Mark Shenton’s week: The critic’s version of Groundhog Day
While most theatregoers are able to choose which shows they see, critics are sometimes stuck in a professional loop of seeing the same plays again and again. It’s like we have our own personal Groundhog Day. In a 10-day period, no fewer than three major revivals of The Tempest are opening: the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new The Tempest at Stratford-upon-Avon opened last week; the Donmar’s all-female Tempest as part of its trilogy at King’s Cross this week; and the Print Room has yet another production of the play later in the week.
Likewise, I’ve seen three King Lears this year – in April, I reviewed one at Manchester’s Royal Exchange with Don Warrington in the title role, then in September another in Stratford-upon-Avon with Antony Sher, which has just transferred to the Barbican hot on the heels of the new Glenda Jackson version at the Old Vic. And, if I’d been really diligent, I could have also seen Timothy West at Bristol and Michael Pennington at Northampton this year, too.
Of course aficionados may welcome the chance to see these plays in multiple interpretations. For example, I’m really looking forward to seeing one of my all-time favourite musicals, She Loves Me, next month when it is revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory, even though I saw (and loved) a Broadway revival no less than three times earlier this year. I fell so comprehensively in love with that production that I even went to its final performance.
The fact is that it’s a critic’s duty to approach each production afresh, without the baggage of those past memories. It may provide useful context we can pass onto our readers, but they’ve come to find out about this production, in the here and now.
Letting the (Evening) Standard slip
I’ve already written about my response to the the celebrity circus that the Evening Standard Theatre Awards have become, and I seem to have touched a nerve. Actors, directors, producers and theatregoers have written, both publicly and privately, to thank me for speaking out.
One leading actress, herself nominated for an Evening Standard Award a few years ago, wrote to tell me of her own red carpet experience that year: “As I’m not famous, the staff wouldn’t allow me on to the red carpet because they didn’t know why I was there.” Her playwright told her to walk back around and tell them why she was there, and only then did they let her in. “Then I couldn’t understand for the life of me why we had to queue up to shake Evgeny and Anna Wintour’s hands before going in. I’d only ever had to do that previously for royalty. As I was new to that world I shrugged it off a bit thinking maybe you need to do that with all the wealthy and powerful. I wondered whether or not I should’ve curtsied.” Referring to the students who’d been invited to watch the spectacle from the top gallery of the Old Vic, she added, “It really disturbs me that impressionable students are witnessing this. I pour so much passion into communicating to them the value of integrity, artistry and perseverance.”
Hear, hear. Meanwhile another former winner also wrote to say, “As someone who has a few [ES Awards] under different editors (and proprietors), I particularly hate it because it devalues them! There are people in NYC demanding that the word Trump gets taken down from their buildings because of the shame they are feeling. Now I feel as if I should be putting my Evening Standard awards in the attic for the same reason.”
I’m also told of a close family connection between one of the winners and the judging panel that may have led to one of the more eyebrow-raising awards of the night. But I mustn’t say too much…
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s back in black
At least we can’t implicate the judges in the decision to award the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 45-year-old show Jesus Christ Superstar best musical, over new entries such as Groundhog Day, since the category’s winner is chosen by a public vote of Radio 2 listeners. But it certainly kicked off a great week for Lloyd Webber, whose latest musical School of Rock transferred the next night from Broadway to the West End to mostly rave reviews.
With Jesus Christ Superstar set to return to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre next summer, Lloyd Webber will have three musicals playing in London simultaneously – and with Sunset Boulevard heading back to Broadway (in a transfer of the production seen at ENO last summer), he will also have four shows running on Broadway simultaneously, alongside Phantom of the Opera (Broadway’s longest running musical), the return of Cats and School of Rock.
At 68, he remains both unstoppable and unbeatable.