, Kingston and Adrian Lester plays black American actor Ira Aldridge in Red Velvet at the Tricycle.
But the hottest ticket already is Trevor Nunn directing Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall, which is already entirely sold out at Jermyn Street Theatre.