London: A Summer Season

Following the dizzying heights of London’s international success in 2012, perhaps the capital was looking forward to a well-deserved break out of the spotlight. However, London once again propelled itself to the forefront of theatrical headlines, boasting an intriguing arsenal of productions for us to enjoy this summer.

Kicking off the summer with a bang was the National Theatre doing what it does best: a summer blockbuster Shakespeare, Othello. Adrian Lester took the title role and the play was directed by the National’s Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner, reuniting the successful partnership of Henry V. Rory Kinnear played Iago in this modern adaption, set in a military base in Cyprus. Much like Hytner’s anti-Iraq Henry V, this production seemed to reinvent Othello. It took the focus away from the theme of racism, which is so heavily focused in most productions, and instead emphasised the downfall of the two men at the heart of the play. See Boar Arts’ full review here.

Keeping on the summer blockbusters, I had the pleasure of attending Michael Grandage’s latest installment in his company’s season at the Noel Coward Theatre, The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh. Daniel Radcliffe was the star of this company, and given his international ‘Potter’ fame, I was intrigued to witness the movie star’s craft onstage. The story follows the community of an island off the West Irish coast, dealing with a Hollywood film being made on their doorstep. Playing the cripple, Billy, Radcliffe had no easy task but he totally immersed himself in the role, both physically and mentally. His grasp of the accent must also get a special mention. Once again McDonagh proves his brilliant writing ability in this story. The cast fantastically supported their leading man. This Grandage season continues to be a success, not only artistically but also financially, with his £10 ticket scheme, keeping houses full.

It was not only plays that topped the bill of the London Theatre scene this summer. I had been hugely anticipating Sam Mendes’s return to the West End with a musical version of the childhood favourite, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. With record breaking pre-sales and Mendes at the helm, it was surely destined to succeed? Unfortunately, I was not left in the state of imagination or amazement that I had been expecting. Before attending I had been read about the incredibly technical set that had been causing multiple problems in rehearsals; but this is the reason we have previews. Douglas Hodge’s performance as Willy Wonka, lacked the romance and intrigue captured so well by Gene Wilder in the role. Admirers of the book will also notice the slow pace, as the play did not reach the chocolate factory until the end of the first half. Surely the main attraction and allure of the story lies in the factory? This musical lacked the zip and class of their rivals Matilda, and left me disappointed. That being said, commercially it continues to romp on, with six months being added after opening night.

It was not all commercial success on the West End this summer. Judy Craymer’s Viva Forever was short-lived, closing just 7 months after its opening night. This was hardly a surprise after the universally critical reviews. but my biggest shock was the lack of actual Spice Girls hits incorporated. Despite reworking in rehearsals, it was beyond saving and closed with a record loss of 3 million. With Dirty Dancing filling the space at the Piccadilly Theatre, the Hen parties do still have somewhere for a night out in the West End.

This summer also saw some transfers to the West End. The Young Vic’s award winning A Doll’s House opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre and had Hattie Morahan reprise her Olivier winning role as Nora, in a new version by Simon Stephens. The Almeida also had a transfer, with Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica opening at the Harold Pinter Theatre. When a message is left twenty years after the tanks rolled into Beijing In 1989, a young journalist seeks to find the truth behind the man caught in this timeless picture of history.

The National Theatre brought out Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man: A Hollwood Fable with their spectacular, immersive style of promenade theatre performed at Temple Studios. There was more innovation at The Royal Court and Lyric Hammersmith with Surprise Theatre and Secret Theatre respectively. At the Royal Court between June and July, during Open Court, there were ‘different, surprise performances from a diverse and wide-ranging field of writers and theatre-makers; each creating a unique one-off performance, which will remain a mystery to its audience right up until the lights go down.’ 

The Lyric Hammersmith took this a step further casting an ensemble of writers, actors and directors to devise secret shows only to be discovered on the night. The first show opened and was an unsurprising adaptation of Buchner’s Woyzeck. Critics were unimpressed by this, with the Telegraph saying, ‘It’s like being taken for a “surprise” treat at the RSC only to be presented with As You Like It.’ This start, though, should not condemn the whole project, and with two more shows to come, lets hope for something a little more daring.

This is only a brief summary and I am sure I have left out some brilliant (and awful) shows. However, overall I think the London Theatre scene continues to impress, and I look forward to the autumn, with particular excitement about David Tennant’s Richard II at the Barbican transferring from the RSC.

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