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The week ahead in London and beyond, April 29 to May 5

Hadley Fraser (Sid Sorokin) and Joanna Riding (Babe Williams) in The Pajama Game at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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It’s a heavily musical week ahead, from the launch of the new Chichester summer season tonight with a new production of The Pajama Game to the UK premiere of Off-Broadway’s Bare, the return of Ghost to London, the transfer of the Menier’s Merrily We Roll Along to the West End’s Pinter Theatre and Ahrens and Flaherty’s A Man of No Importance in Salisbury. All that, and a hilarious one-man show about the writing of a flop musical, too… And the theatrical summer may also have arrived: not just because of a show at Chichester, but also the first opening at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Tonight (April 29), Chichester’s truncated summer season kicks off in the Minerva with opening of a new production of the 1954 Broadway musical The Pajama Game, with Richard Eyre directing the wonderful Hadley Fraser and Joanna Riding. It’s a musical I’ve previously seen in various revivals from Leicester Haymarket (where the late, great Mike Ockrent directed it) and Broadway’s American Airlines (starring Harry Connick Jr and Kelli O’Hara) to our little Union Theatre, and its story of union worker empowerment resonates each time. (It also has a terrific score, of course!)

The main house at Chichester is, of course, closed for a massive refurbishment, but a temporary 1,400 seater theatre tent called Theatre in the Park will be erected to house productions of Barnum and Tim Firth’s Neville’s Island in the summer.

On Tuesday (April 30), the threatened Union Theatre – one of London’s best theatres for enterprising young companies to stage new and classic musicals and this year’s Fringe Theatre of the Year in the Stage 100 Awards – offers the European premiere of the Off-Broadway show Bare. This is not the same incarnation that was recently seen at Off-Broadway’s New World Stages but returns the show to its original version.

The Union was recently given six months notice by its landlords Network Rail, but under pressure from outside including support by local MP Simon Hughes and a petition it may survive to fight another day – and stage another play. Many UK premieres have been staged at the Union, including Ahrens and Flaherty’s A Man of No Importance that was seen there in 2009 and subsequently transferred to the Arts in 2010. That show, coincidentally, gets another outing this week at Salisbury – see Thursday below.

Also on Tuesday, the big new tour of Ghost – the Musical returns to the London area, opening a two week season at Wimbledon Theatre through May 11, with a cast that includes Loserville discovery Stewart Clarke and Rebecca Trehearn as the central couple, and Wendy Mae Brown appropriately playing a character called Otis Mae Brown!

Also on Tuesday, Peter Michael Marino brings his irresistible solo show Desperately Seeking the Exit to the basement studio space at London’s Leicester Square Theatre. The show is a first-person account of his experiences of writing the book for the 2007 flop stage version of Desperately Seeking Susan, and I’ve previously written about it when I first saw it tried out in New York last year. He subsequently brought it to the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, where I saw it again.

And now it is finally London’s turn. It’s certainly a better show than the one it is about! I hope that Angus Jackson, who directed Desperately Seeking Susan, takes the opportunity to see it – though Marino is unsparing about the problems the show faced, he never blames any single person, and is actually quite forgiving and measured about how it all went wrong.

Also on Tuesday, Katie Mitchell brings her production of Fräulein Julie, staged with Leo Warner after Strindberg’s play Miss Julie, from the Schaubühne Berlin to the Barbican for a run through Saturday only. Fans and foes of Mitchell alike will recognise the sort of show it is likely to be from this description on the Barbican’s website: “Strindberg’s tragedy is reimagined for the multimedia age as theatrical performance and live filming techniques converge, lending fresh cinematic perspective to a classic story.”

On Wednesday (May 1), Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s fast 1981 flop Merrily We Roll Along gets its first proper West End run when the Menier’s Christmas production transfers to the Harold Pinter Theatre. (It previously had a run, of course, at the Donmar Warehouse when Michael Grandage directed it 2000, but this is its biggest outing in London yet). There’s a neat link to Pinter, too, since his own 1978 play Betrayal, like Merrily We Roll Along, rewinds from the ending to the beginning of the action.

Hopefully this will be the first stop, too, in getting the show back to Broadway, where its original run was for just 16 performances – and brought an end to the fertile creative partnership of Sondheim and director Hal Prince that had yielded shows like Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd in the previous decade. Though they subsequently reunited on Bounce in 2003 in Chicago and Washington DC, that show never made it to Broadway, but was subsequently reworked (and retitled) as Road Show, which John Doyle directed at New York’s Public Theater in 2008 and at London’s Menier in 2011. (Prince’s career will coincidentally be celebrated this week in London in A Night of 1000 Stars at the Royal Albert Hall – see Sunday below).

On Thursday (May 2),  Salisbury Playhouse open their new production of Ahrens and Flaherty’s aforementioned A Man of No Importance, a show previously seen at London’s Union Theatre in 2009 (see Tuesday above).  I can’t wait to see it again with such rising stars of English musicals as Fra Fee and Laura Pitt-Pulford.

Also on Thursday, the summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe opens officially with Jeremy Herrin directing The Tempest, in a production that features Roger Allam as Prospero (returning to the theatre where he won the 2011 Olivier Award for Best Actor for playing Flastaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2) and Colin Morgan as Ariel.

Also on Thursday, the prolific director/writer Rikki Beadle-Blair returns to Stratford East for his fourth play there Gutted. You can see me interviewing Beadle-Blair about the play here:

On Saturday (May 4), this year’s HighTide Festival of new theatre in Halesworth, Suffolk will offer a press day of some of its highlights. Now in its 7th year, this year’s premieres include Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Neighbours, co-produced with Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre, Chris Dunkley’s Smallholding, Prasanna Puwanarjah’s Moth and Luke Barnes’s Bottleneck. There are also visiting shows and events that include appearances by Roger Michell, Michael Frayn, Stephen Poliakoff and Louis de Bernière.

On Sunday (May 5), the Royal Albert Hall is host to the annual Night of 1000 Voices charity gala, this year celebrating the Broadway and West End career of Hal Prince (see Tuesday above), with a line-up that will include Heather Headley, Jason Robert Brown and Len Cariou.

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