The Week Ahead: Boris Johnson at the Park, Orpheus Descending and Follies reunions
As if Boris Johnson was not ubiquitous enough, he turns up on stage this week in a new play at the Park Theatre this week (which is in fact located in Jeremy Corbyn's constituency!)
A more welcome return to the London stage sees Ute Lemper appearing at the Arcola; while the Menier has a new production of a rarely-seen Tennessee Williams play. These are three Off-West End theatres proving that some of the most interesting work happens outside of the West End.
This Week in Theatre
Playwright Jonathan Maitland, who previously brought An Audience with Jimmy Savile to the Park, returns to the same address with a new play The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson, opening tonight (May 13th), receiving its world premiere in a production directed by Lotte Wakeham, recently appointed artistic director at Bolton's Octagon Theatre. (On Thursday, I'll be heading to Bolton myself to chair a public announcement of her first season launch).
On Reflection, a cast reunion by some members of the company of Follies that closed at the National on Saturday, comes to the South Bank's Spiegeltent as part of the Underbelly Festival, running from tonight (May 13th) to May 16th, including principals Janie Dee, Joanna Riding and Alex Hanson. In a press statement, Dee commented, "The experience of Follies has been epic. To celebrate and reflect on this incredible piece and the success of our production, we have put together a piece where we speak and sing individually about our lives and careers, and how Follies echoed and resonated. Sometimes hilarious and sometimes moving but always personal. We hope that you will come and join us to listen to the stories of dancers...singers...actors... who find themselves looking back after the show closes. Maybe elongating the moment before having to let go."
Rendezvous with Marlene, Ute Lemper's new show about a three-hour phone call she had with the late legend 30 years ago, opens at the Arcola on May 14th. In my interview with Lemper here, she asks aloud: "Am I the voice that speaks on for her, her angel of the future?"
Also opening on Tuesday, Roy Williams's The Firm, which originally had a sell-out run at Hampstead Downstairs last year, returns to re-open there on May 14th, with Denis Lawson directing a cast that includes Ray Fearon.
Tamara Harvey, leading the renewed Theatr Clwyd in Wales, brought the Olivier-winning comedy Home, I'm Darling to the West End earlier this year from Clwyd; now she brings her co-production of Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending to the Menier from Wales, opening on May 15th. The cast includes Hattie Morahan, Jemima Rooper and American actor Seth Numrich.
On Friday, Jethro Compton and Darren Clark's new musical The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald, opens at Southwark Playhouse for a run to June 8th.
Joanna Riding and Janie Dee reprise their roles of Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge respectively from Carousel, that they first played over 25 years ago at the National Theatre, in a new concert staging at Cadogan Hall on May 19th. They are newly joined by Hadley Fraser as Billy Bigelow, in a cast that also features Lucy Schaufer as Nettie Fowler, Gavin Spokes (recently in Company in the West End) as Enoch Snow and Stewart Clarke (currently in Fiddler on the Roof) as Jigger.
Top shows of the week
Charing Cross Theatre
I was seriously nervous when I reviewed Amour for LondonTheatre.co.uk and awarded it a five-star rave: might I find myself in a minority of one? In fact, I needn't have been so worried: though it provoked some dissent, as I wrote here. I happily concluded, "The show may be about a man walking through walls, but I was walking through air as I left the theatre."
The Lion King
There's no musical in the Disney kingdom quite like The Lion King which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in the West End. And long may it thrive: Julie Taymor's thrilling production applies a stunningly theatrical aesthetic to this now familiar story that surprises every time you see it.
Apollo Victoria Theatre
Another West End perennial is Wicked, a musical about the castings of spells that long ago cast its own over Theatreland and hypnotises audiences who have embraced it as not so much a musical as an event. But it also has a surprising political dimension, too: when the Wizard says, "Where I come from, everyone knows: the best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy", it's difficult not to think of Trump or Farage.
Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller plays are currently playing at either end of the Cut - at the Old Vic, there's All My Sons, while at the Young Vic, there's a brand-new production of Death of a Salesman, which puts black actors into the central family that it revolves around. As I wrote in my five-star review for LondonTheatre.co.uk, "Changing the race of the play's title character and his family both changes everything AND nothing. The play's the same; the players are not. And so you see the story completely afresh."
Henry IV Parts One and Two and Henry V
Reinventing the way Shakespeare's plays are cast, played and understood has long been part of the Globe's mission: to give a contemporary understanding of the plays through the filter of the past, in a space that recreates the environment that the plays would have premiered in. As I wrote in my review for LondonTheatre.co.uk, "The result is the best kind of Globe experience, and proves that when it comes to rigorous theatrical process that also breaks with traditional norms there's no place quite like it. Nor is there the kind of rapturous moment of connection that you get when Michelle Terry’s Hotspur addresses a speech directly to a young girl in her father’s arms in the audience. It's at times like this that you hold your breath and feel that you are in the greatest theatre in the world."
Last chance to see another critically divisive play, about privileged students seeking priority admission to elite universities, which ends its run on May 25. In my four-star review, I wrote: "This is a frequently furious debate play that swirls around issues of entitlement, white privilege and positive discrimination, and director Daniel Aukin's production keeps the tensions, arguments and counter-arguments flowing rapidly for an unbroken 1 hour 45 minutes."