Life is all about balance – taking the good with the bad and so forth. Yes, there are always going to be occurrences of a negative nature, but the balance means that there can always be positivity to be found as well. Sometimes the good and the bad comes at you hand-in-hand, sometimes they’ll arrive separately, and on occasion, one side will weigh down that delicately balanced seesaw and a barrage of good or bad will hit you. In recent days, there has been a welcome spate of news to make the theatre-goer smile. Though linked by the common thread of the stage, the good aspect is defined differently in each piece of news.
I’m a big believer in ‘new’ equalling ‘good’; as evidenced in my continual support and encouragement of new British musical theatre. This time though, it’s the arrival of a stage play that has caught my gleeful interest. The comedic pairing of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the hugely popular TV series Jeeves and Wooster remains a fond memory for many and still raises a chuckle at the recollection. The comedy programme was adapted from P.G Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories, so the news that siblings Robert and David Goodale have written a new play, featuring the two classic characters in a tale adapted from the novelist’s 1938 book The Code of the Woosters and starring the two classic characters, can certainly be qualified on the side of good. With acclaimed stage and screen actors Matthew Macfadyen and Stephan Mangan starring as Jeeves and Wooster, Perfect Nonsense is set to transfer to the West End following dates at the Richmond Theatre (10th-19th October 2013) and the Brighton Theatre Royal (22nd-26th October 2013). The production, which is directed by The Ladykillers’ director Sean Foley, will run from 30th October 2013 at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Foley praised the Goodale writers’ script and described Wodehouse as one of the greatest English comic writers, adding that “the challenge of putting his finest creation on stage for the very first time is a tremendously exciting one.”
As pleasing as I find the idea of originality, I am also warmed by the prospect of change as an effective means of keeping a production’s freshness alive. That’s why I never fail to be excited by the announcement of a new cast member/company, so the recent casting news regarding West End musicals Wicked and Spamalot therefore inevitably fell into the ‘good’ category.
Dutch actress Willemijn Verkaik is due to take over the principal role of the green-skinned ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ Elphaba from current leading lady Louise Dearman on 18th November 2013. Verkaik is the only actress to have played the role in multiple languages, having appeared on stage in Germany, Holland and also on Broadway, and her love for the character was clear to see in her comments accompanying the announcement as she described herself as ‘overjoyed, and sincerely grateful’ for the opportunity to now play the role in the West End. The musical’s UK executive producer Michael McCabe went on to say that: “We are thrilled that London audiences will now get the opportunity to experience Willemijn’s incredible performance, for which she has been so justly acclaimed.”
Across town at the Playhouse Theatre, new life is to be breathed into Spamalot as well with the imminent arrival of Joe Pasquale. The squeaky-voiced comedian has previously performed on stage in touring productions of such shows as The Producers and The Wizard of Oz, but will make his West End debut when he takes over the role of King Arthur in the Monty Python musical. He is to appear in the production for a six-week run (from 17th June 2012), following in the footsteps of Marcus Brigstocke, Jon Culshaw and Stephen Tompkinson who all recently played King Arthur. An invite to see the show from old friend Bonnie Langford, who plays The Lady of The Lake, led to Pasquale taking on the role, performing on stage opposite his soon-to-be cast mate Langford.
So yes, new things and changing things are definitely good, but the old saying of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ shouldn’t be forgotten. There are already a great many good things to currently be found in the West End, including the most recent Broadway transfer, Once: A New Musical. I went to see this show during its preview period and was completely charmed by the beautifully understated passion that saturates every pore of the production, so the announcement that its booking period has now been extended to 31st May 2014 has me punching the air with undiluted joy. Once is based on John Carney’s 2007 film of the same name and features a book by playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It opened in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre on 9th April 2013, with Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitesic leading the cast in what is described as ‘a celebration of Love, friendship and music’. The Broadway production won 8 Tony Awards and composers Hansard and Irglova were previously awarded the Oscar for Best Original Song for the simply goosebump-inducing ballad ‘Falling Slowly’. Once is a very different in comparison to the West End’s other musicals, as it features a very simple set, performers who musically accompany themselves live on stage and a score which is more acoustic folk than traditional musical theatre. Does this detract from its impact though? Absolutely not. In fact, if anything it adds to the overall effect as it has a much more intimate and meaningful feel to it. The absence of glitz and glamour, huge ensemble dance routines and special FX means that the power lies in the hands of the story, the score and the cast, and the three together are really all that you need. The longer this musical remains in the West End the better.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Wednesday 5th June 2013