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Diary dates: The Week Ahead in London (and beyond), February 4-10

A scene from Midnight Tango at the Aldwych Theatre last year. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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You can’t go back home again, they always say, but last week saw the return of producer Michael Codron to the West End – his professional home for the last half century or more – with what he has said is his swansong, with a new production of a play he first produced there in 1981 Quartermaine’s Terms. I paid tribute to his legacy and influence in my Stage review last week.

And this week starts tonight (February 4) with another legendary figure Max Stafford-Clark also returning home, or at least to a play he first gave flight to twenty-five years ago at the Royal Court when he was artistic director there: Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, which Max’s own post-Royal Court company Out of Joint has now revived on tour and is bringing to open at London’s St James’s Theatre. I can’t wait to see it again, and hope that it also coincidentally gives the St James the first hit show it so sorely needs. Last Friday it was already announced that it has extended its run by a fortnight, so that bodes well.

The St James is full of potential, of course, as the kind of medium-sized auditorium of an off-Broadway house that we sorely lack over here for commercial bookings; there’s also a nice upstairs restaurant to make the evening complete, and a studio space, too, that is becoming a useful cabaret outpost, though I’ve not been there yet. I’ll actually be at the St James twice this week, as I’m also heading there on Sunday (February 10) to see Sheytoons, the informal musical collaboration of stage stars Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser.

They’ve worked onstage together for years, ever since Hadley first appeared as Marius in Les Miserables back in 2002 and Ramin was covering Enjolras; eight years later, they would be in the 25th anniversary celebration at the 02 as Grantaire and Enjolras respectively, then take over as Javert and Enjolras in the West End. And they were also in the Phantom’s 25th anniversary together – Ramin in the title role, and Hadley as Raoul.

Tomorrow (February 5) sees Antony Sher returning to the National Theatre in Carl Zuckmayer’s The Captain of Köpenick, first staged in Germany in 1931 and now being staged in a new version by Ron Hutchinson by former RSC artistic director Adrian Noble in his NT directing debut. Noble’s famously left the RSC with a legacy that included voluntarily exiting them from their valuable London home at the Barbican without anywhere to go to.

The company has still not fully recovered as it remains homeless ten years later, but it was recently revealed that it will be returning there later this year with new artistic director Gregory Doran’s production of Richard II with David Tennant in the title role. So it is intriguing that Noble is now finding himself a new temporary home at the National, with one of his former RSC stars, too. (I only hope it is better than Sher’s last outings there with the awful Travelling Light, which I reviewed here at the time).

Also on Tuesday, dreamthinkspeak bring In the Beginning was the End, their latest, large-scale site responsive promenade production to Somerset House. Inspired by Leonard da Vinci, the Book of Revelation and the world of Mechatronics, I’m not sure I’m ready for this just yet: though I’ve not bored you yet with tales of my ongoing back and hip issues, the pain has now moved to the right hand, unoperated side.

So I’m off for a spine injection on Tuesday morning, so that evening may be too soon to schedule a promenade show. Besides, I am also nervous of a return to a dreamthinkspeak production at Somerset House anyway; the last time I saw one of their shows there – Don’t Look Back in 2003 – I got trapped in a lift in a particularly dishevelled part of the building, and feared never getting out again!

But if I wanted to see how spines and hips should really move, I could also return on Tuesday evening to Midnight Tango, the dance show returning to the West End to play a short season at the Phoenix as part of a national tour. I saw it the last time around when it played the Aldwych; this time the cast includes Russell Grant, now reunited with Flavia Cacace, his dance partner from TV’s Strictly Come Dancing – and the producers have moved the opening from Monday to Tuesday to coincide with his birthday that day.

Wednesday (February 6) sees Dickens’s Great Expectations improbably making its West End stage debut as a straight play at the Vaudeville. There have, of course, been prior adaptations of the story as a film, TV drama and stage musical (there’s a cast album available of a version by flop king Mike Read and Christopher G Sandford available that starred Darren Day at Theatr Clwyd in the 90s).

It has been adapted for the stage by Scottish playwright Jo Clifford, who has previously written approximately 80 plays. As John Clifford, his work with the Traverse Theatre included Losing Venice (which won a Fringe First in 1985), Lucy’s Play, Playing with Fire, Inés de Castro and Light in the Village.  Since transitioning to Jo, she has continued writing, notably Faust Part One, Faust Part Two and Every One for Royal Lyceum Edinburgh. She has also adapted The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard for Theatre Alba (Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2010 and 2011).

Also on Wednesday, Clare Duffy’s Money the Game Show puts the financial crisis under the spotlight at the Bush, staged as a high stakes betting game in which the audience, playing with £10,000 in real pound coins, are invited to place long, short and hedge bets. I only hope that the financially beleaguered Bush are not giving that money away!

On Thursday (February 7), Shakespeare’s Globe are formally announcing their season for 2013: last year is going to be a tough act to follow, with The Stage naming them London theatre of the year in our Stage 100 Awards and the theatre also winning the Critics’ Circle special award for their Globe to Globe season.

But we already know from the invite to the launch that classical trumpeter Alison Balsom, twice named Female Artist of the Year at the Classic BRIT Awards, will be appearing in Samuel Adamson’s new play Gabriel at the Globe this summer. Adamson is having a busy year; he’s also co-written The Light Princess, a new musical that he has provided book and lyrics to Tori Amos’s music and lyrics that Marianne Elliott is directing at the National in October, with a cast that includes the fantastic Rosalie Craig and Clive Rowe.

Also due to be announced on Thursday are new plays by Ché Walker and Jessica Swale, respectively The Lightning Child (a modern, anarchic take on Euripides) and Blue Stockings (the director’s debut play which tells the story of the first female students at Cambridge University and the prejudice they faced at the turn on the twentieth century).

On Friday, there are multiple fringe openings for two musicals and two plays. At Jermyn Street Theatre, there’s the first full run for Ivor Novello’s Gay’s the Word since it was first premiered in the West End in the 1950s, in a new production directed and choreographed by Stewart Nicholls, based on a short run of Sunday and Monday performances that was presented at the Finborough last year. A cast of 20 includes Sophie-Louise Dann (before she goes to Paris to star at the Châtelet as Dot/Marie in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, opposite Julian Ovenden as George/Georges, in April).

Also on Friday, the enterprising Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre in Walthamstow are giving a rare outing to Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash and SJ Perelman’s 1943 Broadway show One Touch of Venus. I have been pleasantly surprised in the past by the quality of shows here, including of Howard Goodall’s Girlfriends and a separate compilation revue of his work, plus one of Kander and Ebb’s Flora The Red Menace, so this one might be worth collecting – if I can find the time!

On the fringe plays front, Paul Robinson opens his tenure on Friday as sole artistic director at Battersea’s Theatre 503 with Desolate Heaven, a debut play by Ailís Ní Ríain who recently won the Tom Erhardt Peggy Ramsay Award for this work. The cast includes award winning Irish actress Brid Brennan (who won the 1992 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Dancing at Lughnasa).

Also on Friday, Richmond’s Orange Tree will be offering the UK professional premiere of Gita Sowerby’s The Stepmother, written in 1924 but lost since. By coincidence, her more celebrated Rutherford and Son is also being revived this week by director Jonathan Miller for Northern Broadsides, running at their Halifax home The Viaduct from February 8-16 (with press performances on February 13 and 14), then touring, with the company’s artistic director Barrie Rutter as John Rutherford.

Though this column concentrates mainly on London openings, other regional openings of note this week include a revival of Willy Russell’s One for the Road, opening on Tuesday at Northampton’s Royal, as the last production to be directed by Laurie Sansom before he departs to take over the National Theatre of Scotland, and a new national tour kicks off on Saturday at Manchester’s Opera House for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, with Jason Donovan reprising his West End performance as Tick.

Tomorrow: Headlines and Quotes of the last week

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