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Theatre in Crisis?
Theatre in London - Tips & Comments
Member Name: monalipschitz
Theatre in London - Tips & Comments
Date: 06/01/02, updated on 06/01/02 (558 review reads)
Advantages: see below
Disadvantages: see belwo
Start at the Theatre of Dionysus (the people).
Move onto the Medieval Mystery plays (often free)
Take the fork past the
reatest playwright ever to have lived, William Shakespeare ('pop' culture)
Stop briefly at the Victorian Music Hall (began in pubs)
And keep going straight until you reach today.
So just what has been going in the past year, and what delights are we to look forward to in 2002!
West End theatre has, like the rest of the country, been dogged by problems in the past year. The Foot and Mouth crisis at the beginning of 2001 heralded a sharp decline in tourism, something that many shows rely on to keep house numbers up. Couple that with the inevitable consequences of the Sept 11th terrorist attacks and the result is a 30% drop in tourism and the closure of many productions. For musicals, 'The Beautiful Game' could not survive the first part of the year and announced its closure in early September costing Andrew Lloyd Webber approximately £3 Million in total. 'The Witches of Eastwick' went the same way in October and 'Peggy Sue Got Married' opened and closed within weeks. However not all musical closures were due to the current climate. The Pet Shop Boys 'pop' musical 'Closer to Heaven' was a flop due to its own merits or rather, the lack of them.
The new musical productions that fared best in 2001 were the sure-fire hits of years gone by. The RNT's revival of 'My Fair Lady' starred theatrical giant Jonathan Pryce and the well-known Martine
McCutcheon and, in spite of her continual illness and early withdrawal sustained a good first run at the National and which is continuing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Broadway's offering 'Kiss Me, Kate', starring most of its original cast, has received rave reviews and looks set to enjoy a long run into 2002.
The Musical Theatre scene in the West End is set for an interesting mix of shows in 2002. Honorary mention must always go to the RNT (not strictly the West End but hey it's high-profile London) with its current production of 'South Pacific', with Trevor Nunn once again proving his ability in this area. The much publicised musical based on the popular children's film 'Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang' is due to arrive in March and a month earlier we will be treated to more Broadway fare in the form of 'The Full Monty', a musical which perhaps a little unfairly, lost out at the Tonys to the phenomenon that is 'The Producers' (which appears should be arriving in 2003 for it's London debut). Other musicals due include Boy George's 'Taboo' and a new Ben Elton show based around the work of Queen (hoping for another 'Mamma Mia' perhaps). Reports of Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest show based around Bollywood varies from opening in January to shelved due to the colossal losses made by 'The Beautiful Game' and his 'Starlight Express' is finally closing after many years happily ensconced in the psyche of the West End theatregoer. A musical based on Mae West, an adaptation of Jean de Florette and Last of the Blonde Bombshells are also rumoured to be on the cards for 2002 openings.
The past year has also seen a mixed bag of 'straight' plays. The Almeida got off to a rocky start with 'Lulu' starring Anna Friel. As with McCutcheon, the production was plagued by the ill health of Friel who had injured her spine. Being the Almeida there was no u
nderstudy so the show had to be cancelled on more than one occasion. Revivals fared better in this genre with 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' at the Shaftesbury and several Noel Coward plays garnering critical success. 'Private Lives' at the Albery and 'Star Quality' at the Apollo are still going strong while the 'lost' Coward cocktail cabaret 'Semi-Monde' enjoyed an all too brief run. The Royal Court had a resounding success with 'Mouth to Mouth' starring Lindsay Duncan. As for comedy 'The Play Wot I Wrote' at the Wyndhams has to be the best. With Morecambe and Wise as the subject, it could easily have fallen short while 'Feelgood' transferred from the Hampstead to the Garrick. Neil LaBute's 'The Shape of Things' successfully made the transfer from London to Broadway and Fiona Shaw's 'Medea' arrived hot foot in London from its Irish success for a limited run at the Queens. It has also been a year for Movie Stars taking to the boards and while Alan Rickman and Linda Grey managed huge successes in 'Private Lives' and 'The Graduate', respectively, even the name of Dame Judi Dench couldn't turn 'The Royal Family' into a roaring success and Joan Collins' appearance in 'Over the Moon' was perhaps ill-advised as even her great legs couldn't save that play. Derek Jacobi starred in 'God Only Knows' whose plot involved the Mafia and the Vatican. An unlikely combination and the play duly flopped.
In terms of Drama, there is much to look forward to in the coming year. 'The Humble Boy' transfers from the RNT to the West End with Felicity Kendall taking over the role created by Dame Diana Rigg leading an otherwise unchanged cast. 'Lady Windermere's Fan' by Oscar Wilde will be occupying the Haymarket in a revival by Sir Peter Hall and starring Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson together for the first
time. Peter Hall promises to have a busy year ahead with 'The Island' transferring from the Old Vic to the RNT and his direction of 'The Bacchae'. Two major productions of 'King Lear' are scheduled for 2002 with the Almeida producing one version with Oliver Ford Davies in the title role and the RSC staging the other with Ralph Fiennes. Sam Mendes of the Donmar Warehouse (again not strictly mainstream West End but a powerful theatrical force in the capital) is staging 'Twelfth Night' and Chekov's 'Uncle Vanya' and is still wooing Nicole Kidman (previously seen in 'The Blue Room') for the roles of Olivia and Yelena respectively.
The American hit 'Proof' (which also did very well at this years Tonys) is also crossing the pond and John Madden (of 'Mrs Brown' and 'Shakespeare in Love') will direct with the possibility of Kate Winslett starring. Dame Maggie Smith will make a welcome return to the West End stage, possible along side Dame Judi Dench, in an, as yet, un-named Davis Hare play while the RNT will see a season including 'Lady from the Sea', 'Macbeth', 'Hinterland' and, possibly even 'A Streetcar Named Desire' with Jessica Lange.
The West End is set for substantial changes in the coming year. 2001 has seen the announcement of many 'retirements'. Sam Mendes, who has headed the Donmar so successfully, is to leave at the end of next year. Jude Kelly the director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse who has put regional theatre back on the map (well, at least the West Yorkshire map) is also to stand down as are Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid of the Almeida which is to return to its refurbished location in Islington.
Outside the West End, Britain's two greatest theatre companies are facing major changes in the next eighteen months that could alter the shape of British Theatre itself. The Royal Notional Theatre on Londo
n's South Bank will change hands from Trevor Nunn to Nicholas Hytner when Nunn finishes finishes his current tenure as Artistic Director. The plans for change are already afoot. The programme of events is to diversify and become more avant-garde and there are rumours of the closure of the Cottesloe auditorium to make way for a DJ and club in order to attract a younger, more experimental audience. How this rebuild will affect the atmosphere of the theatre or the standard of productions is yet to be determined but for me the National is already perfect and the loss of a space like the Cottesloe can only be detrimental.
The RSC plans are if anything even more radical. Intent on creating a 'Shakespeare Experience' in Stratford the company will no longer have a permanent home in the capital's Barbican Centre. Instead the company will stage plays in the West End with all the high rents and unpredictability that entails. Contracts will no longer require cast members to sign up for two years and the touring cycle of Stratford, Newcastle and the Barbican (obviously) will be scrapped. Perhaps the most controversial of the current plans for the RSC will be the £100 million rebuild of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the idea being to create the most significant new building of the new century. The Other Place is also to be transformed into a new flexible space and will create a third permanent theatre seating up to 650 people. The projected will be completed is 2008 which is still a long way off but I still feel that turning Stratford into the theatrical equivalent of a theme park isn't necessarily the best way to attract a new audience.
So what would promote theatre and remove its elitist tag? To be honest I'm not sure but Ken Livingston's giving £500,000 to fund free and discounted tickets in the West End is a wonderful idea. It's a shame that it took such a disaster as September 11th to highlight how high seat prices have
soared. All it takes is one teacher to inspire, to bring the curriculum set texts to life for a young person to develop a taste for plays and theatre and with the current trend for movie stars treading the boards and Andrew Lloyd Webber encouraging new audiences one visit could cast a spell over youngsters for life, help remove the prejudice against live drama and propel the theatre as a popular form of entertainment into the 21st Century.
For more information, complete listings and reviews on theatre in London and elsewhere visit:
For info about the Royal Shakspeare Company visit:
Or for the Royal National Theatre go to:
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