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The week ahead in London and beyond, April 22-28

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I often bemoan the state of cabaret in London – which is one of my favourite art forms, combining two of my passions: singers and songs. When put together in perfect harmony (so to speak), there’s nothing quite like it. Yet unlike in musicals, where you have competing distractions of sets, effects and storyline, cabaret can be an undiluted form of theatrical ecstasy, creating conditions of utmost concentration and rapport in the most intimate of environments.

And if there was nothing quite like Pizza on the Park’s cabaret room in the basement below the former restaurant at Hyde Park Corner, where I first discovered cabaret, there’s never been quite enough of it about since that venue met its demise.  But last October I happily welcomed the new Matcham Room at the Hippodrome Casino, which for a few short months suddenly filled the gap with adventurous programming that included such sublime cabaret nights as appearances by Adam Guettel, Judy Kuhn (whom I just saw the weekend before last as Fosca in Sondheim’s Passion at off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company), Maria Friedman (who has also coincidentally played Fosca in Passion!) and Kerry Ellis.

Alas, that regular programming strand has vanished as quickly as it arrived, and there are now regular residencies instead by the likes of the Polly Rae Burlesque Club and the Boom & Bang Circus. But I’m happy to say that I’ll also be back at the Hippodrome tonight, when John Partridge begins a week-long residency with his smooth crooning show Dames ‘n’ Dudes, in which he pays tribute to his personal icons from Bowie to Bush, Sinatra to Streisand.

Partridge is, of course, taking a week-long leave of absence from his current starring role in A Chorus Line – so if you want to see him in that, don’t go this week!

I will also be visiting my other favourite London cabaret room the Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel this week to see Liz Robertson in her first return to cabaret in nearly 30 years, as Michael Coveney blogged last week of his friend and former colleague with whom he appeared in amdram panto in the late 60s.

All that, and Othello, the return of The Weir, and Rent in concert: who says that going to London theatre isn’t eclectic? Oh, and there’s also the little matter of the Olivier Awards this Sunday, which I’ll also be at, and a day of discussion about critics that I’m also taking part in the day before at the V&A, as part of this year’s centenary celebrations of the Critics’ Circle.

Here are the night by night openings:

On Tuesday (April 23), I can’t wait to see the long-promised production of Othello starring Adrian Lester in the title role and Rory Kinnear as Iago, which Nicholas Hytner is directing at the National’s Olivier. Hytner, of course, previously directed Lester in Henry V on the same stage, and Kinnear as Hamlet and in The Man of Mode (both in the Olivier and for the latter of which he also won an Olivier!) and Southwark Fair at the Cottesloe. Kinnear, who is also fast emerging as the National’s favourite house actor alongside Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings, was also seen last year in The Last of the Hausmanns at the Lyttelton, directed by Howard Davies, who also directed him in Burnt by the Sun and Philistines there.

On Wednesday (April 24), Headlong’s new production of The Seagull, directed by fast-rising Blanche McIntyre, opens at Watford Palace after a run at Southampton, who are co-producing with Headlong and Derby Theatre.

Also on Wednesday, Idina Menzel – who will also be appearing at the Oliviers on Sunday – is at Hackney Empire for a live recording of a BBC Radio 2 Friday Night is Music Night Special.

On Thursday (April 25), Conor McPherson’s The Weir – first seen at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs in 1997 before going onto a long West End and Broadway life – returns to London for the first major production since then. Josie Rourke directs a cast that includes Brian Cox in a rare London stage outing, Ardal O’Hanlon, Dervla Kirwin, Peter McDonald and Risteárd Cooper.

Also on Thursday, the Finborough offers the European premiere of Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon’s Rooms, subtitled a Rock Romance, witih a cast that includdes Alexis Gerred and Cassidy Janson.

On Friday (April 26), the 20th anniversary concert production of Rent comes to Hackney Empire as part of a national tour – the 20th anniversary in question being not of its first full production but of its first staged reading in New York, which seems a little weird. Nevertheless, who can resist the chance to celebrate this great Jonathan Larson score, especially with a cast that includes Kerry Ellis and Superstar runner-up Rory Taylor?

On Saturday (April 27), the Critics’ Circle will be marking its centenary this year with a free public event under the title The Art of Criticism at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in which critics (myself included!) will take part in two panel discussions on what we do (in the morning, from 11am) and what the future may hold (in the afternoon).

And on Sunday (April 28), it is of course the big night for the Olivier Awards, being held at the Royal Opera House. If you’ve not got a ticket, you can go watch it live in the Covent Garden Piazza, where the dashing Michael Xavier and Claudia Winkleman will host a live stage including appearances from the four shows nominated for the Audience Award. Or tune into Radio 2 for a live broadcast of the full awards, or watch ITV1 for a highlights package later that evening.

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