London Blog

Ah London.  I was in London last week with my brother Bob and it was, of course, mostly about theatre for me.  I have been fortunate to come often to London in my life.  My first London theatre memory is as a teenager, seeing the glorious Equus by Peter Shaffer, where I cried sitting next to Malcolm McDowell (!!!) at the Old Vic.  Later, I went to London for a month before starting my first professional job.  Armed with a small signing bonus, a still working (but technically expired) student ID, and youthful stamina and enthusiasm, I saw 28 shows in 30 days.  I remember they ranged from the roller skating extravaganza Starlight Express to a marathon of Shakespeare in Stratford to some best forgotten British broad romps.

Last week, a bit more tempered in ambition, we saw:  both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman and The Girl From the North Country.

Hermione & Ron Weasley and the Harry Potter Family on Platform 9 3/4

Hermione & Ron Weasley and the Harry Potter Family on Platform 9 3/4

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is shown in two parts – each a full length play.  harry potter billboardWe saw both on the same day, separated by a two and a half hour dinner break. These are very hard tickets to get in London and I predict will be just as hard to get in New York where it is scheduled to open in April 2018.  The story picks up nineteen years after Voldemort was defeated in J.K. Rowling’s previous Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.  We now find find Harry and Ginny happily married with three kids, about to send their second son off to his first year at Hogwarts.

A scene from "Harry Potter & The Cursed Child" photo credit:  Manuel Harlan

A scene from “Harry Potter & The Cursed Child”
photo credit: Manuel Harlan

That’s all I’ll say about the story itself, having been exhorted by J.K. Rowling to “Keep the Secrets”, but if you’re a fan of the books or the movies you can expect to recognize the flavors and feelings evoked by the plays and the kind of adventures and quests undertaken.  The one thing I must comment on is the remarkable stagecraft.  The magic is often quite beautiful and surprising.  The choreography of capes and staircases and bookcases and even scene changes can be mesmerizing.  I cannot imagine anyone not having fun at this show.

Laura Donnelly and Paddy Consadine in "The Ferryman" ©Johan Persson

Laura Donnelly and Paddy Consadine in “The Ferryman”
©Johan Persson

 

The highlight of our London theatre experience (and in the top three of my entire theatre year), was seeing Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman.  Set in a rustic kitchen on a farm in Northern Ireland, this is  a many-layered play that both tells a complex and interesting story and portrays a myriad of characters that you feel you come to know and understand better than should be possible during the length of a play. Variety described it as:

A ripping thriller in a big family home, stuffed with eccentricity and black comedy, it swells into an expansive examination of Republican history, politics and identity, as tied up with the IRA.”

Paddy Consadine, Sophia Ally, Elise Alexandre and Rob Malone in "The Ferryman"

Paddy Consadine, Sophia Ally, Elise Alexandre and Rob Malone in “The Ferryman”

The play also includes appearances by a live goose and a live baby, each of whom somehow seem to have been successfully blocked and directed (plus a live rabbit who doesn’t have to do anything but blink).  But, don’t be distracted by these fun but not too significant appearances.  This feels like an important play.  I keep thinking about it many days later.  I keep being angry at some of the characters; I keep hurting for others; I keep being frustrated at the foolishness of youth; keep feeling confused by the choices we make, the loyalties we have, the petty reasons behind the significant events in our lives.  This play will inevitably come to the United States since it is just so good.  Don’t miss it.

Sheila Atim in "Girl From the North Country"

Sheila Atim in “Girl From the North Country”

 

The final play I want to tell you about had as talented an ensemble as I have ever seen.  Girl From the North Country is a play by playwright Conor McPherson (who also directed) incorporating twenty songs by Bob Dylan, set in Minnesota in 1934.   As critic Michael Billington described it in The Guardian:

The play “is located in a run-down guesthouse where everyone is staring into a bleak future. Nick, the owner, has to deal with crushing debt, a wife with dementia, a layabout son, and he is trying to marry off an adopted, pregnant, black daughter to an elderly shoe salesman. His guests include a ruined family, a fugitive boxer, a blackmailing preacher-cum-Bible salesman and Nick’s lover, who is awaiting a legacy that fails to mature. Yet for all their failures they still manage, gloriously, to sing.” 

Glorious really is the right word – when these actors sing it is stunning.  Ranging from instantly recognizable star Ciarán Hinds as Nick to my two favorite performers, Shirley Henderson as Nick’s waifish in-and-out-of-her mind wife and Arinzé Kene as boxer Joe, each actor was perfectly cast.  Hearing Dylan’s songs – many new to me and some old favorites – in a staged context was a resonant experience.

Shirley Henderson and Arinzé Kene in "Girl from the North Country" photographs: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Shirley Henderson and Arinzé Kene in “Girl from the North Country”
photographs: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

London is a terrific place to see theatre.  With its best being as good as the best of Broadway, ticket prices are still much more affordable and the wealth and diversity of offerings make it hard to choose.  Plan ahead for great seats or take your chances at the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square.  You won’t run out of things to see for at least 30 days.

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1 Comment

  1. john clark
    Oct 2, 2017

    WOW and what a fine theatre life for you and yours !

    Char and I did lots of London..way back ’80′s…..
    the greatest show town !
    ( we did Phantom..orig cast, Le Miz, ALL Shakespear in one eve !! Sherlock w/ Jeremy Britt ..
    Hope to get back….if/when remodeling ends!

    Thx for sharing see thee 10/ 27-28-29 HOPA HOPE..

    Ancient atheist existential Juan

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