Two major festivals lead performing-arts events in London this coming week. There is the return of LIFT, also known as the London International Festival of Theatre. The new All Points East brings stars such as Björk, Lorde and Nick Cave to Victoria Park. The festival’s opening headliners are LCD Soundsystem and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Among theatrical previews starting up, Orlando Bloom stars in “Killer Joe,” and the National Theatre stages the Brian Friel masterpiece “Translations.” (Full Blouin Artinfo reviews will follow on both of those after press nights.)
It’s also your last chance to see the sublime “The Ferryman”; “The Inheritance”; Ella Hickson’s “The Writer”; and Circus Abyssinia at the Underbelly Festival.
The format of these weekly short capsule previews is to list newly opening and one-time shows; others highly recommended, and those near the end of their run. We also continue to review the best and most noteworthy in depth and separately.
Various venues, Friday May 25 through July 22.
The London International Festival of Theatre returns, with shows at the Barbican, Royal Court, Southbank Centre, Lyric Hammersmith and many more sites. Some of the most innovative events are walking tours performed at secret locations. There is also South African singing, Singaporean opera and 1,500 pigeons who take off at sunset with LEDs attached to their bodies in an event called “Fly by Night.”
All Points East
Victoria Park, May 25 to June 5.
The first really big music festival of the summer in London is a new one. Victoria Park has lost Lovebox, which moves to Gunnersbury, but now has this event with stars including Björk, Nick Cave and The xx. The lineup for May 25 includes LCD Soundsystem (pictured above), Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix and Young Fathers. There are there days of music festival and other days with a wide program of other events.
At Trafalgar Studios; previews from May 18, press night June 4, through August 18.
The range of roles played by Hollywood star Orlando Bloom continues to broaden after his time in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies plus “Pirates of the Caribbean.” This time he is back on stage as Detective Joe Cooper, a policeman who is also an efficient contract killer. This play by Tracey Letts originally started on the stage before being filmed with the tagline: “a totally twisted, deep-friend Texas redneck trailer park murder story.” It will be interesting to see how this translates to London. A Blouin Artinfo review will follow.
At National Theatre, previews from May 22, press night May 30 and running through August 1.
To his admirers, the late Irish writer Brian Friel is as good as some of the greatest playwrights, such as Harold Pinter. This play is a clever take on cultural imperialism. British officials are on a visit to a tiny rural community. The mission is to Anglicize Irish names. For example, Baile Beag, meaning small town, becomes Ballybeg. The locals are less than thrilled. Colin Morgan and Ciaran Hinds star in a version which may tweak historical accuracy. A Blouin Artinfo review will follow. (Photo above Michelle Fox in rehearsal).
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
At Neil’s Jazz Club, May 17 only.
This a cappella male choir has been going more than 50 years. The singers’ way of capturing the spirit of South Africa with complex harmonies and uplifting songs attracted Paul Simon to recruit them for his “Graceland” album. They have been touring and recording around the world. You might have seen them in April for The Queen’s 92nd Birthday Party at the Royal Albert Hall in April. If not, here is another chance to see the group in a smaller venue.
LAST CHANCE TO SEE
At Almeida Theatre, through May 26
The Almeida continues to be one of the go-to places for sharp and brave new writing. Arguably there is little more courageous or sharper than a play which caustically comments on the same new writing and theater. Ella Hickson’s work could be seen as just navel-gazing for the thespian world. It is easily saved by some barbed dialogue and the starring role of Romola Garai.
Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams
At Underbelly Festival Southbank, April 6 through May 20. The festival runs from April 6 through September 30.
The Underbelly Festival is now in its 10th year and has its usual impressive line-up of shows with a fair smattering of circus acts. The likable performers in this show perform some daring stunts. A full review is here on Blouin ARTINFO.
At the Gielgud, now extended booking to May 19, 2018.
This critic gave it five stars, but so did nearly everybody else too, it seems. The best play in London at present. Jez Butterworth nails another dance of life and death in a “Jerusalem” transported to Ireland. This three-hour epic won the best play, best director (Sam Mendes) and best emerging-talent gongs (Tom Glynn-Carney) in the Evening Standard Awards – booking sold out even faster after the Oliviers. Given its wins this month – with Delfont Mackintosh messaging to say it must end – it seems complete artistic and commercial madness to take it off. It has already had cast changes. Why not consider further changes and keep it going? One hopes it returns soon. Click here for a review.
At Young Vic, though May 19
There is some serendipity in Manhattan getting a new staging of the two-part “Angels in America” transferred from London’s Royal National Theatre. Tony Kushner’s 1993 epic play was of course about AIDS and gay relationships. Now Matthew Lopez has written a similarly marathon two-parter on the same theme, suitably updated. Comparisons with the earlier work should be contained because this is inspired by the novel “Howard’s End,” by E.M. Forster. Vanessa Redgrave stars, but only in Part 2.
ALSO WORTH SEEING
“All Or Nothing”
At Ambassadors Theatre though June 2
The musical celebrates Mod culture of the 1960s East End via the band The Small Faces. It’s not as fun as the Kinks “Sunny Afternoon” musical — which has hit after hit — and the linking dialogue is clunky. It has its moments though. The band’s finest songs include “Itchycoo Park,” “Lazy Sunday,” “All or Nothing,” and “Tin Soldier.”
At Old Vic, through Saturday June 6
The title is apt. Here we have two moody protagonists from the world of music, both with their own ego issues and other problems. One is a middle-aged star, Bernard, who has a comeback thanks to young singer-songwriter Cat. Ben Chaplin and Seana Kerslake take on the roles of an odd couple having to work together while battling through lawyers on who should take the most credit.
At Arcola Theatre, through June 2.
Theater drama from the time of Shakespeare on is often about words over actions, and speeches are king. This work is an aberration. The characters have plenty to say in soliloquies aimed at the audience, not addressed to each other. This stage version makes more sense than on the radio, where it was first heard, though Mike Bartlett always intended it for the theater. This is definitely worth seeing for fans of Bartlett, whose hits include “My Child,” “Cock,” “Bull” and “Doctor Foster.”
At Wyndham’s Theatre, previews from May 4, opens May 15, through July 28
Mark Rothko had a fascination with color, as we all know. Apart from the burgundy and brown of the Seagram works, he also liked psychedelic yellow — then in his later years, dull graphite. London audiences may recall the obsessed artist in “The Fast Show” TV comedy with his aversion to black. Here we are into red, in more ways than one, courtesy of John Logan’s drama starring Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch and staged by the Michael Grandage’s company.
“Effigies of Wickedness”
At Gate Theatre, previews from May 3, press night May 14, through June 9
This work sits between play, opera and musical – more like cabaret really. Which is not surprising because it is an ingenious reincarnation of the sexy Weimar clubs, with their subversive songs that were banned by the Nazis. The wicked work is a production with English National Opera directed by Ellen McDougal.
At London Coliseum, from April 26, opens May 1, through June 2 only
Last year, the Coliseum did a short run of “Bat Out of Hell” leading to the show’s permanent return to London. Now we have “Chess” at the Coliseum for a short run from April through June. Whether this leads to more remains to be seen, but this is the first major West End revival for “Chess” in 30 years. The stars this time include Michael Ball, Alexandra Burke — who is given a new song for her role — and Murray Head. The music of course is by Tim Rice and ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. This is spectacular and topical, both with its comments on US and Russian Cold-War relations and coming as ABBA reunites. The big-lunged cast does a fine job and “I Know Him So Well” remains the standout. Ultimately the musical has been getting mixed reviews, but it’s certainly worth seeing once at least to file under “been there, done that.”
At Phoenix Theatre, Covent Garden, through October 6
Not quite a new opening of course. This is the 1997 production of the Kander and Ebb 1975 musical that is back in London after a tour. Basically it has been going strong for decades. Now Cuba Gooding Jr is Billy Flynn. The show has dance, song, a breathless murderous plot, lots of girls in fishnets and guys in hats. It’s not quite as hot as it was, but if you haven’t seen it – do give it a go. Gooding is especially impressive.
At Victoria Palace Theatre, through July 28, 2018.
The first thing to say is “Hamilton” is a huge Broadway hit, with plenty of political relevance even now, and even with unofficial Off-Broadway spin-offs such as “Spamilton” for those who can’t get to see the real thing. The second thing to say is that this rap musical is a superb show. Third, it’s not easy to get tickets and, if you do, expect tight ID checks, with original card and government photo ID needed. But it is worth it. The British production works well.
“An Ideal Husband”
At Vaudeville Theatre, previews from April 20, opens May 3, through July 14
Oscar Wilde’s comedy gets a nice twist in this production by starring a real-life father and son: Edward and Freddie Fox. The play is undoubtedly one of Wilde’s finest and might have had more initial success had he not been arrested for gross indecency during its opening run. It is studded with Wildean epigrams such as “to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance” and “morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.”
“Strictly Ballroom – The Musical”
At Piccadilly Theatre, from March 29, opens April 24 through July 21.
Like “Bat Out of Hell,” this is a very strange musical with a weird plot and many bizarre scenes. It is also a Romeo-and-Juliet type story of star-crossed lovers. It is based on Baz Luhrmann’s movie “Strictly Ballroom.” Will Young does most of the big singing in a role written especially for him. The bizarre collection of songs seems assembled randomly with no purpose but just to entertain: sometimes that is all that is needed.
At Lyttelton, National Theatre, through June 16
At the time of his death in 1991, Roddy Ackland was a well-enough-known and prolific playwright, not as highly rated as his friend Terrence Rattigan. “The Pink Room” in 1952 was a large-cast play - a satire set in a private club at the heart of seedy Soho in 1945. It was a flop and nearly brought Ackland’s career to a halt. Ackland tried rewriting it as “Absolute Hell” in 1987. After his death, the National Theatre staged the new version and it has gradually gained a reputation as a little-known classic. Here is another NT production– not starring Judi Dench this time but Kate Fleetwood, who was at the NT last year in the moving “Ugly Lies the Bone.”
“Bat Out of Hell: The Musical”
At Dominion Theatre, London, from April 2, opening April 19, booking through July 28, open-ended run.
The Meat Loaf musical is back in town for a long run after sell-out dates last year in a short period at the London Coliseum. The songs are as over-the-top as possible and the plot is crazy. As a piece of fun spectacle it is hard to beat. Review of its previous incarnation here and interview with the stars here.
“Tina: The Musical (The Tina Turner Musical)”
At Aldwych Theatre, March 21, opens April 17; through June 17
With rock musical bios still doing well over the last few years – Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Queen, the Kinks, ABBA, Carole King and many more – a work covering Tina Turner’s life makes perfect sense. This London production is the world premiere. The girl from Nutbush, her strained marriage, her fight against prejudice and abuse all sit with songs such as “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Proud Mary,” “The Best,” “River Deep Mountain High” and “Better Be Good To Me.” Turner is played by Adrienne Warren.
“The Moderate Soprano”
At Duke of York’s, though June 30
This is a David Hare transfer from the Hampstead Theatre, increasingly an incubator of plays that move into town. The play gently draws out the story of the founding of Glyndebourne by country-house owner John Christie and his young soprano wife. It is about as English as cucumber sandwiches with high tea by the croquet lawn, or indeed Glyndebourne itself.
At the Noel Coward, from March 31 through June 16.
All change at the Coward, which has moved from the All-American “Girl From The North Country” to “Quiz” (to be followed by “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”) James Graham’s “Quiz” looks at the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” through the trial of Major Charles Ingram, who was accused of cheating his way to the top prize with a coughing accomplice in the audience. The play also examines other TV quiz shows as part of the build-up. Its London transfer comes after premiering at the Minerva, Chichester. The play was extensively rewritten based on the out-of-town feedback and is now something of a must-see.
At Theatre Royal Drury Lane, booking extended through May 31.
Another Broadway blockbuster. “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” dream along with “Lullaby of Broadway,” hope along with “We’re In The Money,” and hum along with “I Only Have Eyes For You.”
Click on the slideshow for images of some of the shows
Founder Louise Blouin