2019 has been my first year as a proper professional theatre blogger, and I had several aims at the start of January:
- To visit as many London theatres as possible, particularly West End and fringe
- To link up with at least three new PR companies to increase my review range
- To increase my Twitter following, and expand my Pinterest presence
- To utilise Instagram and YouTube to support my blog
So far all is going to plan, which is very gratifying. I am enjoying exploring new venues and seeing shows which may not have been on my radar.
Without more ado, here’s a look back to my theatre-going for the first three months of 2019!
Show count: 9 | Plays: 1 | Musicals: 8 | Venues: 9 (new venues: 0)
The first month of the year always means “Get Into London Theatre” and the New Year sale, and this year was no exception. Although there may be more lucrative discounts available, if you like to save a bit of money and plan your trips in advance, I’d recommend this.
I managed to catch Dreamgirls shortly before it closed at the Savoy, caught up with the long-running Matilda at the Cambridge, and experienced the joy of Olivier-winner Sharon D Clarke’s performance in Caroline or Change at the Playhouse. The first two really stand on one song each, but are enjoyable enough: I wouldn’t recommend paying full price.
The year began, though, with my first trip to the Almeida, Islington, for five years, to see Simon Russell Beale in Richard II, or as it was titled here, The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. Utilising a small enclosed box set and buckets of water, blood and soil, the King’s dilemma was reduced from the trappings of majesty to the fundamentals of man.
Reviews for Bernadette Robinson’s performance in Songs for Nobodies, in which she impersonated Garland, Piaf, Cline, Holiday and Callas, persuaded me to go along to the Ambassadors. This talented singer managed to evoke the memories of all those great stars with a minimum use of props and settings.
The National Theatre’s production of Hadestown was coming close to the end when I saw it, and I was impressed and amused to see the parallels with last year’s Mythic at the Charing Cross. Hadestown, though, is a fine musical with some excellent voice work and songs created by Anais Mitchell.
The cult hit of regal girl power, Six, was a pleasure to attend at the Arts; an old favourite, Aspects of Love, briefly stopped in the intimate setting of the Southwark Playhouse; and one of my favourite theatres, the Menier Chocolate Factory, provided a fine revival of Fiddler on the Roof – which has now deservedly transferred to the Playhouse.
Show count: 7 | Plays: 2 | Musicals: 2 | Other: 3 | Venues: 7 (new venues: 0)
The final show in my “Get Into London Theatre” crop of discounts was the new musical Come from Away, at the Phoenix. This fine one-act piece of theatre, about the Canadian town of Newfoundland which welcomed several displaced planes and their occupants on 9/11, is one of the best new works to come to the capital for quite a while, and I was glad to see it obtain a number of awards at the Oliviers.
I also saw a preview of Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre, which was the show where one of the famous pies went missing. Although it has done well on Broadway, Sara Bareilles’s musical version of the film by Adrienne Shelly is simply servicable, with few memorable songs despite the hard-working ensemble cast.
In the description of “other” types of show, I was pleased to see Ian McKellen’s 80th birthday performance on tour at Richmond Theatre, and Broadway legend Chita Rivera at Cadogan Hall. I also attended a live performance of Radio 2’s stalwart variety programme Friday Night is Music Night, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.
The two plays I saw were Cougar, at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond (first visit since 2011), and the much-hyped When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, starring Cate Blanchett, at the National Theatre. There were definite parallels between the two, but I found the National’s production somewhat overblown, and perhaps not worth the trouble of the ballot and high ticket pricing.
Show count: 11 | Plays: 7 | Musicals: 3 | Other: 1 | Venues: 11 (new venues: 5)
March began with a trip to see Stephen Rea in the much-lauded Cyprus Avenue, at the Royal Court, which was certainly an uncompromising watch, but performed brilliantly. It was my first visit to the theatre, which is an old-fashioned wooden structure with a modern stage, and it felt quite the right space for this disturbing play by David Ireland.
Gently Down The Stream, over at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, was written by Martin Sherman and starred Jonathan Hyde, in a tender and waspish look at gay history and an age-gap relationship in 1990s London.
All About Eve, at the Noel Coward, was a quirky but not entirely successful adaptation of the famed Bette Davis film, with Gillian Anderson and Lily James in the lead parts, but Monica Dolan and Stanley Townsend stealing the acting honours. There was a bit much too reliance on video work for me, but I will continue to support the stage work of Ivo van Hove, which is rarely boring.
A trio of musicals were all enjoyable – Showstopper! brought a fun form of improvision back to The Other Palace; Violet let us take a ride on the Greyhound bus at the Charing Cross; and the 60s classic Hair made a welcome stop on its 50th anniversary tour at the New Wimbledon Theatre.
The interesting new venue in North Kensington, the Playground Theatre, hosted a revival of My Brother’s Keeper, a sharply observational dramedy about family relationships and the NHS; and a new play, Alys Always, starring Joanne Froggart, ran at the Bridge Theatre.
My first visit to the Tristan Bates Theatre, just off Seven Dials in the Actors’ Centre, was to see the showcase Character Solos, a number of variable solo performances from young writer-actors which deserved a little more attention and attendance.
The Old Vic’s building work may be obvious, but the revival of Arthur Miller’s The American Clock (a play with music), was a good primer to what will prove a mini-season of the playwright’s work at a variety of London venues this year, and I applaud the venue for continuing to offer excellent discounts to regular patrons.
Closing off the month was one play I had waited for ever since the collaboration with the Barbican Centre was announced: Enda Walsh’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, starring Cillian Murphy. This inventive mix of physical comedy, technical trickery, and a touching and terrifying central performance made this worth the delay in bringing it into London.
Coming up in the second quarter of 2019
The King and I | Funeral Flowers | Little Miss Sunshine | Top Girls | The Crucible | Fanny and Stella | Rosmersholm | Side Show | King Hedley II | Liza Pulman Sings Streisand| Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) | Admissions | Beats on Pointe | Rutherford and Son | Book of Mormon | Vincent River | Man of La Mancha
All My Sons | Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens | The Curious Case of Benjamin Button | Education, Education, Education | Woman to Woman | This Island’s Mine | The Importance of Being Earnest | Death of a Salesman | Operation Mincemeat | After Dark | Pictures of Dorian Gray