The week ahead in London and beyond, February 25 to March 3
It’s a week of a dame and the Queen, drag queens, purple hearts, critics and actors writing plays and even the chance of me paying a return visit to Trafalgar Studios 2.
Yes, I know, you should never say never – I vowed never to go back after a trip I made there in January, and lo and behold this week brings a show I really want to see there! I am, at least, not inflexible (even as my body lacks flexibility at the moment and I face more spinal surgery a week tomorrow), but I also know I am going to have to slow down a bit (or rather a lot!) starting next week.
Tonight (March 4), Mies Julie – Yael Farber’s South African version of Strindberg’s play which transposes the play to a post-apartheid world in which a black farm labourer and his white master’s daughter’s encounter is played out – comes to London’s Riverside Studios, after having a great success on the Edinburgh Fringe last year and a subsequent run in New York.
Also tonight, the Finborough continues its reclamation of virtually forgotten plays with the opening of JB Priestley’s 1933 play Laburnum Grove, last seen in the West End in 1977, running Sundays to Tuesdays only to March 19. There’s obviously an appetite for these rediscoveries – the entire run is already sold out – and other theatres are now pursuing a similar policy, like Jermyn Street (see Friday below), to bring back the neglected past.
On Tuesday (March 5), Helen Mirren reclaims her crown as queen of the West End to play The Queen once again, for which she previously won an Oscar, in The Audience, a new play by Peter Morgan who also wrote The Queen. It is directed by Stephen Daldry, with a cast that also includes Haydn Gwynne as Margaret Thatcher (reuniting with Daldry for whom she played Mrs Wilkinson in the original stage production of Billy Elliott, which features a song celebrating Thatcher’s death), Nathaniel Parker as Gordon Brown, Paul Ritter as John Major and Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson.
Alas, those looking forward to seeing Robert Hardy reprise his signature role of Winston Churchill – from TV to the stage (in the ill-fated 1988 musical Always) – are to be disappointed; he withdrew last week after a week of previews, citing ill-health. He has been replaced by Edward Fox.
Also on Tuesday, the Gate offers the UK premiere of Bruce Norris’s Purple Heart, not seen anywhere since its 2002 premiere at Chicago’s Steppenwolf. The playwright has, of course, been regularly produced in the UK under Dominic Cooke’s watch at the Royal Court, who initiated his regime there by directing The Pain and the Itch, then presented the UK premiere of Clybourne Park that transferred to the West End, and will later this month bow out by directing the world premiere of The Low Road that he commissioned.
Also on Tuesday, Maria Friedman will begin a week of performances of songs by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein at Chelsea’s Pheasantry under the title Maria Friedman Sings ‘Lenny and Steve’, aocompanied by Jason Carr.
Wednesday (March 6) brings the world premiere of Philip Himberg’s Paper Dolls to the Tricycle, a new play with music adapted form the documentary film about a group of Filipino care workers for elderly Othodox Jewish men, who have another life as a drag act (the care workers, not the cared-for!).
Thursday (March 7) has novelist William Boyd making his stage writing debut with Longing, adapted from short stories by Chekhov. Nina Riane, who previously directed her own play Tiger Country at Hampstead in 2010, returns to direct Iain Glen, Tamsin Greig (whom Raine directed in Jumpy at the Royal Court and the West End) and John Sessions.
Also on Thursday, Jack Thorne’s Mydidae opens at Trafalgar Studios 2. I missed this play, set in a working bathroom, at its premiere at Soho Theatre last year, and am determined to catch it this time, so will have to put aside my dislike of this tiny, claustrophobically crowded basement hole to see it!
Also on Thursday, my esteemed colleague Jeremy Kingston, a long-time but now only occasional critic for The Times, sees his play Making Dickie Happy open at Covent Garden’s Tristan Bates Theatre, revolving around a meeting of Noel Coward, his boyfriend Tono, Lord Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten and a naval chum, and an anonymous Agatha Christie, in a post-First World War hotel.
Note for collectors: the production will also showcase a long neglected Noel Coward song Devon, ninety years since it was first written. Performed as part of Coward’s first review in 1923, the lyrics to the song only appeared in print around 1931 with no records of the music being ever being published. Through Coward’s last accompanist Peter Greenwell, the song is now being given a new lease of life.
Also on Thursday, director Tom Morris reunites with South Africa’s Handspring Theatre Company for the first time since their collaboration on War Horse for a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Bristol Old Vic, the theatre that Morris now runs. According to the theatre’s website, “Trees, objects and tools all pulse and tingle with the possibility of existence in a world that, thanks to the magic of Handspring, all objects are granted the right to life.”
Also on Thursday, actor, writer and director Scot Williams (who fulfills all three functions here) premieres his new play Hope at Liverpool’s Royal Court, with a cast that includes Samantha Womack and her husband Mark Womack, working together on stage for the first time together.
On Friday (March 8), Graham Greene’s 1953 play The Living Room receives its first major revival for over 60 years at Jermyn Street Theatre. Tom Littler directs a cast that includes Caroline Blakiston and Christopher Timothy in a play that about sex, sin and guilt.