Orlando Bloom completes the transformation from movie elf to stage baddie in “Killer Joe.” Circolombia brings sexy circus to the Southbank.
Summer music festivals continue with Lionel Ritchie, Paloma Faith, Joe Bonamassa, Nina Kraviz and Sister Sledge performing on stages across the capital. For classical fans, there’s Wagner at Royal Opera House and “La Traviata” at Opera Holland Park.
It’s pretty much your last chance to catch dance spectacular “Xenos,” Katy Brand’s debut play “3Women” and the “Effigies of Wickedness” musical. The National Theatre’s epic “Absolute Hell” and the acclaimed “Quiz” are also coming to an end.
If you’ve missed those, get in soon to book for the next round of shows, such as Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival and the RSC’s “Imperium,” both previewed here.
Here’s a pick of the best performing arts in the British capital. 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.
At Royal Opera House, through July 1.
Wagner’s Romantic opera opened on June 7 in a new production by David Alden. Tenor Klaus Florian Vogt is joined by soprano Jennifer Davis, Thomas J Mayer is Friedrich and Christine Goerke is Ortud.
At Trafalgar Studios, through August 18.
The range of roles played by 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 Detective Joe Cooper, a policeman who is also an efficient contract killer. This Tracey Letts play originally started on the stage before being filmed with the tagline: “a totally twisted, deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story.” A Blouin Artinfo review can be found here.
At Underbelly Festival Southbank, through July 14.
After Circus Abyssinia’s lively “Ethiopian Dreams” show, the Underbelly Festival showcases more Edinburgh Fringe Festival stars. We get more gravity-defying stunts, done this time to throbbing Latin music. A Blouin Artinfo review can be found here.
Hampton Court Palace Festival
At Hampton Court, June 12 through 23.
This festival is ideal for a genteel summer evening rather than being for all-out rock fans. There is a firework display as the final event with the Royal Philharmonic on June 23. VIP gourmet dining packages are available for all the shows. Lionel Ritchie has already played on June 5 and 6 and he is back on June 9. Paloma Faith is on June 8, Joe Bonamassa on June 12 and Jools Holland on June 14. The Beach Boys perform on June 15 and 16. Later shows include Gary Barlow (June 19 and 20) and Sir Tom Jones (June 21 and 22).
At Boston Manor Park, Brentford, June 9 only.
This new one-day festival is a little way out of the center of town but it has a cool techno lineup of rising stars. Nina Kraviz, Adam Beyer and Joy Orbison are joined by La Fleur, Dana Ruh and more. If you don’t know them, many are worth getting to hear.
At Finsbury Park, June 9 only.
Southport Weekender is to dance what Junction 2 is to techno, with some well-known veterans added to the mix. Sister Sledge and Soul II Soul are on the bill.
Robert Smith’s Meltdown
At Southbank Centre, June 15 through June 24.
The Cure is really back in the news. The band is playing a show at BST Hyde Park and its leader Robert Smith is curating the Meltdown Festival, now in its 25th year. Previous curators include Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker and Yoko Ono. This year’s lineup starts in June 15 with The Psychedelic Furs and also includes The Libertines, Death Cab for Cutie, Manic Street Preachers, Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine and Suzanne Vega.
At the Gielgud, June 14 through September 8.
The Royal Shakespeare Company has won strong praise for its adaptation of “Cicero” by Robert Harris. Now it comes to London. Advance buzz is very positive. More details will follow in subsequent weeks.
LAST CHANCE TO SEE
At Sadler’s Wells, through June 9.
Akram Khan says that this will be his final show as a dancer. We may hope he continues as a choreographer at least. This performance is a breath-taking way to bow out anyway. The dance is a tribute to those who died in World War I, which of course ended 100 years ago.
At Trafalgar Studios, through June 9.
Katy Brand’s debut play has a lot of things to say about sex, sexuality, womanhood, drink, motherhood and more. Of the trio of women, Anita Dobson is especially impressive. In this show there is a lot of a talking, as the trio drink and chat before a wedding, and little dramatic action.
“Effigies of Wickedness”
At Gate Theatre, 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 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.”
At the Noel Coward, 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. Some matinees are also available in final weeks.
ALSO WORTH SEEING
At Southwark Playhouse, through June 23.
If asked to name a musical performed on roller skates, many people would say “Starlight Express.” The Andrew Lloyd Weber musical about a real-life train set is not the only show that uses the trick though. So it is good to see a revival of Kander and Ebb’s rival musical story. It follows the familiar plot idea of a venue, in this case a much-loved but shabby roller rink, about to be torn down by the developers. Think of the plot of “Rock of Ages” done with much better music. Then things really get rolling.
At Opera Holland Park, through June 23.
If you have never been to Opera Holland Park, then go. Even if opera is not your thing, the atmosphere on a fine summer evening is beautiful. The season opener is the opera’s first production of Verdi’s masterpiece in 10 years.
At Olivier, National Theatre, running through August 11.
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. A Blouin Artinfo review can be found here.
Various venues, through July 22.
The London International Festival of Theatre returns, with shows at the Barbican, Royal Court, Southbank Centre, Lyric Hammersmith and many more. Some of the most innovative are walking tours performed at secret locations. There is also South African singing, Singapore opera and 1,500 pigeons who take off at sunset with LEDs attached to their bodies.
Shakespeare’s Globe, through August 26
Purists have long been carping against casting directors changing sex, race or age of characters in classic plays. The politically-correct changes sometimes make little sense: black parents cast with white children or old people playing youngsters. These revisions can also work, as with all-female “Julius Caesar” or female King Lears. Gender swapping as was normal in the Bard’s time, with boys often playing girls. Now we have Michelle Terry bravely assuming the central role in “Hamlet” as she takes on the part of Artistic Director at The Globe. One wishes it well, though many would say that the Globe is best with Shakespeare plays done as authentically possible.
At Wyndham’s Theatre, 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.
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, booking through December 15, 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.
“Tina: The Musical (The Tina Turner Musical)”
At Aldwych Theatre, now booking through February 2019.
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.
“An Ideal Husband”
At Vaudeville Theatre, 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, 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.
“Bat Out of Hell: The Musical”
At Dominion Theatre, London, 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.
“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 Theatre Royal Drury Lane, booking extended through December 1, 2018.
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.” Dorothy Brock has been played by Sheena Easton and more recently Lulu, who is back on the West End stage after 30 years.
Click on the slideshow for images of some of the shows
Founder Louise Blouin