While the summer appears yet to begin, at least weatherwise, the theatre world is already looking towards the autumn and beyond.
And perhaps we need to wish the non-existent summer away so that we can get there even quicker. Today it has been announced that Sir Ian McKellen will bring his one-man celebratory show of his career, Ian McKellen On Stage, with Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others... and You to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre from 20th September following its current national tour to over 80 theatres. Over the course of this tour, over £2 million will have been raised for causes related to the venues that have been visited; and the selfless (and indefatigable) McKellen has pledged that all profits from the West End run will also benefit theatre charities.
That's an incredible gesture in itself. But McKellen is paying back, in every sense, what the theatre has given him; as he has said, "Taking this new show to 80+ theatres around the country, has been a joyful birthday present to myself."
It's often said that they don't make them like they used to, but they really don't. When McKellen brought his King Lear to the West End last summer, and strained a calf muscle while running to catch his train which meant he couldn't perform the play, he invited the audience to watch a Q&A with him instead. As Kirsty Bushell, who played Regan in the production, commented, "It was utterly spontaneous, completely natural and deeply touching. Determined to give the audience something, he spoke for over an hour about his life, career and love of acting, in particular of Shakespeare, to a full house. The theatre was full of love and compassion."
National Theatre highlights
This week's announcement of 15 new plays and adaptations at the National across the next year finally replies to the charges of the under-representation of female writers that were levied the last time around, with new work by April de Angelis, Lucy Kirkwood, Moira Buffini, Annie Baker, Kate Tempest, Francesca Martinez and Nadia Fall.
As the National's co-chief executive Lisa Burger commented, "What’s changed is us putting our hands up and saying we got it wrong. We should have been better prepared to talk about balance in the announcement we were making. We’ve got much better at representation and this season shows that."
There's duly also a welcome diversity of voices, with Chekhov's Three Sisters relocated to Nigeria in a new version by Inua Ellams, and Clint Dyer and Roy Williams's Death of England (which began life as a short film created by the Royal Court and The Guardian) opening in the Dorfman.
Dyer also becomes the first Black British artist to have acted, written and directed at the NT, reminding me yet again of a brilliant quote he gave me back in an interview in 2005 when he became the first black British director to direct a musical in the West End when The Big Life transferred from Stratford East: "The wonderful thing about being black in this country is that as a black person you have an amazing opportunity to be the first at a lot of things."
But this time the accomplishment is even greater - as he told The Guardian, "It's a wonderful thing. I suppose within that it isn't the usual question of ‘why's it not happened before?’ I can't think of anyone else apart from Simon McBurney and Harold Pinter. It’s a very exclusive club and I'm very proud of it as an artist, regardless of colour. It’s a brilliant achievement and really unusual."
From the Rose to the National
Amongst the shows announced for the National Theatre is a transfer of the two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend that was first seen at the Rose Theatre Kingston earlier this year, to reopen at the Olivier in November.
This a welcome boost for the Rose, which was recently dealt the body blow of Kingston Council announcing that it was withdrawing its annual funding of £256,000 by 2022. Lib-Dem council leader Liz Green commented: "We think they can act more commercially and become more efficient in the way they are run. No one is denying it is an asset. We want to work with them to look at how they use it."
But the National picking up one of their shows is an endorsement of exactly what they are doing. And as the theatre's chairman, Chris Foy has commented: "There is no simple model by means of which income from ticket sales or fundraising could simply be 'turned up' or the costs 'turned down' to compensate for the withdrawal of council support. If there were, we would have done it already."
Ian McKellen On Stage: With Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others and YOU