Broadway on the Thames (and Vice Versa)

Broadway on the Thames (and Vice Versa)

Mark Shenton provides a roundup of important theater that’s happening on both sides of the Atlantic.

This year’s Tony nominations are yet to be announced, but already we can be certain of one thing: The contenders for the best new play are likely to be led by imports from London. The current year has seen The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time transfer from the National, Wolf Hall from the RSC, The River and Constellations (now both closed) from the Royal Court, and The Audience from the West End. By contrast, Broadway’s own original entries are this spring’s new arrivals Hand to God, Living on Love, and Airline Highway (transferring from Off-Broadway, Williamstown, and Chicago respectively), and the now-shuttered Disgraced and The Country House.
Meanwhile, the contenders for this year’s Olivier Awards — London’s own industry-led awards, being presented at the Royal Opera House on April 12 — for Best New Musical are being led by imports from New York: There is only one British entry among the four nominees — Sunny Afternoon, a jukebox biography of Ray Davies and the Kinks, the ’60s U.K. pop band — with the rest of the list made up of the London productions of Memphis the Musical and Beautiful (now running at the Shaftesbury and Aldwych Theatres, respectively) and the now-shuttered Here Lies Love(that came to the National from the Public).

And that’s without the musicals that came from Broadway that failed to get nominated for the Best New Musical Olivier, like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (now shut at the Savoy, but heading out on a U.K. national tour in May) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (playing at the Playhouse), with supporting actress Samantha Bond and choreographer Jerry Mitchell nominated for their work on the former and Tamsin Greig and Haydn Gwynne for their performances in the latter.

Unlike the Tonys, where the theater year is geared very much around their presentation so that almost half of the year’s entire output is concentrated in the last two months before nominations close and no fewer than 13 shows open in the final 17 days of the season, the Oliviers seem to come very much after the fact, with the majority of those nominated no longer running at the time the awards are presented.

In fact, its striking that the West End transfer of the Young Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge — which received seven Olivier nominations in all, the most for any single play — closes the very day before the Awards are presented. The other plays with the most nominations —  Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III (nominated for six awards) and Mike Poulton’s adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (now on Broadway, and nominated for five awards) — are also long shut. Only The Nether (running to April 25) remains open among the best new play nominees. 

Outside of the musicals, some of which, like City of Angels, have long gone, with Made in Dagenham also about to go on April 11, the only nominations for shows that are still running are for The Nether, Shakespeare in Love (closing April 18), The Play That Goes Wrong, and the soon-to-return children’s show Hetty Feather.

So the Oliviers mainly look back, not forward. Yet there is much to look forward to in the coming months, some of which is surely to be among the contenders for next year’s awards. Imelda Staunton’s already critically heralded performance as Mama Rose in London’s first revival of Gypsy in more than 40 years is now previewing at the West End’s Savoy Theatre, after premiering at the Chichester Festival Theatre last fall, prior to an official opening April 15. An all-star cast led by returning British movie star Damian Lewis, John Goodman, and rising star Tom Sturridge is debuting in a new production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo at Wyndham’s Theatre from April 16, while at the National Theatre, incoming artistic director Rufus Norris — who replaces Nick Hytner, who has stepped down after 12 years at the helm — launches his regime by directing Chiwetel Ejiofor (Oscar-nominated for 12 Years a Slave) in the title role in Everyman (from April 22). Norris’s opening season also includes the London premiere of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2011 Broadway play The Motherfucker With the Hat (from June 10).

At the Barbican, Benedict Cumberbatch will play the title role in Hamlet (from August 5), to be followed by the return of the Royal Shakespeare Company, launching Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary year by reviving Shakespeare’s History Plays, including Alex Hassell as Prince Hal in Henry V (from November 7), Antony Sher as Falstaff in Henry IV: Parts 1 and II (from November 29), and David Tennant as Richard II (from December 9).

The West End also has Felicity Kendal in Coward’s Hay Fever (at the Duke of York’s from April 29), a new production of the Cole Porter musical High Society (at the Old Vic from April 30), the transfer from Broadway of Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man (at the Haymarket from May 19), and David Suchet as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (at the Vaudeville from June 24).

Ahead of the imminent U.K. general election, the Donmar Warehouse is staging James Graham’s The Vote with an all-star cast that includes Judi Dench (from April 24), with a live television broadcast on the night of the election itself. The Almeida has a series of all-star Greek tragedies ahead, including Oresteia (from May 29, with Lia Williams), Bakkai (from July 19, with Ben Whishaw), and Medea (from September 25, with Kate Fleetwood). The fringe has a brand-new production of the notorious Broadway flop Carrie (at Southwark Playhouse from May 1).

The West End has two musicals based on cult British film comedies: Bend It Like Beckham, based on the 2002 film, is being brought to the Phoenix by its original director, Gurinder Chadha (from May 15), with a score by Howard Goodall and Charles Hart; and Broadway’s Kinky Boots, based on the 2005 film and winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical, is to receive its U.K. premiere at the Adelphi Theatre from August 21.