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WHAT'S NEW IN THE WEST END by Tim Connor
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1st July, 2001

AT THE GLOBE

The Globe theatre is open for the Summer season, and amongst its programme are new productions of King Lear and Macbeth. Their Lear was favourably received by the press, many commenting on how this interpretation brought out more of the comedy in what can be a very heavy play. Julian Glover as Lear also received good notices, but the critics seem rather divided on how successful the Globe is as a venue. Up to a point it does capture the style of performance at the time Shakespeare was writing, but then the sound of a noisy aeroplane crossing overhead somehow spoils the atmosphere! Still it’s certainly an experience, and the building is a masterpiece of construction. I highly recommend the tour to any theatre enthusiast.

Unfortunately, Macbeth did not fair as well with the critics. It's a very daring, modern interpretation: the Witches say their lines in rap in the opening. It strikes me as rather curious, and though some of the critics admired the attempt at a new slant on a frequently seen play, the overall reaction seems to suggest that the Globe’s brave, modern-day conversion doesn’t really work.

THEATRE IN THE PARK

Another outdoor performance space that runs during the warmer months is Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Seeing a show at this venue is a wonderful treat. A few years ago I saw Rachel Kavanaugh’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was the best interpretation I have seen of the text, very traditional and much better acted than the recent West End production starring comedienne Dawn French as Bottom. The park works especially well for this play because of the many forest scenes. It is so much more fun having Puck actually appear out of real trees and bushes than on an indoor staged set. The natural surroundings of the park makes it all the more magical and a truly memorable outing.

The Dream has become something of a regular slot in the Open Air repertoire and features in this year’s season yet again (though this time directed by Alan Strachan), with Gary Wilmot playing Bottom. The theatre is also reviving last year’s hit production of The Pirates of Penzance, with Wilmot featured in the cast along with Su Pollard. Frank Loesser’s musical flop Where’s Charley? will also be making an appearance, as will Shakespeare’s Love Labour’s Lost, which Kenneth Branagh made into a musical film not that long ago. For those of you who are going to holiday in London this summer, I strongly suggest that you visit Regent’s Park Open Air - but don’t forget to bring an umbrella in case of a downpour!

KATZ AND NIXON

Patrick Marber, writer of the Olivier Award Winning Closer and director of the stunning revival of The Caretaker, has written his third play of what is described as a "loose trilogy", Howard Katz. Included in the cast are Ron Cook and Trevor Peacock, whose face is well known to British audiences from the TV comedy The Vicar of Dibley. The critics were not all that enthusiastic, many expressing their disappointment that this was not nearly as gritty and hard-hitting as Marber’s previous pieces. Nevertheless some of the press were keen to point out that he is one of the best "new" British playwrights currently writing for the stage. Howard Katz plays in repertoire in the flexible and intimate Cottesloe auditorium of the National Theatre complex.

The Comedy Theatre plays host to Nixon’s Nixon, a new play by Russell Lees. Described as a political satire, the play covers the day prior to President Nixon’s resignation. The critics get to give their verdict on the 23rd of July.

PEGGY FOR RUTHIE

On the musicals front, Ruthie Henshall will play the lead role of Peggy Sue in Peggy Sue Got Married, opening at the Shaftesbury Theatre in August. The story sounds just right for a fun musical: the title character travels back in time and gets to relive her youth and change the way her life went. Gavin Lee is also included in the cast, a fine musical performer who featured in the Fred Astaire tribute in February. I always like to support the arrival of a new work and I hope that (if deserved), it achieves success. However, I can already predict that certain critics will slate it, even if it is deserving of praise. In London, it’s best to ignore what the critics say and go by word of mouth otherwise you would miss a lot of great theatre!

NOT SO FAIR LADY

Rumours are rife that Martine McCutcheon is about to get the boot from My Fair Lady. Some claim that she is still recovering from her illness and others say she’ll complete the run at the National but leave when it transfers to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 21st July. Whatever happens, she has at least recorded the part of Eliza on the London cast album, which is due for release towards the end of July.

BRITISH MUSICAL TALENT: STILES AND DREWE

There have been no particularly significant CD releases of British musical material this month, therefore I thought I’d draw your attention to the cast recording of the hit show HONK!, which is written by the two best hopes in Britain, Anthony Drewe and George Stiles. Winner of the 2000 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical, the National Theatre’s production is now on a UK tour starring the comedian Norman Pace and one of London’s best male singers, the incredible Clive Rowe.

I don’t think I have ever been more charmed by a cast album. The story line is ‘The Ugly Duckling’ with a few additions to the plot and some new characters to build it up to a full show. Anthony Drewe’s book (which features quite a lot on the CD), is extremely funny as are his wonderful lyrics. I particularly liked ‘Look At Him’ when the farm animals are shocked by the ugly appearance of the newly born duckling. All the songs are written in a tongue-in-cheek style, though these writers also have the ability to touch deeply.

Five stars to George Stiles’ beautiful score, which contains some great ballads along with more lively and bouncy numbers. My favourites are ‘Warts and All’, ‘Hold Your Head Up High’ and ‘Every Tear A Mother Cries’, which is a song I am sure we will hear more of in the future. It has a lovely tune and displays Drewe at his finest. All the cast are very strong singers, Nicolas Colicos as the Bullfrog and Kristin Marks as the ugly duckling’s mother, Ida, worthy of particular note.

I really couldn’t ask for more in a musical than what HONK! has; wit, charm and great songs.

HONK! - Original Scarborough Cast Recording. Available from Dress Circle Records, Leicester Square.

ROUNDUP

This is an especially good time for plays. In particular, the National Theatre has a fantastic programme of productions, and its award-winning production of All My Sons will be making a welcome return in August (slightly re-cast) and moving to a different auditorium. The National is also running summer events in the outdoor ‘NT Square’, which offers a variety of street performances free to the public.

The Globe and Regent’s Park, as mentioned, are now up and running and it is only the area of musicals that seems to be lacking new blood. Mind you, it is the Summer season and Autumn probably makes better commercial sense for openings of big productions when people fewer people are away on holidays. Next month I’ll have reviews of Hamlet at the NT and Noises Off at the Piccadilly, along with more news and gossip from the London theatre scene.

OPENINGS IN LONDON - JULY AND AUGUST 2001

JULY

3rd The Gondoliers
3rd Ute Lemper: Naughty Baby
4th One For The Road
6th The Noise Of Time
10th The Far Side of the Moon
10th Century of Fools
10th Cymbeline
17th 3 Dark Tales
18th The Comedy of Errors
20th The Relapse
23rd Nixon’s Nixon
26th Where’s Charley?
28th Lost Musicals Occasion

AUGUST

7th All My Sons
9th Humble Boy
15th The King Stag
20th Peggy Sue Got Married
27th The Pirates of Penzance

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Additional information on London's current theatre scene is available at Albemarle of London.



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