By Cris Franco
London is a thriving arts metropolis so imbued with theatrical history that your average Cockney cabbie can handily revue the latest productions currently packing the many landmark theatres lining London’s luminous West End. It’s a grand European capital where on any given night the curtain rises on over 100 productions. Here is just a sampling of what riches a summer hop across the pond holds for play-going aficionados:
THE NATIONAL THEATRE – Staging hundreds of classics and new plays since its founding by Sir Lawrence Olivier in 1963, the National Theater or “NT” has presented the greatest thespians in signature performances. Thus establishing itself as the world’s preeminent theatre company. Hence the creation of NT LIVE which today simulcasts their superb productions to over 1,000 venues in 35 countries. Notable NT LIVE productions I have attended include the heart-breaking War Horse; the revolutionary Asperger’s story of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime; cherubic James Corden in the uproarious One Man, Two Guvnors and the glorious new production of Amadeus performed with a live orchestra. All were peak theatrical experiences I saw at my local cinema!
This summer of 2017 the National will present a full slate of productions including an explicit updating of Salome (containing nudity and sexual violence); the timeless AIDS saga, Angels in America; this season’s best new comedy, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour – and FOMO an experimental romcom told almost entirely through tweets, texts and status updates.
For tourists, the annual “Watch This Space Festival” is a free, familia-friendly, summer-long celebration of outdoor theatre, circus and dance. The National has it all and all the info you need can be found at: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
HALF A SIXPENCE – Latin-Americans flocked to see the 1967 film version of the original stage hit Half a Sixpence starring Tommy Steele. (You can download Half a Sixpence en español right now!) In this joyous new reworking currently playing at the Noel Coward Theatre, Arthur Kipps (Charlie Stemp), is still the singing and dancing orphan whose reversal of misfortune brings him millions and the attentions of some unscrupulous golddiggers. But with fresh orchestrations, a smart new book, and heart-stopping choreography, this Half a Sixpence delivers all the charm of the original but with a decidedly contemporary beat. I delighted at the sheer theatrical exuberance delivered by this young and talented cast belting out some of the liveliest music ever written for the stage – or the British music hall.
And London summer travelers are in luck because this smash-hit musical is extending for the final time until 2 September 2017. Recipient of three WhatsOnStage Awards (including Best Musical Actor for the magnetic star, Charlie Stemp) this vivacious production received critical acclaim, being called, “pure ecstacy.” I couldn’t agree more. Book your tickets at: <http://www.halfasixpence.co.uk>
THE MOUSETRAP – On a dark and stormy midcentury night, Monkswell Manor will host a shocking meeting between eight disparate characters who will each unwittingly implicate themselves and become suspects in Agatha Christie’s stunning murder mystery, The Mousetrap.
Having opened in 1952, The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running play with over 26,000 performances. And why the longevity? The answer is simply that – it’s a perfect entertainment. The stately setting, period costumes, evocative lighting, suspenseful direction and strong character portrayals presented in the intimate St. Martin’s Theatre all combine to bring this thrillingly unpredictable whodunit to life. I was impressed by the freshness the talented ensemble brought to the mind-bending twists, turns and misleads cleverly embedded in The Mousetrap. It’s a profoundly satisfying entertainment that reminds us that you don’t need high-tech special effects to create theater magic – but rather spellbinding writing and deft acting which The Mousetrap has in spades.
Presented on one set with continuous action, the audience watches in real time as Dame Christie’s slyly crafted mystery unfolds to a stunning conclusion that all attendees are sworn to never divulge. And I’m keeping my promise because I want for you to experience The Mousetrap for yourself by visiting: https://www.the-mousetrap.co.uk/Online/
THE ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA (ENO) resides at the glorious London Coliseum, one of Europe’s greatest opera palaces. Established late in the 19th century, the company has aimed to present the standard operatic repertoire, sung in English, and has staged all the major operas from Adams to Wagner.
Opera’s preeminent directors have all worked at ENO’s, including Spain’s controversial Calixto Bieito. Though the core repertoire is operatic, the company has presented a wide range of works from Britten to Broadway. I had the side-splitting privilege of attending
their bombastic & buffo staging of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta The Pirates of Penzance, which this reviewer can only describe as sheer lunacy brilliantly set to music. Literally every production at ENO is a feast for eyes and ears.
Through 2017, ENO will be presenting two masterpieces: Rossini’s The Barber of Seville – where wily Figaro will ensure that true love wins the day. And Verdi’s Aida – will our heroine choose the man she loves or the homeland she longs for? To find out, attend a memorable performance of world-class musicianship by logging onto: <https://www.eno.org>
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG answers the question: What happens when the semi-professional underfunded Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society decides to present the less-than-brilliant, 1920’s, melodramatic murder mystery (a parody of The Mousetrap) titled, Murder at Haversham Manor — ?) The answer is: sheer comic brilliance. Winner of the 2015 Olivier Award for BEST NEW COMEDY, this gag-a-second farce begins at lights-up as things immediately start go horribly (and hysterically) wrong. A non-stop series of disasters befall the cast including: doors sticking; falling decorations and collapsing floors. Unable to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous mishaps, the overwhelmed players misplace props; forget lines; miss cues; break character; accidentally drink paint thinner; step on fingers and often get knocked unconscious. The climax is an homage to Buster Keaton‘s film Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), when virtually the whole of the remaining set collapses around the players.
The Play That Goes Wrong mixes absurdist theater with slap-stick in this delightfully unmannered comedy of manners. And it appears the world is sorely needing this brand of physical bawdy humor as The Play That Goes Wrong is also now running on Broadway, Australia and planning productions in 21 countries — including Spain. ¡Que viva The Play That Goes Wrong! All info: http://www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com