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Mark Shenton’s theatre picks: June 11

A scene from The Motherfucker With the Hat with Chris Rock which ran on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus
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Last Sunday saw the presentation of the Tony Awards in New York, and of course British plays, players and other creative personnel were well rewarded. But the traffic isn’t all one way. Broadway plays and players regularly come this way, too. With The Elephant Man, which once played at the National Theatre in the ’80s, now back in the West End via a wholesale import of last year’s Broadway revival, the National now hosts the UK premiere of another Broadway play this week, while the fringe has a UK premiere for an Off-Broadway stage version of a Tennessee Williams short story.

The Motherfucker With the Hat – Lyttelton, National Theatre, London

The second word of the title of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2011 Broadway play may be blanked out on the Tube posters, but in New York they wrestled with it in more interesting ways. As Alexis Soloski reported in her review for The Village Voice at the time, “Perhaps the chief delight of The Motherfucker With the Hat lies in the struggle of various media outlets to convey its title, substituting MF, Motherf**ker, or, in the case of the Times, a long, tantalizing blank.”

In New York, it created an added sensation for starring Chris Rock. Here, Tricycle artistic director Indhu Rubasingham directs a new production, opening June 17. Now that we’re catching up with this play, at last, can we also get to see Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy that recently won him this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama?

One Arm – Southwark Playhouse, London

Donmar resident trainee director Josh Seymour directs the UK premiere of Moises Kaufman’s stage version of Tennessee Williams’s 1944 short story One Arm, originally staged at Off-Broadway’s Acorn Theatre in 2011, and now coming to open at Southwark Playhhouse on June 12. It tells the story of a young, damaged streetwalker – once a lightweight boxing champion – now turning tricks to johns (and the occasional Jane).

Hang – Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, London

The Royal Court offers the world premiere of Debbie Tucker Green’s latest lower-class play hang, with a cast that has Marianne Jean-Baptiste making her Sloane Square debut, opening on June 16. Jean-Baptiste was last seen on the London stage in The Amen Corner at the National, and was Oscar-nominated for best Supporting Actress for Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies. Hang is described as “a shattering new play about an unspeakable decision”.

Not a Game for the Boys – King’s Head, London

The King’s Head has a revival of Simon Block’s 1990s Royal Court debut play Not a Game for Boys with a cast that features TV comic Bobby Davro, opening on June 12. In the play, three cabbies seek small respite from their daily lives in a local table tennis league. If defeated, they face the unthinkable oblivion of relegation.

We Want You to Watch – Temporary Theatre, the National, London

The world premiere of We Want You to Watch, a play about pornography co-produced with RashDash, which has co-created it with rising playwright Alice Birch, opens on June 15 in the National’s Temporary Theatre.

Alistair McGowan and Charlotte Page in rehearsal for An Audience With Jimmy Savile. Photo: Helen Maybanks
Alistair McGowan and Charlotte Page in rehearsal for An Audience With Jimmy Savile. Photo: Helen Maybanks

An Audience with Jimmy Savile – Park Theatre, London

Jonathan Maitland returns to the Park, where his play Dead Sheep, about Margaret Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe was a recent hit, with another play based on real events, opening June 11. Alistair McGowan, leads the cast of the first play to explore what the press release calls “the most shocking sex scandal of our time”.

Maitland has commented that his play “uses material from multiple sources including books, transcripts of police interviews, witness statements and several official inquiries. It also uses testimony from face-to-face interviews given to me by survivors of abuse. Some scenes involving Jimmy Savile have been created but they use actual and paraphrased quotes from him over a period of 60 years… We understand people are appalled by Jimmy Savile but sadly it’s impossible to erase him from history. Far from glorifying his crimes, we are working closely with victim support groups and aiming to tell the story of those survivors who suffered abuse but went unheard.”

The Baker’s Wife – Drayton Arms Theatre, London

Stephen Schwartz may be best known for Wicked, Godspell and Pippin, but The Baker’s Wife – which closed en route to Broadway when it was first staged in 1976 – has a cult following thanks to its tremendous score that includes such songs as Meadowlark. Now it is revived at the fringe Drayton Arms, opening on June 16.

Judy – the Songbook of Judy Garland – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Louise Dearman in 'The Songbook of Judy Garland'
Louise Dearman in The Songbook of Judy Garland

Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft is joined by Louise Dearman, Rachel Stanley, The X-Factor runner-up Ray Quinn, Darren Bennet and Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Becky O-Brien (who sang Over the Rainbow in the audition) in a show that includes film clips and interviews with Garland herself, opening in Wimbledon on Tuesday as part of an extensive national tour.

The Gig – Union Theatre, London

One-night-only music event at the Union on Sunday (June 14) featuring West Enders Luke Newton, Dan Buckley and the incredible Tyrone Huntley (who I recently heard guesting with Scott Alan and Cynthia Erivo recently, and is in the cast of Memphis).

East is East – Brighton Theatre Royal, then touring

Outside London, a 16-week tour kicks off on June 11 at Brighton’s Theatre Royal for Sam Yates’s West End revival of Ayub Khan Din’s East is East, with Pauline McLynn now playing the matriarch, originally taken by Linda Bassett in its 1996 premiere (and the subsequent film) and Jane Horrocks at Trafalgar Studios last year.

Othello – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Company has a new Othello starring Hugh Quarshie in the title role, plus the RSC’s first black Iago from Game of Thrones actor Lucian Msamati, opening in Stratford on June 11. In an interview with The Guardian when the production was first announced last September, director Gregory Doran commented, “I know when I was watching it [in workshop] with a really good white Iago opposite Hugh I was thinking right, yes, I’ve seen this before terrific. But with Lucian, every line became freshly minted and it challenged the whole play in a way I found completely revelatory. It may be a completely crazy idea but I think it’s worth pursuing because in the end, as you watch it, you just watch two really, really good actors doing it and that is the major issue.” (He also stated that he’d been trying to get Quarshie to play Othello for 10 years – “Holby City is not an excuse!”)

The Driver’s Seat – Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Laurie Sansom adapts and directs a world premiere stage version of Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat for the National Theatre of Scotland, running from June 13 to 27. It revolves around Lise, an enigmatic young woman travelling alone to an unnamed European city, and searching for “the one”.

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