If you happen to have children of your own, then give yourself a round of applause right now. Congratulations. You’ve made it through the summer holidays! Yes, the six weeks are at an end, give or take a few days, and the little darlings are back off to school to have their heads filled with all kinds of useful things by their teachers, who are probably not quite so thrilled about this new school year. To celebrate the fact that you’ve survived it, you could always treat yourself to a little something; a trip to the theatre perhaps? It couldn’t come at a better time as there are some fabulous new shows coming to London’s West End in September, and to help you on your way, here’s a hand-picked selection of the best of the bunch.
WELL-STRUNG, THE SINGING STRING QUARTET/VARLA JEAN MERMAN – THE BOOK OF MERMAN:
The West End, while undoubtedly the UK’s theatre Mecca, does not only offer its visitors musicals and plays. There is always alternative entertainment to be found which appeals to the theatre fan just as much as the more prominent aspects of the industry, and this 2-act evening, which has been produced by Mark Cortale in association with Martin Witts for London International Arts Theatre Limited, is certainly a tempting treat. The opening act of the night is Well Strung, a string quartet comprised of the all-male classical musicians Edmund Bagnell (1st violin), Christopher Marchant (2nd violin), David Shevlin (cello) and Trevor Wadleigh (viola). Accompanying themselves as they sing live on stage, audiences are sure to enjoy their own take on the music of Lady Gaga, Adele and Rihanna, to name a few, in addition to the likes of classic composers Mozart and Vivaldi. It features material written by Donna Drake, Jeffery Roberson and Mark Cortale, the latter of whom created the group with member Christopher Marchant. Musical arrangements are by David Levinson, with additional arrangement by David Shevlin. The second portion of the night is then given over to drag artist Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffery Roberson), who will no doubt regale the audience with a unique collection of new songs, videos and monologues. Directed by Donna Drake, this 2-for-1 night plays at the Leicester Square Theatre for an extremely limited engagement. It opens there on 19th September 2013 and runs until 21st September 2013.
HORRIBLE HISTORIES BARMY BRITAIN – PART II:
After the success of Terry Deary and Neil Foster’s original production, the Horrible Histories duo return with this follow-up show to Barmy Britain. Produced by Foster and the Birmingham Stage Company, it serves up a feast of funny facts and asks such questions of its audience as: “Could you beat battling Boudica?”, “Can Evil Elizabeth Entertain England?” and “Has William Wallace met his match?”. Barmy Britain – Part 2 is a whole new show which features new songs and sketches, leaving the ‘nasty bits’ in to deliver a history lesson in a fun and utterly memorable manner – where else are you invited to ‘move to the groove with party Queen Victoria’? Neal Foster also directs the show, starring Lauryn Redding and Anthony Spargo and featuring music by Matthew Scott. The Horrible Histories stage sequel is aimed at ages 6 and up and runs for approximately 1 hour. It opens at the Garrick Theatre on 26th September 2013 and continues on into the new year, closing there on 5th January 2014.
BARKING IN ESSEX:
A star-studded line-up is set to debut this ‘riotously funny’ new play by the late Clive Exton on the stage of the Wyndhams’s Theatre in September. Directed by Harry Burton, the production centres on the loveable, but dysfunctional, Essex family, The Packers. Notorious Essex gangster Algie Packer is out of prison after spending seven years locked up, and he’s now coming home to collect his booty of £3,672,000 in untraceable notes. His family have forgotten to mention something to him though, and hilarity ensues as they desperately attempt to cover their tracks before Algie returns for what is rightfully his. Comedian/actor Lee Evans stars as Darnley Packer, alongside stage and screen actress Sheila Hancock (Emmie Packer) and actress and former model Keeley Hawes (Chrissie Packer). Also featured in the cast are Karl Johnson (Rocco) and Montserrat Lombard (Allegra). MJE Productions and James Quaife Productions collaborate on the play, which was written two years before Exton’s death in 2007 but never performed. Audience members must be 16+ due to the adult language used in the production. It premieres at the Wyndham’s Theatre with the first preview performance set to take place on 6th September 2013. It opens on 16th September 2013 and is currently booking until 4th January 2014.
PECKHAM – THE SOAP OPERA:
Ola Animashawun and Debbie Hannan direct this all-new production which plays out the lives and loves of Peckham’s residents in a series of five 10-minute episodes, performed by local community actors. The audience are introduced to such characters as Lashanna, who relocates her underground hair salon following a raid by immigration to a basement beneath a corner shop – unbeknownst to shop owner Amir. Then there are Glenda, Elaine and Joey, who make a discovery which may force them into a morning commute to Lewisham. Or how about Linda, who loses her cat at the station but finds herself falling for a new, and rather dapper, stranger. The team of Bola Agbaje and Rachel De-lahey are lead writers for the drama-filled production, with Brad Birch, Alice Birch, Adam Brace, Robin French, Lucy Kirkwood, Chloe Moss, David Watson and Roy Williams also receiving writing credits. Peckham – The Soap Opera has only one preview performance (2nd September) before it opens at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs on 3rd September 2013. It closes on 14th September 2013.
STORM IN A FLOWER VASE:
A pioneer for working women, most notably in 1930’s London, Constance Spry is well-remembered to this day as an iconic floral designer and cookery writer. After building up her florist business ‘Flower Decoration’, having created floral arrangements for a number of Royal weddings and even the Queen’s coronation, she went on to open a domestic science school with renowned cook Rosemary Hume. The pair become best-selling authors when their book, ‘The Constance Spry Cookery Book’ was published, although Spry was a successful author in her own right as well. In Storm in A Flower Vase, playwright Anton Burge delves behind this image of the respectable business woman to tell another story; one of of marital discord, affairs and heartache. Penny Downie stars as Constance Spry in this Alan Strachan-directed production, in a cast which also features Carolyn Backhouse (Gluck), Sally George (Val Pirie), Sheila Ruskin (Rosemary), Carol Royle (Syrie) and Christopher Ravenscroft (Shav). Produced by Ann Pinnington Productions in association with Mig Kempton, this dramatic play starts previews from 13th September 2013 at the Arts Theatre. It opens at the venue on 20th September 2013 and runs until 12th October 2013.
THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI:
Bertolt Brecht’s sharp and thrilling parable of Hitler’s rise to power was an undisputed hit for Chichester Festival Theatre when it staged the production in 2012, so much so in fact that it returned this year with Henry Goodman reprising his award-winning performance in the title role. The acclaimed actor is joined by fellow cast members Michael Feast (Roma), William Gaunt (Old Dogsborough), Joe McGann (Giri/O’Casey) and Keith Baxter (Actor) as the show makes its West End transfer. Set in 1930’s Chicago against the backdrop of the Great Depression, a time of unemployment, fear and corruption, small-fry crime boss Arturo Ui and his gangster mob grabs the opportunity to seize greater power. Running protection rackets for workers and businesses, the menacing shadow of the seemingly unstoppable Arturo Ui soon looms across the entire city. Jonathan Church directs this production, translated from Brecht’s original play by George Tabori and revised by Alistair Beaton. The rest of the cast comprises Charlie Hamblett, Lucas Hare, Hugh John, Richard Mark, Lizzy McInnerny, Peter Moreton, Steve Simmonds, Colin Stinton, David Sturzaker and Benny Young. The first preview of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui takes place at the Duchess Theatre on 18th September 2013. It opens there on 25th September 2013 and runs until 7th December 2013.
LIMITED EDITIONS SEASON:
At the National Theatre’s temporary venue of The Shed, new theatre-makers are dropping in for a series of short runs as part of the Limited Editions season this September. First up is the Sleepdogs production of Bullet and The Bass Trombone by Timothy X Atack. The drama centres on a concert orchestra, trapped in a city in the midst of a military coup. As violence erupts and battles break out all around them, the orchestra are separated. It is the composer who is left to tell the story as they try to find their way back to one another. Writer Atack is the solo star of the play, under the direction of Tanuja Amarasuriya. It runs at The Shed between 9th-11th September 2013, to then be replaced by Squally Showers. The award-winning touring theatre company Little Bulb explore the political whirlwind that was the 1980’s with this new production. Using choreography, music and bizarre character, they take the audience back to a decade of ‘all or nothing’ where a magical storm is taking place. Their performance runs from 12th September 2013 to 14th September 2013 at The Shed. Ours Was The Fen Country comes after them, a glimpse into the lives of people of the fens in East Anglia. Eel-catchers, farmers, parish councillors, museum keepers, molly dancers and conservationists were all interviewed by Dan Canham over the course of two years, and these conversations formed the basis of this unique work, which was devised by Dan Canham, Laura Dannequin, Ian Morgan and Neil Paris. The four-some also make up the cast of their dance-theatre piece, which fuses movement and sound with real-life words and memories. The Still House production plays at The Shed between 16th-18th September 2013. Then it’s the turn of The Wardrobe Ensemble’s Riot, in a tale of violence, greed and cheap sofas. As the clock strikes midnight on 10th February 2005, the opening of a popular Swedish furniture store causes chaos amongst the British public, as they punch, kick, strangle and eventually stab their way to the bargains held within. The up-and-coming theatre company, who have been resident at Bristol Old Vic Theatre over the past year, bring this true story to The Shed between 18th-20th September 2013. And last, but not least, is Myrtle Theatre Company’s Up Down Boy, produced in association with Salisbury Playhouse. This ‘honest and uplifting’ drama is inspired by the true-life story of a boy with Downs Syndrome and his mother’s humorous perspective on raising him. The play introduces the audience to Matty an hour before he leaves for college, still waiting for his mum to pack his suitcase. The slamming doors, the phone bills and the queue for the bathroom aside, Matty is no ordinary teenager – will his mother be able to cope without him? It plays just one date at The Shed, rounding off the season on 21st September 2013.
INSIDE WAGNER’S HEAD:
Acclaimed actor Simon Callow enjoyed great success with his one-man play Being Shakespeare, and now returns with a new show exploring the truths and myths surrounding celebrated composer Richard Wagner. He was a man of many contradictions: a sublime visionary and a petty anti-Semite, a political radical but dependent on dukes and princes, irritating yet charismatic to the point of commanding absolute devotion. Callow attempts to show what Wagner was really like in this one-man performance, and what it was like to be around him. Inside Wagner’s Head is written and performed by Simon Callow, with direction by Simon Stokes. The play begins previews at the Linbury Studio Theatre at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House on 3rd September 2013. It opens on 6th September 2013 and runs through until 28th September 2013.
Alban Berg’s great unfinished opera made its UK debut at the Edinburgh Festival this August, in a somewhat controversial reworking by Olga Neuwirth. Her concept and interpretation of Berg’s work turns the iconic character of murderous femme fatale Lulu into a freedom-fighting black American amid the Civil Rights movement, and re-arranges much of the original score for a jazz band. This brand new production is collaboration between The Opera Group, Young Vic, Scottish Opera and Bregenzer Festspiele, in association with The London Sinfonietta. John Fulljames directs this new telling of a young dancer whose world is torn apart by the jealous men and women desperate to be her lover. Set in the smoky jazz clubs of 1950’s New Orleans whilst the civil rights struggle rages, the seductive and scarred Lulu looks back at her life and faces a sordid history of sex, murder and suicide. A preview performance of American Lulu takes place at the Young Vic Theatre (Main House) on 13th September 2013. It opens there on 14th September 2013 and runs until 24th September 2013.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM:
Stage and screen star Sheridan Smith stars opposite comedian/actor David Walliams in this production of Shakespeare’s classic play. In this comedic tale of complicated love, Lysander loves Hermia and Hermia loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius; Demetrius used to love Helena but now loves Hermia. When Hermia’s father insists she choose Demetrius as a suitor she escapes with Lysander into the surrounding forest where Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies are having their own battle of love. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a collision of the human and magical worlds and explores the mischief and chaos that love creates. Directed by Michael Grandage and produced by his production company, Michael Grandage Company, this rendition of the famous work also stars Susannah Fielding (Hermia), Katherine Kingsley (Helena), Stefan Adegbola (Robin Starveling/Cobweb), Stefano Braschi (Demetrius), Padraic Delaney (Oberon/Theseus), Richard Dempsey (Peter Quince/Moth), Henry Everett (Tom Snout/Peaseblossom), Gavin Fowler (Puck/Philostrate), Alex Large (Francis Flute/Mustardseed), Sam Swainsbury (Lysander), Craig Vye (Snug the Joiner/First Fairy) and Leo Wringer (Egeus). Previews begin at the Noel Coward Theatre, London from 7th September 2013. It opens on 17th September 2013 and ends its run on 16th November 2013.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING:
Another star-studded Shakespeare production hits the West End this September, this time with a new rendition of the playwright’s comedic love story, Much Ado About Nothing. David Tennant and Catherine Tate created a storm in the West End when they appeared in the play as reluctant lovers Benedick and Beatrice, and now celebrated actors James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave take on the same roles. They lead the cast as the witty, bantering couple for whom marriage seems inconceivable, while Lloyd Everitt and Beth Cooke play secondary couple Claudio and Hero, the young, sweet lovers whose impending nuptials are threatened by the resentful scheming of a Prince. This Old Vic Theatre production, created in association with Shakespeare Road and Nicholas Kent, also features Tim Barlow (Verges), Penelope Beaumont (Ursula), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Borachio), Katherine Carlton (Beryl), Beth Cooke (Hero), Alan David (Antonio), Michael Elwyn (Leonato), Lloyd Everitt (Claudio), James Garnon (Don Pedro), Melody Grove (Margaret), Trevor Laird (Conrade), Leroy Osei-Bonsu (Messenger), Mark Ross (Sexton), Peter Wight (Dogberry and Friar Francis) and Danny Lee Wynter (Don John) in the cast. Directed by Mark Rylance, Much Ado About Nothing begins previews at the Old Vic Theatre from 7th September 2013. It opens on 19th September 2013 and runs until 23rd November 2013.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 29th August 2013