Lon­don and Manch­ester’s vi­brant theatre scenes give rise to greater ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and di­ver­sity than ever be­fore, as Mindy Teh dis­cov­ers.

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents -

As the cur­tain rises, Sir Ian McKellen stands stead­fast and soli­tary, back to the au­di­ence. He turns for his en­core to an al­ready cheer­ing crowd, all in stand­ing ova­tion. McKellen beams with pride as he takes his bow and later, out­side, ca­su­ally wear­ing a crew jacket with The Hob­bit logo in the front, he is equally be­side him­self as he signs autographs for ador­ing fans.

The per­for­mance is sig­nif­i­cant not just for the leg­endary ac­tor’s tri­umphant turn as the mad king Lear. McKellen’s re­turn to the role that he first per­formed un­der the di­rec­tion of Trevor Nunn for the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany in 2007, and for which he is repris­ing in Lon­don from his crit­i­cally ac­claimed per­for­mance at the Chichester Fes­ti­val (the Lon­don trans­fer is also di­rected by Jonathan Munby), is re­ported to be the 78-year-old’s last ma­jor Shake­spearean role.

“King Lear again,” he had an­nounced on his web­site. “For 100 per­for­mances at the Duke of York’s Theatre in Lon­don where I made my West End de­but in 1964. It’s a small theatre but we shall make it even more in­ti­mate by re­mov­ing half the stalls seats, so ev­ery­one is closer to the ac­tors. There will be 100 tick­ets for each show un­der GBP30 each. If you are be­tween 16-25, you can sit on the front or back rows for GBP5-10.”

The role has pre­dictably won rave re­views and is sold out un­til the end of its run in No­vem­ber, but it hasn’t stopped fans, young and old, from lin­ing up in the hopes of scor­ing re­turns or the afore­men­tioned youth-friendly and more than rea­son­ably priced tick­ets.

The pro­duc­tion sees in­spired stag­ing: a spir­ited McKellen rails and rages, run­ning up and down a run­way planted right smack in the mid­dle of the hall for an even more im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. The play it­self is engi­neered as a po­lit­i­cal thriller.

Di­verse cast­ing, too, has made an in­cred­i­ble dif­fer­ence, with Sinead

Cu­sack play­ing the role of Kent (tra­di­tion­ally ac­corded to men) and Anita-Joy Uwa­jeh’s Cordelia adding depth to Lear and his two older daugh­ters’ mo­tives.

The stag­ing of King Lear may well present an im­por­tant re­flec­tion of theatre in the UK. In­ven­tive, dis­tinct, in­clu­sive – and, yes, ex­cit­ing – there’s never been a bet­ter time to ex­plore the theatre scene not just in Lon­don but also in Manch­ester.

A trip ex­plor­ing both cities’ rich theatre land­scape cour­tesy of VisitBri­tain saw Theatre Land in full Olivier Awards swing with nom­i­na­tions an­nounced the week af­ter. “In the main theatre cat­e­gories not in­clud­ing opera or dance, 108 pro­duc­tions were el­i­gi­ble for nom­i­na­tions,” says Ju­lian Bird of So­ci­ety of Lon­don Theatre (SOLT) and Ex­ec­u­tive Pro­ducer of the Olivier Awards. “That gives you an idea of how many new pro­duc­tions there are ev­ery year. Very in­ter­est­ingly, this year, the new writ­ing in plays, come­dies and mu­si­cals hugely out­weighed the re­vivals – that’s what is mak­ing theatre here ex­cit­ing. The fact that we’ve got a lot of new play­wrights, new peo­ple and new mu­si­cals com­ing through makes it in­ter­est­ing.

“The other thing that we con­tinue to see in Lon­don is that you can still do a 10 to 12 week run of a re­ally good play. You can make it com­mer­cial and you can make it work. On Broad­way now, it’s very

dif­fi­cult to do a lim­ited-run play un­less you have a se­ri­ous A-list star signed up,” he says. “Lon­don still has a large play-go­ing au­di­ence here who thrive on go­ing to see new stuff – and where they don’t nec­es­sar­ily need a big star to head the cast.”

Mean­while, the push for more egal­i­tar­ian prices also makes Lon­don and its neigh­bour­ing cities still the more af­ford­able places to en­joy top-notch per­for­mances. Those fa­mil­iar with Theatre Land al­ready view TKTS as their first go-to for dis­counted seats. “Un­like Broad­way, TKTS here also sells dis­counted tick­ets for up to two days ahead,” says Bird. SOLT’s own Theatre To­kens are a pop­u­lar gift card voucher op­tion, al­low­ing au­di­ences ac­cess to al­most 240 the­atres na­tion­wide.

There’s re­ally no ex­cuse then not to cel­e­brate 2018’s bi­cen­ten­nial of that great Gothic novel Franken­stein with a Matthew Xia-di­rected stag­ing at the Royal Ex­change in Manch­ester that ran for a month in spring. Vic­tor Franken­stein zapped his mon­ster to life in an all-view theatre that made this new adap­ta­tion of Mary Shel­ley’s mas­ter­piece at once mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary, de­spite its Vic­to­rian set­ting, un­der­scor­ing its ideas on God and Science, Man and Mon­ster. In Oc­to­ber, Don War­ring­ton adds nu­ance to Arthur Miller’s best known char­ac­ter, Willy Lo­max, in

Death of a Sales­man.

It’s that or a throw­back to epic shim­mer­ing tap­dance rou­tines via 42nd Street, Broad­way’s big­gest show that has ar­rived in Lon­don in grand style and is still show­ing at Sir Andrew Lloyd We­ber’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

For a more con­tem­po­rary take on the mu­si­cal art form, the sleeper hit that is Every­body’s Talk­ing About Jamie ( gar­ner­ing five Olivier award nom­i­na­tions this year), based on the true story of a 16-year-old ex­plor­ing his gen­der and sex­u­al­ity in the testos­terone-fu­elled, steel-pro­duc­ing county of Sh­effield.

Ear­lier this year, Na­tional Theatre

Di­rec­tor Ru­fus Nor­ris had a muchan­tic­i­pated and large-scale, al­beit grisly, in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Mac­beth that placed Rory Kin­n­ear and Anne-Marie Duff fight­ing for power and con­trol of a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic fief­dom far beyond even Shake­speare’s imag­i­na­tion. This month, English play­wright David Hare de­buts a new play en­ti­tled I’m Not Run­ning, hark­ing to Shake­spearean char­ac­ters in the throes of a mod­ern po­lit­i­cal dilemma.

Those hell bent on chas­ing their Shake­speare fix will no doubt pay a visit to Shake­speare’s Globe, the re­con­structed El­iz­a­bethan play­house on South Bank that was the brain­child of Amer­i­can ac­tor and pro­ducer Sam Wana­maker. Tours in­side the play­house give vis­i­tors a glimpse of how theatre was staged back in the day (with a lot less for­mal­ity and a lot more drink­ing, it must be said).

The Bard’s pop­u­lar­ity, of course, shows no sign of wan­ing. Apart from the two plays men­tioned, Ni­cholas Hyt­ner’s rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Julius Cae­sar, with David Calder and Ben Wishaw, had the au­di­ence par­tic­i­pat­ing as part of a mob that Mark Antony ad­dresses.

Of course, beyond the main head­lin­ers in Theatre Land ( Phantom

of The Opera has been pack­ing in au­di­ences since 1986, and good luck with tick­ets to Hamil­ton and Harry Pot­ter & The Cursed Child), plenty of equally tan­ta­lis­ing and ex­per­i­men­ta­tional of­fer­ings are hap­pen­ing in the fringes.

Up in Manch­ester, Wil­liam Whel­ton and Joseph Hous­ton founded Hope Mill Theatre, sit­u­ated in a Grade II listed for­mer cot­ton mill, to high­light lo­cal in­de­pen­dent theatre and pro­vide a plat­form for up-and-com­ing Manch­ester­based theatre play­wrights as well as ex­pos­ing new theatre- es­pe­cially mu­si­cal theatre – to Manch­ester au­di­ences. The young duo’s pas­sion for the art form has since seen them rank­ing amongst the UK’s Top 100 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple in Theatre. One of this year’s high­lights saw a tri­umphant adap­ta­tion of Andrew Lloyd Web­ber’s As­pects of Love. The end of Oc­to­ber marks the theatre’s in­house de­but of Stephen Sond­heim’s Putting It To­gether.

Off West End, over in Hack­ney, Ar­cola Theatre has been steadily build­ing a staunch au­di­ence base. Founded by Artis­tic Di­rec­tor Mehmet Er­gen and to­gether with Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Dr Ben Todd and Ex­ec­u­tive Pro­ducer Leyla Na­zli, the theatre has since had lu­mi­nar­ies like Sam Shep­herd and Frank McGuin­ness premier their work. Ac­tors such as Gemma Jones, Clare Hig­gins and Toby Jones have graced their stage and the theatre has pro­vided a launch pad for artists like Joe Sims and Re­becca Lenkiewicz. This month, Moon­gate and Yel­low Earth Pro­duc­tion ex­plore the lit­tle known story of the 140,000 Chi­nese labour corps, who trav­elled halfway across the earth to help the Bri­tish and Al­lies in World War I, in a play en­ti­tled For­got­ten.

The suc­cess of im­mer­sive theatre still sees au­di­ences flock­ing to Sleep No More in New York and, lately, in Shang­hai. At the Vaults, a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary space in un­der­ground Water­loo, Lon­don, a pop­u­lar eightweek run of Nev­er­land en­cour­aged vis­i­tors to ex­plore hid­den nooks and cran­nies even as the Lost Boys were try­ing to fend off Cap­tain Hook.

With a scene as vi­brant, elec­tric and pro­lific as this, the dy­nam­ics of Theatre Land would clearly have shape-shifted once again by the time this story ap­pears. In theatre, as in life, change is the only con­stant. Just get your tick­ets ready, en­joy the show and don’t ex­pect an in­ter­mis­sion!

Lowry Theatre



Get a taste of gen­ever, or Dutch gin, at Ayla. The cock­tail bar­tenders of­ten in­fuse their own spir­its, mak­ing for some truly spir­ited con­coc­tions. 04


03 Rory Kin­n­ear as Mac­beth, Beatrice Sciroc­chi as Witch and Anna-Maria Nabirye as Witch in Mac­beth at the Na­tional Theatre. Pic: Brinkhoff Mö­gen­burg 04 The Vaults. Pic: SR Tay­lor Pho­tog­ra­phy 05 Wil­liam Whel­ton and Joseph Hous­ton of Hope Mills Theatre. Pic: Mindy Teh 05


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