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February 2013

London theatre news round up and thoughts (w/e Feb 10)

Rupert Goold steps into Michael Attenborough's shoes as Artistic Director at the Almeida

Very exciting news this. Goold isn't a 'safe' director like the Michael Grandages and Trevor Nunns of the theatreland, with Goold you never know quite what you are going to get.

He chooses classic plays and gives them a twist or new plays and presents them in interesting ways. It doesn't always work - Earthquakes in London was a definite no-no for me - but love or hate, his work invariably leaves a mark.

The Almeida is a lovely theatre and I think with Goold at the helm, he'll push the boundaries of content and the way the space is used.

Actors turn playwright for the Bush's new season

Doesn't naturally follow that actors make good writers but it can and does sometimes work so I'll definitely be hurrying off to see Rory Kinnear and Cush Jumbo's debut offerings in the Autumn. Kinnear is a particular fav of mine on stage and his first play is being directed by Howard Davies which also bodes well.


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Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry's last Twelfth Night and the final words from Fry

Twelfth-Night---Stephen-F-010There is always an extra air of excitement, anticipation and emotion on a last night, particularly of a long running production.

It's rare that I go, as I'm impatient and like to see new productions as soon as they open but when the opportunity arose to see Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry in the West End, towards the end of the run, I figured the last performance was the one to go for.

Rather more unusually, I hadn't seen the production before so it was impossible to tell if there were any 'last night' additions or not but everyone certainly seemed to be on cracking form indeed Stephen Fry looked like he was cracking up with laughter at one point.

I'm not going to 'review' the show as such, feels a little late for that, instead I just want to mention a few stand outs. The aforementioned Fry was as 'Fry' with his Malvolio as you'd expect, breaking through the fourth wall on occasion when an audience response was too audible to resist - I'd have been disappointed with anything less.

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Could 2013 get any better for theatre castings?

Admittedly this is all about me and the people I like to see on the stage but I'm wracking my brain to think of any other actors that feature at the top of my favourites list that haven't been cast in a play this year, yet.

This is what I've got so far:

James McAvoy, Macbeth - Trafalgar Studios

Ben Whishaw, Peter and Alice - Noel Coward Theatre

Harry Melling, Smack Family Robinson - Rose Theatre, Kingston

Colin Morgan, The Tempest - Shakespeare's Globe (bit of a double-edged sword that one what with the Globe being top of my least favourite theatre venues list)

John Heffernan, Edward II - National Theatre

Rory Kinnear, Othello - National Theatre


David Tennant, Richard II - Stratford and London.

Not content with that I've already had my dose of Antony Sher for the year having seen him in Captain of Kopenick last week.

Simon Russell Beale is sort of missing but not really, he's still appearing in Privates on Parade and I saw it on New Year's Eve which kind of feels like this year. His next confirmed appearance is King Lear in January but I don't see him 'resting' until then.


Review: Our Country's Good at the St James Theatre


Whether by design or coincidence it seems appropriate to see a play extolling the virtues of theatre at a time when their functionality is under threat from Government spending cuts.

Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good is essentially about the redemptive power of theatre. Based on true events, a radical thinking governor (John Hollingworth) of a penal colony in 18th century Australia suggests the convicts put on a play which, he believes will be beneficial to both captives and jailers.

Naturally the idea is not universally liked by either side. The soldiers, many of whom are reluctantly in Australia, prefer to keep the prisoners in their place with a brutal regime of starvation, hard labour, humiliation and punishment. The prisoners are suspicious.

Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Dominic Thorburn) volunteers to direct the play and so embarks on a journey towards opening night troubled by losing cast members to the death penalty, romance, prejudice and artistic temperament.

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Details of Jamie Lloyd's James McAvoy-starring Macbeth production emerge (hint: it's going to be gory)

Macbeth_pressHad a teeny bit of a tip-off about Jamie Lloyd's futuristic setting for Macbeth when it was first announced but more details have emerged.

In this nice long interview with the director during rehearsals he talks about why he's set the play 50 years into the future and why he chose a younger than traditional actor to play the lead.

What is apparent is that this is going to be a gory production with Lloyd commenting: "They are getting very, very messy in there."

Later in the article he warns that those sitting close to the stage, particularly during the early previews when the actors are still getting a feel for things, may get in the gore-splat firing-line.

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Review: Antony Sher in The Captain of Kopenick at the National Theatre

Captain-kopenick-national-theatre1With a spoonful of the surrealism from the Collaborators, another of the absurdity in The Physicists and a pinch of Monty Python you have most of the ingredients that make up this new version of Carl Zuckmayer's The Captain of Kopenick, currently in preview at the National Theatre. You could call it a farce if the story wasn't embedded in true events.

The Captain of Kopenick of the title is petty criminal Wilhem Voigt (Antony Sher). In 1906 Berlin the real-life Voigt, posing as a captain of the Prussian guard, commanded a group of soldiers and took over a town hall. He'd been banished from the city on leaving prison owing to his criminal record and claimed he went to the town hall in order to get a passport.

In the play Zuckmayer uses the story of Voigt, who became a bit of a folk hero, to throw a satirical light on German bureaucracy of the time which required papers or a license to do just about everything. It is also a play about identity and exposes the German obsession with authority and uniform.

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London theatre news that was on my radar this week

Bumper year for London Theatre

SOLT (Society of London Theatres) released its 2012 box office figures for the West End revealing that the Olympics didn't have quite the adverse effect predicted by Sir Andrew Lloyd Musical - a 9% drop for the duration. Takings for the year overall were marginally up and apparently advanced bookings for this year are already breaking records. With no Olympics and Boris's warnings of transport meltdown it bodes well for next year's figures.

Average ticket prices have come down by 11p - wonder how much of that is because of schemes run by people like Michael Grandage which offers £10 seats that aren't in the rafters with the air con units?

Nick Hytner has a busy week of National Theatre announcements

First off we had the 2013 season announcement which includes Anne-Marie Duff and Charles Edwards in Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude, a Tori Amos musical (schmusical, you know I don't like them) and Rufus Norris directing James Baldwin's Amen Corner.

Confirmation that Simon Russell Beale is going to be playing a relatively youthful King Lear and Othello with Adrian Lester in the lead and Rory Kinnear as Iago also made it into the announcement. 

From all that I'm particularly excited about seeing Ms Duff on stage again and in an O'Neill play. Rory playing Iago is also good choice, looking forward to seeing him play a baddie. Obviously I'll see SRB in anything but just can't get excited about Lear as a play.

Hytner also reminded us that the National Theatre is 50 this year and there will be some sort of celebratory extravaganza in the autumn renuniting past loveys and showcasing some of the best productions of the last half century. It will be amazing but I imagine that tickets for that will be rarer than a diamond encrusted hen's tooth so I can't really get excited.

And then finally it seemed apt that as well as looking back, the National is looking forward. The Cottesloe ceases to be this year but becomes The Shed which then, next year, becomes the Dorfman. But don't worry about that, all you need to know is that The Shed (it's the construction mess in front of the NT) will host more experimental works. Could be a bit Katie Mitchell (hit and miss) but maybe they are trying to mitigate the ticket rush as there will be far fewer seats than the Cottesloe. 

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The 6th Coolest Theatre venue in London?

Following on from my Five Coolest Theatre Venues In London post there is one more venue I think should be added and it's the National Theatre. It struck me when I was there the other week that it is actually quite a cool place to hang out, especially in the hour before the plays start when they have live music and the cafe's and restaurants are in full swing.

What do you reckon: