As Oxford readies for a new term, Harry Hatwell ruminates on the theatre to look out for in the new season.
I wouldn’t be doing justice to this article if I did not begin with what is being billed as the biggest theatrical event of the year: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is returning to London’s Palladium after over a decade-long hiatus. Directed by Bartlett Sher, this eagerly awaited revival promises to be unforgettable; I was lucky enough to see Sher’s production of Oslo at the National Theatre last year as well as his revival of South Pacific at the Barbican a number of years ago. This will definitely be the hottest ticket in town come July. The Lincoln Center seems to have found a winning formula under Sher’s management.
The drama scene in Oxford never ceases to produce some great shows, even during peak exam season. In terms of student productions, there is the widely-publicised production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties in second week, produced by Pigfoot Theatre at the Playhouse, the staging of which coincides with Stoppard’s tenure as Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford. The play centres around a former British diplomat as he reminisces about his encounters in wartime Zurich in 1917. With promises of chaos and surrealism, this should definitely be a good pick-me-up for the start of Trinity.
The drama scene in Oxford never ceases to produce some great shows, even during peak exam season.
In seventh week, the Oriel Gardens will be playing host to a student production of the unstoppably hilarious The Beaux’ Stratagem. This rarely-performed Georgian comedy by George Farquhar should be a fantastic, laugh-filled evening. I was fortunate enough to see a live screening of the National’s 2015 production of Farquhar’s rarely seen play starring Geoffrey Streatfield and Samuel Barnett (now in Kiss of the Spiderwoman at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory). Simply said, I could not stop laughing.
Elsewhere in Oxford, there is the touring production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at the New Theatre. I must say I wasn’t the only person who was disappointed by last year’s touring company in Mamma Mia! at the New Theatre, so let’s hope that this roaring twenties feel-good hit doesn’t suffer the same weaknesses. Other professional productions visiting Oxford include the French reworking of Shakespeare’s Pericles (Péricles in the French) produced by Out of Joint, which is set to be a success. Also at the Playhouse is the widely-celebrated touring revival of Tennessee Williams’ canonical A Streetcar Named Desire.
Back in London, Cuba Gooding is headlining the bill in the revival of Chicago by Kander and Ebb at the Phoenix. For those who haven’t seen Renee Zellwegger and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s stunning performances in the film version of Chicago, this musical-within-a-musical centres on a murderous group of female prisoners who end up making it big on the stage by cashing-in on their treacherous exploits. Featuring hits such as All That Jazz and the aptly-named We Both Reached for the Gun, this new production also stars Ruthie Henshall as Mamma Morton, the prison matron, for whom this will be her third stab (pun intended) at Chicago after playing London’s original Roxie before being cast as Velma.
Still tapping away at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with the biggest cast in London, is the celebrated revival of 42nd Street. It is the ultimate show stopping musical and is now starring the actress-cum-M&S model Lulu. Moreover having been nominated for three awards at the Oliviers, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue looks to be a carefree evening of drag-filled fun; the ultimate in acceptance and theatre with a social purpose, not to mention with some extremely catchy tunes.
Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyc is returning to the stage along with Broadway diva Patti LuPone in Sondheim and Furth’s Company. Everything Marianne Elliot touches seems to turn to gold (the National’s recent productions of Angels in America and The Curious Incident, to give but a flavour) and with her direction of this Company for the modern day, tickets for this production really will be as elusive gold dust. On the subject of the National Theatre, attention must be drawn towards the summer season’s staging of The Lehman Trilogy starring Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Ben Miles, and directed by Sam Mendes (of Skyfall and Spectre fame). The epic play charts the story of the eponymous banking family on their journey as Jewish immigrants to the US from Germany to being at the helm of one of the institutions at the heart of world finance.
I could not end this article without drawing attention to Brasenose Arts Week’s outdoor staging of Shakespeare’s timeless comedy about young lovers eloping to a magical forest – of course it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I hear the guy playing Theseus is an expert at finding anything to do other than learn his lines…