Autumn Theatre in London
Neon lights glimmering through mizzling rain. Friends and couples spilling from Chinatown restaurants into the early evening darkness. Giant posters advertising ambitious new musicals. Dripping umbrellas left at the door of Soho bars, as the luvvies roll in from successful openings or disastrous press nights, congratulating or commiserating with each other. Autumn is the time when the West End comes into its own.
29th September 2006 - 28th October 2006
Having first impressed British audiences with their silly but undoubtedly impressive acrobatic version of 'Romeo and Juliet', Vesturport Theatre returned to London last year with a critically-acclaimed version of 'Woyzeck' that mixed graceful physicality, Gothic terror and brutal nihilism.
The same team who worked on 'Woyzeck' have reunited on this new work, with the music coming from the twisted mind of Nick Cave and former Bad Seed Warren Ellis. The story is Kafka's blacker-than-black comedy about a very ordinary family whose son Gregor inexplicably transforms into a giant cockroach.
Vesturport delight in the grandiose and the grotesque, slipping from one wild excess to another in shows that mix theatre, rock opera, dance and acrobatics. This is the grand theatre of the repulsive, and should be a spectacle unlike anything else.
14th November 2006 - 17th March 2007
Esme Allen is an actress at the top of her profession - wealthy, respected and in love with the stage. When her daughter visits with a new trophy boyfriend, a tragic series of events are triggered which, over sixteen years, tests their warm and loving relationship to the limit.
The first production of this play, in 1997, offered audiences the impressive triumvirate of writer David Hare (just then reaching the height of his powers), director Richard Eyre and lead actress Judi Dench. It was, not surprisingly, a huge success, both in the West End and on Broadway, with critics and audiences blown away by a play full of ideas about art, modernity and, above all, the power and limitations of "unconditional" love.
This new production has a similar pair of national treasures on its bill, with Felicity Kendall playing Esme and Sir Peter Hall directing. This is a welcome outing for one of Hare's most human plays and a rare chance to see one of our best-loved television actresses on the West End stage.
Opens 9th November 2006 (previews from 25th October 2006)
Porgy is a crippled beggar in 1930s Catfish Row, a desperately poor Charleston ghetto where cotton-pickers and fishermen drink and gamble through the slow summer evenings. He is content enough with his 'Plenty o' Nuttin' ' until he falls in love with Bess, the drug-addicted girlfriend of a murderer.
George and Ira Gershwin's jazz opera is one of the seminal moments in the history of the 20th century musical. Bringing to life a world that had never before been seen onstage, with dozens of kind, comical or despicable characters, it is also the origin of some of the great jazz standards, including 'I Loves you Porgy', 'It Ain't Necessarily So' and, of course, 'Summertime'.
It is seldom staged nowadays - theatres simply do not have the resources for a four-and-a-half hour show with such a huge cast and chorus. Trevor Nunn's new version is a good deal shorter, clocking in at around 150 minutes, and some of the incidental details of Catfish Row will, no doubt, be lost. But if you love jazz, or musicals, this is not to be missed. Tunes like 'Summertime' take on a whole new life in the context of Gershwin's brilliant tragic plot, the gentle lullaby sung by good housewife Clara mingling perfectly with her husband's gambling song as Catfish Row wakes up for an evening of pleasure.
'Porgy and Bess' was a show that revolutionised jazz, classical music and the theatre musical, and remains the most perfect fusion of the three that has ever been achieved. Infectious tunes, a fascinating setting and a great plot combine to produce probably the highest achievement of 20th century musical theatre.
Opens 16th October 2006 (previews from 30th September 2006)
After a record-breaking run on Broadway, Mike Nichols' stage version of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' comes home to London, where it is sure to go down a storm. With a book by original Python Eric Idle, this is a faithful rendition of the original surreal comedy, complete with killer rabbits, farmyard ballistics, faithful retainers, mere flesh wounds, holy hand grenades and Knights Who Say "Ni". While following the pattern and plot of the original, 'Spamalot' is full of fresh jokes thanks to a string of all-new musical numbers penned by Idle and John Du Prez.
Tim Curry comes back across the Atlantic for three months to play King Arthur, so 'Rocky Horror Show' fans should book early for a glimpse of their hero. The rest of us can probably wait, since he's being replaced in January by the equally brilliant Simon Russell Beale.
Idle is a wonderful lyricist and this musical incorporates all the best British traditions of self-mockery, heroic failure, pomposity and falling over that Python fans will expect. The blend of surreal humour, lavish sets, and spectacularly silly song routines won the hearts of millions of new fans in the USA - as well as the Tony Award for Best Musical, and a Grammy for the score. This triumphant homecoming promises to be one of the hot tickets of the autumn.
Opens 20th October 2006 (previews from 29th September 2006)
Finally, the stage production of one of the best loved movies of the last eighteen years waltzes into London. The film that had girls doing dance moves in front of the TV, and boys experimenting with quiffs and leather jackets, is back and more popular than ever. Having already been a huge hit in Australia the production now comes to London's Aldwych Theatre promising to dazzle audiences with great dancing, all the hits (including 'Hungry Eyes', 'Time of My Life' and 'She's like the Wind') and to offer the famous reassurance that "nobody puts Baby in the corner".
Originally written by Eleanor Bergstein, 'Dirty Dancing' is based on her experiences as a teenager on a family holiday. She adapted it for the stage after realizing that nearly 20 years since coming out, it is still the benchmark against which all other chick flicks are measured. 'Dirty Dancing' the musical will entice throngs of new fans, but also see the die-hards dancing in the aisles. We defy anybody not to enjoy themselves once the curtain rises and the magic begins.
"Come on ladies... God wouldn't have given you maracas if he didn't want you to shake them."
Opens 30th September 2006 (previews from 14th September 2006)
Hitchcock's 1935 movie is a masterpiece of sustained adventure, as his hero, framed for murder, becomes both pursuer and prey for a shadowy international conspiracy. Classic scenes include vertiginous peril on the Fourth Bridge, a frantic biplane pursuit, and the grandstand conclusion in a packed London Palladium.
In other words, it's exactly the sort of story that could never be attempted by a fringe theatre company, a fact which forms the central joke of this satisfyingly inventive production. Four actors play 150 different characters, while a small selection of props and some clever lighting effects become the Scottish moors, the West End, and dozens of other locations across the country. Charles Edwards puts in a gloriously snobbish performance as the stiff-upper-lipped hero, a calm spot in the centre of the frantic action.
The obvious comparison is with the antics of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Though 'The 39 Steps' won't have the same broad appeal as the RSC - which ran for a full decade - it's a smarter, tighter and funnier show. Making a virtue out of silliness, this will be enjoyed by anyone who loves Hitchcock, or takes pleasure in the endless possibilities of the theatre.
26th September 2006 - 23rd December 2006 (previews from 15th September 2006)
It was not until almost three decades after it was written that this subtle, lyrical memorial to his alcoholic brother came to be recognised as one of Eugene O'Neill's great plays. Jason Robards was the actor who rescued it from obscurity in the 1970s with a celebrated performance as Jamie, the drunken failed actor who finds a brief happiness in the arms of his shy, huge tenant Josie.
The plot is almost incidental to the subtle exploration of three damaged characters - the drunken Jamie, the "giantess" Josie, and her wily father Phil - so it's a play where casting has always been crucial. Kevin Spacey, who idolizes Robards, is determined to play all the O'Neill roles in which he starred. He has already portrayed Jamie in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' and Hickey in 'The Iceman Cometh' and is now set to tackle 'A Moon for the Misbegotten'.
Though Spacey has sometimes been criticised for the quality of the plays he has directed during his tenure at the Old Vic, his status as one of the finest American actors of his generation has never been questioned. With Howard Davies directing the Hollywood star, this will be a superb piece of theatre.
14th September 2006 - 21st November 2006 (previews from 8th September 2006)
Just as Salieri can never escape the shadow of Mozart, Ben Johnson will forever be towered over by his follower Shakespeare. This revival of perhaps his finest play, 'The Alchemist', at the National is a great opportunity to sample the work of our other great Elizabethan dramatist.
This biting comedy charts the double-dealing of a trio of charlatans - Subtle, the eponymous alchemist, Doll, his mistress, and Face, his servant - as they cheat and swindle their way through a raft of greedy, gullible victims. Reams of alchemistic jargon that slide from Subtle's silken tongue, baffling the audience until they realise it truly is nonsense, form part of the patter aimed at beguiling his credulous prey.
Subtle is played by Alex Jennings, opposite Simon Russell Beale's Face, a first time partnership for these two long-standing favourites. On the back of some excellent performances on the South Bank over the past 18 months Lesley Manville will take the role of Doll.
Opens 10th October 2006 (previews from 22nd September 2006)
In a decadent cabaret club in Weimar Germany, a young American writer falls in love with Sally Bowles, the star of the show. But the shadow of Nazism looms large over their romance.
Brilliant young director Rufus Norris ('Festen', 'Market Boy') takes the helm of a new production of Kander and Ebb's sexually charged depiction of a decadent era. It's a remarkable musical, most famous for the antics of the androgynous Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub, but also carrying a sweet, tragic romance and a serious political message.
Creating the seedy atmosphere of an underground club in a West End theatre is the trickiest job for any director of this fantastic show, and Norris is a great choice - a director whose sets, costumes and music have always been intensely evocative. The wonderful James Dreyfuss plays the Emcee, and Sheila Hancock takes on the role she was born to play, as the kind, prudish Fraulein Schneider.
There are so many classic numbers in this musical that even a bad production is a joy, but we think this one might be something very special indeed.
11th - 24th October 2006
Each year on his birthday the eponymous Krapp records a tape ruminating on the past 365 days of his life. On his 69th birthday, he sits down alone to listen to previous recordings. As the tapes go on the audience witnesses Krapp's autobiographical decline into loneliness and pessimism.
This is one of Beckett's most human, and therefore, accessible works. Yes, it's bleak like 'Waiting for Godot' and full of despair like 'Endgame', but the existentialism has a naturalistic, human face and the audience gets involved in the interaction between Krapp now, and the recordings of Krapp then.
Any production of this monologue stands or falls on the abilities of its star. In this case, the Royal Court have pulled off the major coup of getting Harold Pinter back onto the stage. As a playwright, Pinter was Beckett's most successful follower, and the two are often referred to in the same breath, as the fathers of much in modern theatre. Both found their spiritual homes at the Royal Court, and this is the perfect way to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of this legendary theatre.
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