As London’s heatwave continues into August, there are many cool performing-art shows on offer. In music, the BBC Proms this week includes everything from folk to Bernstein, Mahler, Britten and Wagner. Specialist festivals in and around the British capital include 51st State, for US house music, and Eastern Electrics for electronic dance.
There are also some enticing new theater openings, including the latest play by “Posh” writer Laura Wade, called “Home, I’m Darling.” Regent’s Park is hit by horror plants in the form of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Brian Friel’s “Aristocrats” is previewing at the Donmar while another Friel play, “Translations,” is coming towards near the end of its run at the National Theatre. Meanwhile it is nearly your last chance to experience “Killer Joe” starring Orlando Bloom.
On the Shakespearean front, new openings include “King Lear” with Sir Ian McKellen and “Othello” with Sir Mark Rylance as Iago.
Other plays reviewed and recommended by this critic include “The Lehman Trilogy,” “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “Imperium.”
Many theater-goers may be in Edinburgh, of course. (See a preliminary pick of the festival here.) Still, the shows go on down south too.
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.
“Little Shop of Horrors”
At Regent’s Park Theatre, previews from August 3, opens August 10, through September 15.
Whether it is “Jesus Christ Superstar” for the last two years, “Porgy and Bess,” “The Sound of Music,” “Ragtime,” or “Crazy for You,” the open-air venue always stages a big, fun, summer spectacular. This year it is a revival of a famous horror musical.
At Donmar Warehouse, previews from August 2, opens August 7, through September 22.
The National Theatre has a play by Brian Friel, “Translations.” The Donmar joins with its third revival of the late writer’s work. This is one of his best scripts.
CONCERTS AND FESTIVALS
At Royal Albert Hall and other venues such as Cadogan Hall and Hyde Park, through September 8.
The musical festival continues to broaden its remit, to the delight of some and dismay of classical purists. Folk music takes center stage on August 3 with musicians including Julie Fowlis, The Unthanks and Sam Lee. On August 6, the Minnesota Orchestra marks Leonard Bernstein’s 100th-anniversary year with a concert of 20th-century American classics including Bernstein’s “Candide” overture. Of the more regular Proms classical fare, Mahler, Britten and Wagner are all on the program this week.
At Trent Park, Oakwood, Saturday August 4 only.
Trent Park is a country-house estate of some note in north London. Cockfosters is best known as the northern terminus of the Piccadilly line. Now they are becoming known for each year for becoming a new 51st state. This event celebrates US house and dance music. The 2018 roster is made up of well-known names such as Norman Jay and Trevor Nelson, plus others who should be better known such as Carl Cox, Masters at Work and Body & Soul.
At Morden Park, August 4 and 5.
DJs and electric artists abound in another specialist festival. The line-up includes Jamie Jones and AJ Tracey.
“Home, I’m Darling”
At National Theatre, through September 5.
Laura Wade made her name with “Posh,” the play seen as a satire of the David Cameron’s Etonian set, the Oxford Bullingdon Club and all its excesses. This new play is very different, shunting 1950s suburbia into retro reverse. One thinks of phrases such as “your dinner is in the dog.” Quite why anyone would want to give up the mod cons of today to revert to 1950s basics is another matter, but this is a subtle meditation on feminism, masculine power and more.
At Shakespeare’s Globe, opened August 1, through October 13.
This is in huge demand given the names alone. Sir Mark Rylance is Iago (arguably the most interesting and complex character) and Andre Holland is Othello. The director is Rylance’s wife Claire van Kampen. This is an outstanding version, beating for example the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse production of last year. Rylance, a former artistic director of the Globe, is particularly outstanding.
At Duke of York’s Theatre, through November 30.
Sir Ian McKellen, now 79, takes to the West End stage again, this time for the title character in King Lear. He previously said that this is likely to be his “last big Shakespeare part.” He earlier won acclaim in Jonathan Munby’s production at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2017, with a superb performance of Lear’s descent into madness. A Blouin Artinfo review of the London show be found here.
LAST CHANCE TO SEE
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.
“One for Sorrow”
At Royal Court, through August 11.
Cordelia Lynn’s story is a barbed look at tolerance and terrorism as seen through the eyes of a family that takes in a refugee and then struggles with the consequences.
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.
ALSO WORTH SEEING
“The Lehman Trilogy”
At National Theatre, playing in repertoire through October 20.
There are times when it seems hard to believe there is just one Sam Mendes rather than many clones, given the large number of shows he is involved with. Here he directs three fine actors — Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley. They play the founders of the financial giant Lehman and their subsequent heirs. The Italian writer Stefano Massini has written a three-part, two-interval show, reworked by Ben Power. We see the first Lehman arrive from Bavaria in 1844 and the bank’s rise, decline and fall. A Blouin ArtInfo review can be found here.
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”
At Noel Coward, through September 8.
Michael Grandage’s company is reviving Martin McDonagh’s play with Aidan Turner of “Poldark” in the main role. There is plenty of violence and the mad anti-hero manages to be convincing on how he can happily kill people and yet flip out when his beloved cat is badly treated. For a full review, click here.
At the Gielgud, through September 8.
The Royal Shakespeare Company has won praise for its adaptation of “Cicero” by Robert Harris. Now it comes to London. Epic two-part plays are everywhere: “The Inheritance,” “The Divide,” “Harry Potter” and now this one. They have nothing in common apart from their marathon length. For a full review, click here.
“Bat Out of Hell: The Musical”
At Dominion Theatre, London, booking through January 5, 2019.
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. The 2,000-seat venue has a lot of seats to fill. May this one run as long as “We Will Rock You.” It deserves to. Review of its previous incarnation here and interview with the stars here.
At the Bridge Theatre, through September 29.
Alan Bennett, 84, is in strangely familiar territory with a satirical look at a Yorkshire hospital’s battle for survival. (It is very apt amid the National Health Service’s 70th anniversary events and worries for its future.) It’s not-so familiar-territory in that this is at the Bridge, Bennet having moved with Nicholas Hytner from the National Theatre. Unlike most productions, this one did not offer a chance to review, so this critic is so far in no position to recommend it or not. It will sell out without much ado given Bennett’s national-treasure status, it is good he is still going. It had a few four-star reviews, though some critics have said it is not a patch on his best work such as “The History Boys.”
At Royal Court, through August 11.
The set looks like a picture-perfect village green, the sort of place where there is still honey for tea, the sound of leather on willow, summer birdsong and church bells. This is a Rory Mullarkey comedy though, almost theater of the absurd, and the whole allegory of genteel Britain is engulfed in apocalypse amid typical English profuse apologies for everything.
At Menier Chocolate Factory, through September 8.
The British premiere of the off-Broadway spoof hit has many selling points, not least that it is a lot easier to get to see than “Hamilton” itself. It makes marginally more sense though if you know the plot of “Hamilton” and sundry other musicals to get the preponderance of in-jokes.
“Exit the King”
At National Theatre, through October 6.
The Eugene Ionesco play is in a new version by Patrick Marber. The story has a 400-year-old king clinging for life, played by Rhys Ifans (“Notting Hill”) and Indira Varma (“Game of Thrones”) as his first Queen.
At Savoy Theatre, through January 12 2019.
The Motown musical, based on The Supremes, Shirelles and more, was first a hit on Broadway.
The Book of Mormon
At Prince of Wales, through October13
The plot has two missionaries arriving in Uganda to preach the Mormon religion. This is, let’s face it, not the strongest basis for a night out, let alone for one of the most successful musicals of all time with more than $500 million taken at the box office worldwide. Some people think it hilarious, however; others find it offensive and scatological.
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. Reviews have been mixed, while many would say that the Globe is best with Shakespeare plays done as authentically possible.
“A Monster Calls”
At Old Vic, through August 25.
This is a powerful combination of heart-rending plot and spectacular effects. This story about sickness and dreams and monsters is based on the novel by Patrick Ness, envisaged for stage by Sally Cookson.
“The King and I”
At London Palladium, through September 29.
This musical has got a lot going for it. The score is splendid; the Broadway production is big and glossy; it has star names in Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara. The show was written in 1951 but to criticize it for being outdated is to miss the point. One might as well criticize “Show Boat” and “Porgy and Bess” and dozens more. To the open-minded this is a magnificent show.
At Young Vic, through September 1.
A much-admired American musical adaption gets its British premiere, directed by Sam Gold though with a new British cast. The piece won five Tony Awards and is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel.
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.
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.
“Strictly Ballroom – The Musical”
At Piccadilly Theatre, extended through October 20.
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.” Matt Cardle is stepping into the role first written for Will Young. The bizarre collection of songs seems assembled randomly with no purpose but just to entertain: sometimes that is all that is needed.
Click on the slideshow for images of some of the shows
Founder Louise Blouin