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Diary Dates: The week ahead in London (and beyond), February 11-17

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There are some auspicious openings this week, but none in West End houses though one or two are geographically situated there. The line-up includes the first in a projected four play series by the visionary Canadian theatre maker Robert Lepage, and lots of musicals – two with beloved scores but chequered production histories being reclaimed, a concert version of another Broadway show, and the transfer of a new musical from Glasgow.

Tonight (February 11) Robert Lepage returns to ‘real’ theatre making after a couple of Cirque du Soleil diversions, one of them the massive Ka (in permanent residence at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas), the other the touring show Totem. Playing Cards 1: Spades is the first in an internationally co-produced series of plays, each shaped around one suit in a deck of cards. According to the press release, it “makes brilliant use of his trademark theatrical wizardry and has been created exclusively for presentation in the round within the Roundhouse’s stunning main space.”

I’ve loved Lepage’s epics before, which have played everywhere in London from Riverside Studios (in the days when it was a vibrant producer and home for new work) to the National and Barbican (and have also seen both of those Cirque shows, too), but they’re often blighted by technical problems, so let’s hope the theatrical wizardry works this time. Set in the desert city of Las Vegas at the onset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is presumably drawn on Lepage’s own time spent making Ka there at around the same time: it opened in October 2004.

Also opening tonight there’s a chance to hear Lucy Simon’s marvellous songs for the 1991 Broadway musical adaptation of The Secret Garden again, with book and lyrics by playwright Marsha Norman, in a new concert staging at the King’s Head.

I love this score unashamedly, and remember fondly that Adrian Noble’s revisited version of the show premiering at Stratford-upon-Avon  in 2000, before transferring to the Aldwych in 2001, with the amazing Philip Quast as Archibald Craven. Quast has also earlier done the show in his native Australia in 1996, playing Neville Craven opposite Anthony Warlow’s Archibald (the latter of whom is now on Broadway playing Daddy Warbucks in Annie). Check out this YouTube clip of them singing ‘Lily’s Eyes’ from the score.

And also tonight at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio, there’s Bull, the latest from the prolific Mike Bartlett, with a cast that includes Adam James and Sam Troughton. I’m planning on catching it this coming weekend, when I am also going to sneak into the new touring production of The Full Monty ahead of its official opening next Monday.

On Tuesday (February 12), Watford Palace offers a revival of Equally Divided, a play by another prolific playwright Ronald Harwood, whose Quartet (with which it is published in the same 1999 Faber volume) was recently adapted as a film. The Watford cast includes the marvellous Beverley Klein, whom I’ve seen play everything from Mrs Lovett in Opera North’s production in Sweeney Todd to starring in the title role Michael John LaChiusa’s Bernarda Alba at the tiny Union in 2011.  She’s worth going far and wide to see, though I’m not sure I will actually make it to Watford, alas.

On Wednesday (February 13), I can’t wait to see the UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1969 flop musical Dear World, originally a vehicle for Angela Lansbury (who won the Tony Award that year for doing it), and now marking the London return of the amazing Betty Buckley, a Tony winner herself for originating the role of Grizabella on Broadway in Cats. That was choreographed by Gillian Lynne, and for this production they are being reunited – Lynne, now 86 and still fit as a fiddle, is directing and choreographing. I met them recently, and my interview with them both will run in this week’s copy of The Stage.

Also on Wednesday, the National Theatre of Scotland’s co-production of Cora Bissett’s musical Glasgow Girls transfers to Stratford East. Bissett’s last show co-presented under Stratford East’s auspices –but at a site-specific house in nearby Canning Town – was the sensational Roadkill that subsequently won a Laurence Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre.

This new show is based on the true story of seven teenage girls who are driven by a fierce sense of injustice to fight for the rights of the children of asylum seekers and succeed where adults and politicians have often failed. And according to Bissett, “It was working with a real story in creating RoadKill which fuelled my passion for creating drama based on real and current events.”

Also on Wednesday, the Rose Theatre in Kingston offers another take on Coward’s The Vortex with a cast that includes Kerry Fox and James Dreyfus.

On Thursday (February 14), the Barbican brings Théâtre de la Ville–Paris’s 2004 production of Ionesco’s classic Rhinoceros to London for three nights only as part of its Dancing around Duchamp season, which explores the work of Marcel Duchamp, his precursors, collaborators and the artists he influenced across music, dance, theatre, film and art.

On Friday (February 15), the Union Theatre’s already sold out production of Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice’s much travelled (and much travailed) musical Chess returns to London’s Union Theatre, in the latest revised version that was created for a Royal Albert Hall concert version in 2008 by Rice and Hugh Wooldridge.  I’ve written a lot about this show on this blog before, including here when that Albert Hall production happened – and I can’t wait to see it again now.

On Saturday (February 16), a new all-male girl group the Supreme Fabulettes bring their show (not to be confused with the Fabulous Singlettes, an Australian troupe that once included the brilliant Alison Jiear), to London’s Leicester Square. I’m even more intrigued, though, by their guest star – the gay porn star Johnny Hazzard, who can be seen in their Christmas video ‘You Ruined My Xmas’.

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