London Theatre Preview: May 2014

“When one door closes another opens”. The ‘revolving door’ philosophy of the theatre industry has always been an unavoidable part of theatrical life and it will continue to be so. Our West End is the envy of people all around the world and millions travel to the UK every year to enjoy the experience of the many varieties of wonderful stage productions performed in the theatres housed there.

One thing which helps to keep it in such high renown is the continual intake of new shows which serve to breathe fresh life into the West End. Of course, the flip side of this coin is that existing shows may have to be sent to the guillotine, but their closure makes way for new shows to open so it’s a necessary evil to ensure the survival of the West End. This cyclical environment is as present in the month of May as it has ever been – there are shows which will close this month, but new ones are there ready to take their place. Here we take at look at some of the new residents moving into the West End in May:

George Orwell’s classic novel has been adapted into various forms since it was first published in 1949, the latest instance being the brand new stage adaption from Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. The Headlong production (co-produced by Almeida Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse, Sonia Friedman Productions Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Tulchin Bartner Productions) had a run at the Almeida Theatre following a successful UK tour, and is now set to transfer to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre for a limited 12-week engagement. Mark Arends, Tim Dutton, Stephen Fewell, Christopher Patrick Nolan, Matthew Spencer, Gavin Spokes, Mandi Symonds and Hara Yannas all star in this very-relevant tale set in a Big Brother state. Currently in previews still, 1984 opens at the Playhouse Theatre on 8th May 2014 and runs until 19th July 2014.

‘Joe Keller is alleged to have supplied World War II fighter planes with defective engines, leading to the deaths of innocent pilots – a crime for which his business partner took the fall.’ Arthur Miller’s award-winning play from 1947 is based on a true story, and since that first appearance on Broadway, has been performed all over the world. This in-house production from the Open Air Theatre is directed by Timothy Sheader and stars Tom Manion as Joe Keller. The rest of the cast includes Brid Brennan (Kate Keller), Charles Aitkin (Chris Keller), Amy Nuttall (Ann Deever), Andy McKeane (George Deever), Simon Wilson (Dr Jim Bayliss), Tilly Blackwood (Sue Bayliss), Maddie Rice (Lydia Lubey), Matt Cross (Frank Lubey), Charles Maddox, Ewan Harris and Johnny Peat (Bert). All My Sons starts previews at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 15th May 2014 and opens there on 20th May 2014. It closes on 7th June 2014.

Nica Burns, Sonia Friedman Productions, Darren Bagert/Martin Massman and Chris & Kelbe Bensinger bring the European premiere of Stephen Sach’s play to the West End this May. It is the story of an unemployed, fifty-something bartender named Maude who buys a painting for $3 and comes to believe that it is a Jackson Pollock worth millions. The role is played by American stage and screen actress Kathleen Turner and marks her third appearance in the West End after previous productions The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She stars opposite Ian McDiarmid as Lionel Percy, the New York art expert who flies to Maude’s trailer park home in Bakersfield to authenticate the panting. Directed by Polly Teale, Bakersfield Mist starts previews from 10th May 2014. It opens there on 27th May 2014 and runs until 30th August 2014.

Kevin Spacey stars in this one man ’tour-de-force’ at the Old Vic Theatre in May. Written by David W Rintels, the real giant of the courtroom who became a civil rights hero relives pivotal moments of his life and relays his experiences in such infamous trials as Scopes Monkey and Thrill Killers cases. Thea Sharrock directs this in-house production, presented in-the-round at the Old Vic Theatre throughout May. Clarence Darrow opens theatre on 28th May 2014 and runs until 15th June 2014.

Another acclaimed Chichester Festival production transfers to the West End this month with this musical based on the Bissell novel 7 ½ Cents. Set in 1950’s America at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, the show centres on handsome new Superintendant Sid Sorokin and firebrand Union rep Babe Williams who have their new lover tested when the refusal of a 7 ½ cent pay rise sparks uproar amongst the employees. The show’s book is written by George Abbott and Richard Bissell while words and music are by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Michael Xavier and Joanna Riding as Sid and Babe lead the cast, which also features Peter Polycarpou (Vernon Hines – until 31 May), Gary Wilmot (Vernon Hines – from 2 June), Alexis Owen Hobbs (Gladys), Claire Machin (Mabel), Colin Stinton (Hasler / Pop), Eugene McCoy (Prez), Sion Lloyd (Max), Jennie Dale (Mae), Sharon Wattis (Poopsie), Keisha Amponsa Banson (Brenda), Lauren Varnham (Charlene), Jo Morris (Rita), Nolan Frederick (Charley), Richard Jones (Frank), Dan Burton (Earl) and James O’Connell (Joe). Directed by Richard Eyre and including such songs as ‘Hey There (You With The Stars In Your Eyes)’, ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ and ‘Steam Heat’, The Pajama Game has just started previews at the Shaftesbury Theatre (2nd May 2014). It opens on 13th May 2014 and is booking until 13th September 2014.

Cameron Mackintosh’s classic musical returns to the West End in the year of its 25th anniversary. Featuring music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr, Miss Saigon is an epic love story based on Giacoma Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. Set in 1975 during the final days of America’s occupation of Saigon, an American GI spends the night with a young Vietnamese girl in a sleazy night club…a night which will change their lives forever. This epic tale of love and loss was last seen in the West End fifteen years ago, but now makes its much anticipated return in this new production directed by Laurence Connor. Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada star as the ill-fated lovers Chris and Kim in a cast which also features Kwang-Ho Hong (Thuy), Jon Jon Briones (Engineer), Hugh Maynard (John),Tamsin Carroll (Ellen) and Rachelle Ann Go (GiGi), alongside Julia Abueva, Natalie Chua, Jon-Scott Clark, Rob Compton , Callum Francis, Ashley Gilmour, Maria Graciano, Simon Hardwick, Jack Harrison-Cooper, Matthew Jeans, Kurt Kansley, Kittiphun Kittipakapom, David Lee, Mitch Leow, Ela Lisondra, Tanya Manalang, Christian Rey Marbella, Kanako Nakano, Thao Therese Nguyen, Saori Oda, Ariel Reonal, Jon Reynolds, Romeo Salazar, Jordan Shaw, Marsha Songcome, Eloisa Amalia Tan, Christian Tanamal, Thao Vilayvong, Amadeus Williams and Gerald Zarcilla. With choreography by Bob Avian and Geoffrey Garratt, along with orchestrations by William David Brohn, Miss Saigon had its first preview performance at the Prince Edward Theatre on 3rd May 2014. It opens there on 21st May 2014 and is currently booking until 25th October 2014.

The internationally acclaimed show from award-winning theatre company 1927 has already had two sell-out runs at the National and is all set to repeat its former success there with a third appearance there. Using live music, performance and storytelling with film and animation to create a ‘theatrical journey of startling originality’, the show transports the audience to the Bayou, a part of the city which is feared and loathed. Agnes Eaves and her daughter come to the infamous tenement block Bayou Mansions late one night, but does their arrival signal hope in this hopeless place, or has the real horror only just begun? This co-production from 1927 and Joanna Crowley features a cast comprised of Esme Appleton, Lillian Henley and Suzanne Andrade, the latter of which also directs. The Animals and Children Took to The Streets opens at the Lyttelton, NT for six performances only, running from 23rd-26th May 2014.

William Shakespeare’s play moves from Renaissance France to 20th-century India in this imaginative production which ‘reverses all the usual expectations of a Shakespearean comedy’. When Bharatram (Bertram) flees his native Gujarat for Bombay, his mother’s ward Heli (Helena), desperately in love, decides to pursue him. But Bharatram feels differently, and attaches two obstructive conditions to their marriage – conditions he is sure will never be met. Sunil Shanberg directs this production as part of Globe To Globe, which is performed in Gujarati with scene synopses in English. All’s Well That Ends Well opened at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on 3rd May with a company from Arpana, Mumbai, India and plays for just five performances, running until 10th May 2014.

One of the great playwright’s most classic works comes back to the Globe in this new production directed by Jonathan Munby. The beautiful Queen of Egyptian Cleopatra and solider Marc Antony (now one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire) are the focal point of this play as his infatuation with her leads him to quarrel with his fellow leaders and takes the side of Cleopatra in a move which threatens to split the Empire in two. Eve Best stars as the ‘alluring and fascinatingly ambiguous’ Cleopatra opposite Clive Wood as Mark Antony. Phil Daniels (Enobarbus) Jolyon Coy (Octavius Caesar) and Sirine Sabin (Chairman) also play prominent roles in the show alongside Ignacious Antony, Peter Bankole, Jonathan Bonnici, Phillip Correia, Kammy Darweish, Paul Hamilton, Paul Hayes, Rosie Hilal, Daniel Rabin amd Obioma Ugoala. Antony and Cleopatra begins previews at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre from 17TH May 2014 and opens there on 29th May 2014, running until 24th August 2014.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

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