Mark Shenton’s top 6 theatrical holiday jaunts
It's summer and therefore time for holidays. Here's how I like best to spend my summer.
1. Provincetown, Massachusetts
Provincetown on Cape Cod probably counts as the personal favourite holiday destination. It has a rich theatrical and artistic pedigree – Eugene O'Neill wrote several of his plays here, and Tennessee Williams had a long relationship with the place (marked now with an annual September festival named after him in the town). Tony Kushner spends his summers here: as he told the Observer earlier this year, "It is very beautiful and being in a house rather than an apartment, away from New York’s overwhelming energy, is important. There is no place on Earth more gorgeous than Cape Cod – it is where Tennessee Williams finished The Glass Menagerie. It’s a place that has been central, in its strange way, in American arts and letters.”
The place is a magnet for Broadway theatre people – I regularly run into Broadway favourites here, some thanks to the Broadway seasons that are specifically programmed by the town's two main promoters, Mark Cortale at the Provincetown Art House and Rick Murray at the Crown and Anchor. This year I'll be seeing Cortale presenting Alice Ripley (original star of Next to Normal) and Melissa Errico in P-town, plus Chita Rivera in Cotuit, further down the Cape; in previous years, I've been thrilled to see people such as Audra McDonald in the close-up quarters of the Art House, and Alan Cumming and Neil Patrick Harris in the larger Town Hall.
2. New York
This is, of course, not a specifically summer destination – it's a year-round place and in fact the summer is a time I mostly try to avoid, from post-Tony Awards to early October, when the new season properly begins, as it can be so very hot. But the season, as its called, is now moving ever-forwards, with some August openings that I can't wait to see. Michael Moore is about to open his first solo Broadway show, The Terms of My Surrender (at the Belasco Theatre from July 28, opening August 10), in which he issues the challenge: "Can a Broadway show take down a sitting president?" The show will also seek to explain "once and for all, how the fuck we got here, and where best to dine before crossing with the Von Trapp family over the Canadian border”. Later in August, Broadway's most celebrated producer/director Hal Prince – with some 21 Tony awards to his name in his 60-plus year career – is honoured in Prince of Broadway, a retrospective of his work that includes fully staged songs from shows that he worked on including West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Evita, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd and The Phantom of the Opera (at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre from August 3, opening August 24). So I'll be there in August.
I have a very conflicted relationship with Edinburgh. I first started going to the annual artistic jamboree when I was a student in 1984 and thought it was a bit of theatrical heaven: where else in the world can you start seeing shows at 9am and carry on watching them back-to-back till the early hours of the next morning? As a spectator, it’s easily possible to see six or seven shows a day. But it's also not advisable. Saturation is quickly reached. And this is a festival where you can never hope to see it all, let alone a fraction of what's on: there are more than 3,000 shows now compressed into its three weeks. So Edinburgh became a place of mounting anxiety to me – even now, as I pick up the Edinburgh Fringe programme (the size of a telephone directory of old with dense, tightly packed information for all of those 3,000-plus shows), I experience a churning sense of dread. So much so that I simply stopped going a few years ago: it was an experience of diminishing returns, and finding the few gems among the dross was too much of a challenge. Besides, I told myself, the best shows would find their way to London, anyway. But last year I took myself back for just two nights and saw six shows. It was one of the best Edinburgh experiences I've ever had. I knew I had limited time, so I simply saw the handful of shows I really wanted to see (plus a wildcard to fill an available slot, which was a reminder of the dangers of putting a pin in the brochure and hoping against hope to come up with a gem). However, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the UK (if also one of the frequently wettest) so this year I'm returning for a full week.
It's not exactly a holiday destination, since it’s just an hour and a half or so from London, but the cathedral city of Chichester is an essential date – or several of them – in the theatrical calendar every summer, as the Chichester Festival Theatre plays out its annual season. Now under the stewardship of Daniel Evans, I'm looking forward to trips to see Fiddler on the Roof (running now) and Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests (from September 18), plus a new James Graham play Quiz in the Minerva from November 3.
5. Minack Theatre, Cornwall
There is hardly a more beautiful or arrestingly sited theatre in the entire world than the Minack in Cornwall, with a vista of the sea behind the stage. This August I'm contemplating a trip there to see the British Theatre Academy presenting Gypsy, from August 28 to September 1.
6. Kilworth House, Leicestershire
I've just paid my first visit to Kilworth House, to see its production of Kiss Me Kate (closing July 16) and I've fallen instantly in love with it. This is an outdoor theatre with a difference – you know you are outdoors, but its entirely covered, so you have none of the anxiety of, say, an evening at London's Regent's Park Open Air Theatre that rain might stop (the) play. The annual summer season is this year celebrating its 10th anniversary – and this musical theatre version of the country house opera (as represented by the likes of Grange Park Opera) is a real treat. I'll be back for Top Hat in August for sure now.