When I moved house about a year ago, there were 327 theatre programmes that had to be boxed up and brought with us. I don’t dare count again, but I estimate that there are probably somewhere in excess of 500 now.
The truth is, like Ado Annie, I just can’t say no to the theatre. Offer me a free ticket to something, anything, and if I have a free night, I’ll bite your hand off for it. From naked reindeer in a warehouse in Peckham to the ballet, from Guerilla Shakespeare in an office block to La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, I’m your man.
So, February, despite the cold, and the fact that I was actually performing myself, doing 7 shows a week, I still managed to fit in Sex With A Stranger at the Trafalgar Studios – brilliant performances and tight direction all round, The Madness of George III at the Apollo – David Haig in a virtuoso performance that was both inspiring and humbling, Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House, DNA at the Rose, Kingston (our official review here), Master Class with Tyne Daly, Absent Friends at the Pinter, Pitchfork Disney (our review) at the Arcola, Hay Fever at the Noel Coward and we’ll be rocking up in Richmond on the 29th to see Muswell Hill. And for every single one of those, I bought a programme.
February was also awards month, the glittering star-studded Whatsonstage Awards and the Offies, between them celebrating the best of British theatre, both in the West End and the fringe. Awards will always divide people, and this year was no exception, but it is wonderful to work in an industry that works so hard to recognise the valuable contributions made right across the board. We are going to throw our hat into this particular ring though – it is time that the Whatsonstage Awards, the Offies, and the forthcoming Olivier Awards recognised Musical Direction as a category, and, dare we say it, Casting Directors.
Now – onto March. And for musicals fans, it’s a big month. Sweeney Todd arrives in the West End at the Adelphi, after a critical and commercial success at Chichester Festival, bringing with it musical theatre heavyweights, Imelda Staunton, Michael Ball and Peter Polycarpou, while Floyd Collins lands at the Southwark Playhouse with a no less pedigree cast. We caught up with a couple of members of the team, and the interview will be online soon. Also punching consistently above its weight in terms of casting, The Landor, home of the pristine pocket-musical, has landed West End star Peter Straker and Mike Christie of platinum selling group G4 for their production of Flaherty and Ahrens The Glorious Ones. The Landor scored big at the Offies with The Hired Man and Ragtime, and they will doubtless be hoping to match that success with The Glorious Ones.
Away from showtunes, supermodel Agyness Deyn will make her stage debut at Trafalgar Studio 2 in The Leisure Society, a tight four-hander directed by Harry Burton and featuring John Schwab, Ed Stoppard and Melanie Gray. Then, across the river, in the delicious Menier Chocolate Factory, Jill Halfpenny takes on a seminal role – Beverley in Abigail’s Party. Tackling a role that has become so associated with one particular actor, in this case Alison Steadman, must be daunting, but Halfpenny has proved her mettle as one of our most versatile and courageous actors, and while there will, of course, be comparisons, there should be no doubt that Halfpenny will make her own mark on Beverley. Lindsay Posner, fresh from the triumph of Noises Off, directs. Staying South of the river, Southwark Playhouse present the World Premier of Phillip Ridley’s new play, Shivered – exciting not just because Ridley is joyfully ubiquitous right now, but also because director Russell Bolam is definitely one to watch, and The Brockley Jack, another venue that just seems to quietly produce one quality production after another, definitely deserves a look as they present Julius Caesar. Oop North, well, Swiss Cottage, we’ll be at Hampstead Theatre again, as we are salivating, figuratively, over the combination of Richard Nelson’s writing, Roger Michell’s direction and a stellar cast, including Ben Chaplin and Jenna Redgrave, in Farewell to the Theatre. You won’t go far wrong booking a ticket to The American Clock at the Finborough, or Clockwork Orange at the Arcola either. Volcano are a brilliant company who have been making wonderful, inventive, radical, must-see theatre for 25 years now.
Further afield, if you’re in Leicester, don’t, whatever you do, miss Caroline O’Connor as Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Curve. Caroline is one of our greatest musical theatre stars and this is one of the greatest musical theatre roles ever written. Unmissable. In Edinburgh, at the Traverse, Ana has piqued our interest sufficiently – a bilingual play which combines French Canadian creatives with Scottish creatives, this is a European premier which is worth a look if you’re in the area. Hailing from North of the border, National Theatre of Scotland’s An Appointment With The Wicker Man is hurtling around the country, Theatre Royal, Glasgow at the beginning of the month, then Eden Court Inverness, before hauling up at the Alhambra in Dunfermline. It’s billed as a love letter to cult classic The Wicker Man, except someone forgot to pay the postage; the trailer for the show provides enough giggles to warrant the train fare to Scotland. From the National Theatre of Wales, meanwhile, Peter Gill, one of Wales’ greatest writers directs A Provincial Life, adapted by Gill from Chekhov, bringing it to the Sherman, Cymru in Cardiff.
Incredible all-male Shakespeare company Propellor make their return to the UK, with Henry V and The Winter’s Tale, hitting The Rose, Kingston and The Marlowe in Canterbury. Propellor provide some of the freshest, most lucid productions of Shakespeare imaginable, seemingly rediscovering each play anew. They’ve been on a world dominating tour, so it is wonderful to have them on home soil.
For wild rovers touring around, we’d tip the brilliant Blackeyed Theatre’s The Trial – after playing the last week in February at Greenwich Playhouse, they’re off on a frankly punishing schedule, touring around all through March. Speaking of punishing schedules, London Classic Theatre are also on the road, March through to July, with their acclaimed production of Equus. Marvelous company with an excellent reputation. Catch them wherever you can.
And finally, one of the big draws of the month has to be the glorious Eve Best in the titular role of The Duchess of Malfi at The Old Vic. Jamie Lloyd directs a top-notch cast in Webster’s dark masterpiece.
One last tip for those in London, with stamina – The nabokov Arts Club is a heady mix of theatre, nightclub, performance space, decadence and chaos. It’s thrilling, exciting and not for the faint-hearted. nabokov are one of the most exuberant exciting young companies working in London, at the forefront of the new writing movement, and adept at taking theatre to a new audience. The Arts Club is a fantastic introduction to nabokov for those who like their theatre a little more sweaty than usual. At BAC on March 2nd. Tickets go like lightning, so don’t miss out. Sod it, even if you’re not in London, get down to it, it runs until 2am so you can grab a coffee somewhere before catching the first train home. Old school.
Right. I’m off to alphabetise my programme collection. And then index them in a box file. Nerd? Me?