A RANDOM TASTING OF PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS OF CURRENT INTEREST. TODAY: A SUMMER SURVEY OF LONDON’S HOT THEATER SCENE.
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — The British arts are doing their bit for “Cool Brittania” — the hucksterish slogan promoting England — with one of the busiest summer schedules in years.
London theater used to go into a summer snooze around June, with the main attractions a raft of musicals aimed primarily at the tourist market. If that’s what you’re looking for, there will be plenty of those around — from “Doctor Doolittle” at the London Apollo and a high tech “Alice in Wonderland” at The Drill Hall to Trevor Nunn’s revival of “Oklahoma!” at The Royal National Theater and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest, “Whistle Down the Wind,” at The Aldwych.
But for a change, there will also be a slew of dramas and comedies by major playwrights that should appeal to even the most discerning theater-goer. Among them are some wonderful revivals as well as new works.
They include the transfer to the Old Vic from the Almeida of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” starring Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey, and Michael Frayn’s first new play in years, “Copenhagen,” at the National, a drama about the 1941 meeting between German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his friend Neils Bohr.
Dame Judi Dench, who was on the boards here last summer in “Amy’s View,” is in a new production slated for early fall of “Filumena” by Eduardo de Fillippo at the Piccadilly, which meanwhile is mounting well-received productions of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope,” starring Elaine Paige and Peter Bowles, and George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara,” with Jemma Redgrave.
Then there’s the British premiere of American Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive” at the Donmar Warehouse, which also is launching a new season of cabarets called “Divas at the Donmar” with such artists as Barbara Cook and Imelda Staunton, followed by a revival of Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock.”
The National, meanwhile, is mounting a theatrical version of “Brassed Off,” the critically acclaimed British film about brass-band competitions in working-class towns; a new adaptation of Edward Ravenscroft’s “The London Cuckolds”; Sam Mendes’s production of Shakespeare’s “Othello” with Simon Russell Beale as Iago and David Harewood as the Moor, and Fiona Shaw reprising Maggie Smith’s role in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”
The Barbican Theatre, long the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is continuing its links with the Bard, but with a foreign twist. There’s a French production of “Measure for Measure” and a Japanese version of “Hamlet,” plus a nine-hour Russian cycle of Dostoevsky’s “The Possessed” and a Romanian “Oresteia.”
The theater is continuing its overseas bent with an American season that includes The Steppenwolf Company’s performance of “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” David Feldshuh’s “Miss Evers’ Boys” and Roger Guenveur Smith in “A Huey P. Newton Story.”
Another foreign Shakespeare is at the Playhouse, with the theater company Cheek By Jowl linking up with troupes from Belgium and France to mount “Much Ado About Nothing,” starring Saskia Reeves, Matthew Macfadyen and Sarita Shoudhury, while the Royal Court Theatre goes American with the transfer from Broadway of David Mamet’s “The Old Neighborhood,” starring Zoe Wanamaker, Colin Stinton and Diana Quick.
The Shakespeare Globe Theatre, meanwhile, is branching beyond its namesake to produce Thomas Middleton’s “A Mad World, My Masters,” starring Anastasia Hille, Jonathan Bond, Guy Moore and Maggie Wells.
Then there’s the Almeida, which is going for both the classic and the new and moving completely out of town for the summer. The theater’s co-directors, Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid, are mounting the first season of “The Almeida at Malvern” to turn out three new productions: a revival, an opera season and a series of talks by writers, directors and designers at the Malvern Theatre in northern England.
Kent says the goal is to create a major British summer arts season similar to Austria’s Salzburg Festival for opera.
The first season includes the world premiere of Edward Albee’s “The Play About the Baby,” directed by Howard Davies; Dame Diana Rigg in Jonathan Kent’s production of Ted Hughes’s new version of Racine’s “Phedre”; Bertolt Brecht’s “Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti,” starring Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, and Shaw’s “The Doctor’s Dilemma” starring Tony Britton, Victoria Hamilton, Martin Javis and McDiarmid.
On top of the theater season, toss in major art exhibitions here of works by Lucien Freud, Henry Moore, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso and the summer arts scene should insure that London remains hot a while longer.