This week brings new plays by Conor McPherson and David Edgar, as well as Daniel Radcliffe back to the West End in the third production of Michael Grandage’s West End season at the Coward, and the return of the annual free West End Live, showcasing shows in the West End and beyond, the Trafalgar Square next weekend.
On Tuesday (June 18), Daniel Radcliffe – an actor we’ve watched grow up in front of our eyes as Harry Potter before he made his West End debut six years ago in Equus at the Gielgud Theatre opposite the late, great Richard Griffiths – returns to the West End in a new production of Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play The Cripple of Inishmaan. Inbetween, he’s starred on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but Radcliffe is clearly trying to succeed in the theatre business by really trying different things each time he appears onstage.
For his first show Equus, Radcliffe went out on more than just a limb, flashing what Jeremy Austin in his review for The Stage at the time called “his other wand”, which drew a peculiarly personal review from Nicholas de Jongh, then the theatre critic of the Evening Standard, as I reported at the time. Now he’s going out on a limp to play the title character in McDonagh’s play, and it turns out it’s not just any limp, but one he’s specifically researched.
After a lot of research I landed on cerebral palsy as being a viable option because there is a specific kind of cerebral palsy called Hemiplegia, which affects one side of the body and not the other. It’s also a condition that can be apparent at birth. So then I had to learn about the mechanics of cerebral palsy and what that involves, why it affects the body the way that it does, and how people learn to live with it – they usually become incredibly skilful with their ‘good’ side. I felt it was important to make his condition specific, rather than attempting some generalised ‘cripple’ thing. To me, that is kind of offensive, to say, “oh well I’ll just do something a bit weird”, without looking into it at all. That’s not doing justice to people who are disabled or to the character that Martin wrote.
Also on Tuesday, the Royal Court’s Weekly Rep season as part of its #OpenCourt festival continues with New York based writer Lucas Hnath’s Death Tax, that will be directed by John Tiffany (former associate to the Royal Court’s incoming artistic director Vicky Featherstone at the National Theatre of Scotland, and currently represented in the West End by Once). I saw The President Has Come to See You, the first play in the season last week, and as much as I admired the endeavour, I found it harder to applaud the result — the play felt like a misfiring sketch of a political comedy about a fleeing president that didn’t land in any sense.
And I duly wondered whether it was a mistake to expose it – and Featherstone, in her Royal Court debut in charge of the theatre – to the full glare of the main house theatrical spotlight after such a short preparation and rehearsal time. Of course the process encourages us to make allowances and see things in a more forgiving light; but would the play have been worthy of a full production? I hope it’s only a starting glitch and not a sign of the plays to come.
Also on Tuesday, Wilton’s Music Hall will host a London date for the touring Four Farces, a quintet of one-act Victorian-era farces presented by European Arts Company.
On Wednesday (June 19), the Donmar Warehouse moves on from Josie Rourke’s revival of Conor McPherson’s best known play The Weir straight to the world premiere of his latest The Night Alive, that he will also direct. The cast includes Jim Norton (who was in the original Royal Court cast of The Weir and the National’s of McPherson’s The Seafarer in 2006) and Ciarán Hinds (who took over the role originated by Ron Cook in The Seafarer in London for its Broadway premiere in 2007, and also starred in McPherson’s film The Eclipse in 2010).
Also on Wednesday, Trevor Nunn directs a cast that includes Patricia Hodge, Caroline Quentin, Steven Pacey and Rory Bremner (in his straight acting debut) in Coward’s Relative Values, opening at Bath’s Theatre Royal.
On Thursday (June 20), Chichester’s Minerva Theatre premieres David Edgar’s If Only, a contemporary political play that is being directed by Angus Jackson. In an interview on Chichester’s website, Edgar is asked if it is needs to be continually revisited and rewritten, and he replies,
Would that it was just Thatcher’s death. The second act of the play is set in August 1914 and many things that I predicted happening between now and then (like the rise of UKIP) have already happened.
Also on Thursday, the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park offers the world premiere of Ross Ericon’s Casualties in its smaller Park90 auditorium.
On Saturday (June 22), Seth Rudetsky, interview host and piano accompanist to Patti LuPone’s return to London at Leicester Square Theatre this week, also presents his own solo show Deconstructing Broadway there for one performance only.
On both Saturday and Sunday, West End Live returns to Trafalgar Square for free live outdoor performances and appearances by the casts of most musicals currently running in the West End. A full schedule of who appears when is on the website.