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Unofficial festivals around town

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Sometimes you don’t need to ring-fence a city or a particular month of the year, or even publish a brochure, to make a festival.

While Edinburgh of course is now in full swing, with the official opening of the International Festival with tonight’s opening concert, the theatre in London is staging its own unofficial mini-festivals, produced by the happenstance openings of a bunch of similarly themed shows.

As Matt Wolf noted in a column for the International Herald Tribune, published on the New York Times website this week, something startling has happened to London theatre with the capital offering more plays with black themes  than this city has been seen in an age. The confidence and range suggests, he says, the current surge might signal a sea change that is here to stay.

From the largest of the National Theatre’s three playhouses to the commercial mainstream, and from a leading incubator of musical theater to various banner addresses off-West End, shows involving men and women of color have assumed pride of place to a degree that I can’t recall ever previously equaled in London — at least not in this quantity.

Matt was reviewing The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory (now, incidentally, sold out to the end of its run on September 14; can a transfer be in the offing?) and A Season in the Congo at the Young Vic, but also cited as evidence August Wilson’s Fences, being revived at the Duchess, James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner at the National, Cush Jumbo’s solo play Josephine and I at the Bush, and The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo, that just opened earlier this week at the Tricycle.
And there’s still The Scottsboro’ Boys to come to the Young Vic in October.

But as actor and director Femi Elufowoju tweeted in response to my tweeting of the feature,

I agree. And as regular readers of this column will also know from my championing of new and/or previously unseen musicals, I’d love it, too, if the current feast of studio musicals also became a habit. As well as the aforementioned The Color Purple, we’ve also got a remarkable production of Titanic at Southwark Playhouse that I’ve seen twice already and have also booked (and paid!) to see again: these two Broadway musicals are amongst many that we would not otherwise get to see here.

Next week there’s also a new British musical at the White Bear (The Last Ever Musical – also about trying to put on a show… or not), while this week Dougal Irvine premieres his latest show The Other School at the St James Theatre under the auspices of the National Youth Music Theatre.

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