The Week Ahead: Trevor Nunn and Jenna Russell back at the Menier, plus The View Upstairs at Soho
On Tuesday, Trevor Nunn returns to the Menier Chocolate Factory, where his current production of Fiddler on the Roof originated before transferring to the West End's Playhouse Theatre, to direct a more contemporary, recent Broadway entry: Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman's The Bridges of Madison County, which premiered on Broadway in 2014, and won its composer Brown two Tony Awards, for best original score and best orchestrations. Now Jenna Russell - last seen on the London stage last year in Fun Home at the Young Vic, and last seen at the Menier in Merrily We Roll Along - returns to play an Iowa housewife who falls unexpectedly in love with a visiting photographer (Ed Baker-Duly) while her husband and family are away visiting a state fair.
Also on Tuesday, another Off-Broadway musical The View Upstairs, focusing on a true story of a gay venue in 1970s New Orleans that suffered an arson attack, receives its London premiere at Soho Theatre. Written by Max Vernon and directed by Jonathan O'Boyle, it stars American actor Andy Mientus (best known for his TV appearances in Smash and Gone, who has also been seen on Broadway in Les Miserables and Spring Awakening, making his London stage debut), John Partridge, Declan Bennett, Victoria Hamilton-Barrit and Cedric Neal.
Then on Thursday 25th, Susie McKenna directs the great Sharon D Clarke and Clive Rowe (Olivier winners both) in a revival of the 1980 Off-Broadway songbook musical of blues songs Blues in the Night at the Kiln Theatre. It was originally seen in London at the Donmar Warehouse in 1987 in a production that subsequently transferred to the Piccadilly that featured a cast that included Maria Friedman and Carol Woods (who was Olivier nominated for it).
On Sunday (July 28th), the touring stage version of The Worst Witch (adapted from Jill Murphy's book by Emma Reeves, who also wrote the television version) opens at the West End's Vaudeville for a seven-week summer season until 8th September. Directed by Theresa Heskins, Reeves comments of her version, "We've created a brand new story as well as revisiting moments from the books."
Top five shows to see this week
A headliner cast, including the rare return of Clive Owen to the West End stage for the first time in 17 years, the London debut of Anna Gunn (from TV's Breaking Bad) and the sublime London stage regular Lia Williams, bring a piercing intensity to Tennessee Williams's 1961 play that subsequently became a film starring Richard Burton in 1964. In my review for London Theatre, I wrote, "As life's misfits find consolation and comfort in each other, I was truly moved."
The Broadway import has just announced that it is extending bookings for its West End run to 4th January. I've just re-visited its original Broadway production (that last week announced the homestretch of its own run there, to close after 1,544 performances on 5th January) to see Shoshana Bean, a big-voiced alumna of Wicked, in the title role. This has now made me determined to re-visit it in London, too, where Lucie Jones is now starring. As I wrote in my original review for London Theatre: "Here is an intimate everyday story of the power of workplace friendships and the joys of pie-baking - but not, as you might fear, full of sugar but also contains quite a lot of spice. There are real notes of anguish and entrapment felt as we follow the experiences of a diner waitress called Jenna, who can bake multiple varieties of pies - but also finds herself unexpectedly with a bun in the oven."
Closer to Heaven
Above the Stag
A welcome revival for the original electro-pop musical, originally seen at London's Arts Theatre in 2001, that was scored by the pop duo Pet Shop Boys, and has a book by Jonathan Harvey (who wrote the play Beautiful Thing and TV's Gimme Gimme Gimme). This high energy production reveals the show's anguished heart as well as relishing in its frequent excesses.
Last chance to catch the National's new revival of Gita Sowerby's 1913 play, starring Roger Allam as the dominating patriarch of a Yorkshire family, before it closes on August 3. As I wrote in my review for London Theatre, I wrote:, "It reveals yet again the enduring slow-burning and eventually churning, power of this play, and now places it firmly in the reclaimed, rather than lost, corner of world drama."
Last chance to catch this shattering and alarming stage version of Thomas Vinterberg's 2012 film Jagten, closing on 3rd August, which like the Almeida's earlier stage version of Vinterberg's Festen, revolves around child abuse. As I wrote in my review for London Theatre: "The ordinary terrors of the consequences of this false accusation, as Lucas's life goes into rapid freefall, are played with a shocking, desperate realism by Tobias Menzies... It's a gripping, unsettling evening - not easy to watch, but impossible to look away from."
Photo credits: View Upstairs (Darren Bell), Madison County (Johan Persson)