Outside In on London Stage

Outside In on London Stage|Outside In on London Stage

Mostly good news from theaters across the pond

Steven Webb as Posner, Jamie King as Dakin, Philip Correia as Rudge (front), Matt Smith as Lockwood, and Kenny Thompson as Crowther in “The History Boys,” a remarkable play now in London and due to begin a 20-week run at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 14.

First things first. Get your tickets now to “The History Boys,” starting previews at New York’s Broadhurst Theatre on April 14 and running for 20 weeks. The original cast, led by Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, was in top form at the National Theatre in London earlier this month warming up for the American premiere of Alan Bennett’s masterpiece ostensibly about the purpose of education, but touching on no less than the meaning of life. Three teachers offer competing visions to a crew of randy but thoughtful boys in a play full of high and low humor, shocking plot turns, and deeply affecting grace notes under the direction of Nick Hytner, who won the Olivier Award for his work as did Griffiths.

The frank gayness and Britishness of this show made me think no American producer would risk it, but hallelujah here it comes.

Four Stars

I missed Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” in 1984, so it was a total revelation for me at the little Menier Chocolate Factory on the Southbank. Like the “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway now, this is a chamber production. But good things come in small packages and this one is already headed for a West End transfer on May 13 and, I pray, to Broadway.

Daniel Evans, whom I enjoyed as “Peter Pan” in 1997 at the National, has matured immensely in his portrayal of artist Georges-Pierre Seurat and his putative great-grandson in “Sunday.” The intensity of his performance drives the show forward as it brings the painter’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte” to life with a terrific supporting case that sometimes amuses, often provokes thought, and ambushes us at the end of both acts with heart-breaking tableaux.

If I had seen only this show, my trip would have been worth it.

Three Stars

Mike Leigh, the director of films including “Vera Drake” and “Secrets and Lies,” has written and directed “Two Thousand Years,” his first play for the National and, according to him, his first Jewish play. He assembled a group of Jewish actors, including the out gay Allan Corduner—Arthur Sullivan in Leigh’s great “Topsy-Turvy”—and came up with this engaging drama about a secular English-Jewish family stunned by a live-at-home adult son who decides to be religious. The parallels with the gay coming out experience were evident not just to me.

The ensemble of uniform excellence is touring Britain before a well-earned transfer from the small Cottesloe to the National’s larger Lyttleton house March 25-April 8.

“Coram Boy” has ended its run at the National but it is coming back November 29-January 20. Based on Jamila Gavin’s novel and adapted by Helen Edmundson, this is an epic tale mixing foundlings, rogues, aristocrats, and Georg Frideric Handel in an 18th century stew. It daringly out-Dickens Dickens with a big multicultural and gender-bending cast that manages to command the sprawling Olivier stage and an audience often dominated by school children.

If you’re wondering why Ibsen is back on the boards—“Hedda Gabler” is at BAM later this month with Cate Blanchett—this May is the 100th anniversary of his death. I saw two in one day, both fine interpretations of the birth of naturalism: “The Wild Duck” at the innovative Donmar Warehouse and “Pillars of the Community” at the National’s Lyttleton, both now closed unless they get transfers.

The “Duck” was served cold, an unsparing look at the destruction of a family in this new version by David Eldridge and directed by Michael Grandage. Ben Daniels was particularly chilling as Gregers Werle, the character for whom “too much information” should have been coined.

“Pillars,” in a new version by Samuel Adamson and helmed by Marianne Elliott, is an ambitious evocation of the suffocation of small-town life, saved from going over the top by the powerful and nuanced performances of Damian Lewis as the leading man Bernick and Lesley Manville as his lost love Lona. Rae Smith’s closing stage image of a purifying rain will stay with me for a while.

Matthew Bourne, who has given us so much pleasure with “Swan Lake” and “Play without Words,” has done it again with his dance version of Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” at Sadler’s Wells, gone for now but likely to be revived each Yuletide. With new music by Terry Davies who builds on the familiar film score by Danny Elfman, Edward is brought to vivid life by Sam Archer, whom I saw, or Richard Winsor.

While ostensibly a tale about a freak heterosexual boy with scissors for hands, there is much here that resonates with LGBT folk from the bullies we survive to the creativity we’re supposed to have in greater measure. Sexy, funny, cute, entertaining, and affecting: what more do you want from a night out?

Bourne’s choreography is also represented by a dark version of “Mary Poppins” enjoying a hit run at the Prince Edward. I couldn’t fit it in, but one of my traveling companions loved it.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is performing at the Trafalgar Studios just south of the eponymous square. I caught Philip Massinger’s 17th century “Believe What You Will” about a deposed king –the formidable Peter De Jersey—in an agonizing battle to regain his throne. Directed by Josie Rourke, it could not be more relevant to the world we live in now. The company is set to do a Complete Works Festival in Stratford from Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23 covering all the bard’s plays through March 2007 when Sir Ian McKellan will play King Lear under Trevor Nunn’s direction.

Two Stars

It is always worth a trip to the Royal Court in Sloan Square, even though Stella Feehily’s new “O Go My Man” has just closed. For the theater’s 50th anniversary, the theater is hosting staged readings of its hits from Pinter to Caryl Churchill until March 24.

While “O Go” does not cover much new ground in the annals of infidelity, it does it with style and sharply drawn characters in contemporary Dublin, ably directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

I’m grateful to the National and director Edward Hall for reviving “Once in a Lifetime,” the 1930 Kaufman and Hart comedy about the birth of the talkies unlikely to be done commercially here. The Olivier stage is filled with Roaring ‘20s Hollywood glamour and two outstanding performances, the estimable David Suchet as movie mogul Herman Glogauer and comic genius Adrian Scarborough as the hapless George Lewis who can’t miss for trying. Fluff, to be sure, but played for all it’s worth. Through March 11.

While I was looking forward to the hit musical of “Billy Elliot” at the Victoria Palace, directed, as the wonderful film was, by Stephen Daldry with music by Elton John, I was disappointed perhaps because I loved the film so much.

I can’t condemn a show that has boys in their mum’s dresses singing about “Individuality,” yearns for the death of Maggie Thatcher, and sings and dances for socialist reform. But while the film was awash in waves of clear-eyed and hard-won emotion, this musical settles for too many doses of sentimentality and shtick. There are also three or four added fag jokes—sadly crowd-pleasing—to drive home the point that our Billy is not a pouf.

Maybe it was the new cast. I went with a friend who saw the original production last year from a worse seat and loved it, but was underwhelmed this time. It will run forever, but I’d suggest sticking with the movie.

One Star

I closed out the week with a relative miss—Sam Shepard’s “The Late Henry Moss” at the Almeida in Islington, a renowned theater that is sending “Festen” to us this season.

“Moss” was done in by a cast of British actors playing Southwestern Americans—a father and two warring sons—who don’t seem for a moment to be in the same family. The other two characters—playing Latinos—were almost as offensive as Bill Dana’s old “My name José Jimenez” TV act from the 1960s.

Coming Up

Shows coming to or just opened in the West End include Margaret Tyzack in “Southwark Fair” directed by Nick Hytner at the National’s Cottesloe until April 5; Diana Rigg is reviving “Honour” at Wyndham’s, a fine play of divorce, in a role originated by Eileen Atkins until May 6; the National’s Lyttleton is bringing back its acclaimed “Measure for Measure” directed by Simon McBurney until March 18; Jeremy Irons just bowed in the new “Embers” previewing at the Duke of York’s; there’s lots of Beckett at the Barbican Pit from the end of March; Roger Allam is in German director Peter Stein’s provocative “Blackbird” until May 13; and if you missed Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” the Broadway cast including Kathleen Turner, Bill Irwin (who won a Tony), Mireille Enos (also a Tony-winner), and David Harbour, who was in “Brokeback Mountain,” are doing it at the Apollo until May 13.