sun 21/07/2024

Theatre Lockdown Special 2: Birthdays aplenty, songs of hope, a starry quiz - and more | reviews, news & interviews

Theatre Lockdown Special 2: Birthdays aplenty, songs of hope, a starry quiz - and more

Theatre Lockdown Special 2: Birthdays aplenty, songs of hope, a starry quiz - and more

Sondheim's and Shakespeare's natal days feted. Plus a chance to match wits with a knight and a dame

Detainee: Benedict Wong as Ai WeiweiStephen Cummiskey

As lockdown continues, so does the ability of the theatre community to find new ways to tantalise and entertain. The urge to create and perform surely isn't going to be reined-in by a virus, which explains the explosion of creatives lending their gifts to song cycles, readings, or even the odd quiz night. At the same time, venues and theatre companies the world over continue to unlock cupboards full of goodies, almost too many to absorb.

Below are five events worth tending to during the week ahead: some will linger online for a while, others are here and gone again in the blink of an eyelid so catch them while you can. 

Shakespeare's birthday, here, there, and everywhere

Today, of course, is Shakespeare's birthday, and also his death day, come to think of it, and there's a super-abundance of Bard-related work to mark the date in style. The RSC is releasing six titles on BBC iPlayer, including Paapa Essiedu's remarkably impassioned Hamlet and Macbeth with Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack as the blighted couple, whilst Cheek by Jowl adds their Russian-language Measure for Measure to an ever-unfolding lineup of plays available for streaming. (More on both these fronts in future weeks.) Tamsin Greig's gender-flipped Malvolia, seen on stage in 2017, starts a weeklong airing on the usual National Theatre channels, while Shakespeare's Globe gives us The Tempest, featuring the masterly match-up of Roger Allam and Colin Morgan (paired to brilliant effect earlier this year in the Bridge Theatre revival of A Number), and Emma Rice's immortally larky A Midsummer Night's Dream, this one featuring Ankur Bahl's gender-flipped Helenus, both also on iPlayer from today. Where to begin?  Why bother choosing: watch them all! 

Meryl Streep (right) onscreen in Into the WoodsTake Me to the World,, YouTube

The title may refer to a song from a Stephen Sondheim bit of esoterica (Evening Primrose, written for TV in 1966), but there's no way of over-feting the 90th birthday of the musical theatre's greatest living composer, who reached a milestone on March 22 that will be marked at 8 PM East Coast time in the US this Sunday (April 26) by the one-off virtual concert of one's dreams. (The date also happens to mark the 50th anniversary of the original Broadway opening of Company.) Hosted by Raul Esparza, who headlined a Company revival of his own on Broadway in 2006, the event brings together the likes of Meryl Streep (pictured above as the Witch in the recent film of Into the Woods) alongside such customary Sondheim notables as Mandy Patinkin, Maria Friedman, Patti LuPone, and Bernadette Peters, amongst many others. Intended as a benefit for ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty), the concert will commence at 1 am Monday in the UK due to the time difference, so set your alarms (or watch online later) and send in the love.

on hope: a digital song cycle, The Other Palace, YouTube 

The Other Palace has for some while now been a go-to address for much of the freshest musical theatre around, so it's no surprise to find the venue collaborating with MP Theatricals to create the bracingly titled on hope: a digital song cycle. To be livestreamed across three successive Wednesdays starting April 29, this profusion of new musical theatre pieces brings together over 60 international composers and more than 100 performers. Matt Powell and Victoria Saxton are co-curators, while the list of songwriters includes the team (Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary) behind the recent Adrian Mole musical as well as the wonderful Benjamin Scheuer, whose solo show The Lion played this venue back in 2014 when it was still called the St. James Theatre. Even as so much streaming quite rightly looks towards the past, here's a chance to embrace the future.  

National Theatre At Home Quiz, National Theatre, You Tube/Facebook

The run-up to Christmas is rarely complete without a visit to the National's annual quiz, an amiable free-for-all that pits rival shows against one another and both teams against the audience: creative scoring is often part of the fun, as well. Now, for the first time, the South Bank venue is making possible a virtual quiz with a preposterously starry set of quizmasters consisting of Lesley Manville, Lenny Henry, Helen Mirren, and Ian McKellen. First question: how many of these actors have honorific titles? If you can answer that one, move over Charles Ingram, you're on your way. Log on to the theatre's YouTube or Facebook page from 7 pm on Monday April 27 or at any point during the week following. 

#AIWW: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, Hampstead Theatre 

The Hampstead Theatre's weekly sequence of plays culled from their recent past has been among the more pleasurable aspects of these perplexing times, and with Chinese realpolitik once again very much in the news, what better time to revisit this 2013 play about the arrest nine years ago this month of the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei? James Macdonald, director of the Hampstead's previously streamed Wild, takes the reins on Howard Brenton's contemporary history play, starring Benedict Wong as the detainee caught up in a Kafkaesque scenario not a million miles removed, come to think of it, from the landscape of Wild. The play was streamed live during its initial run, and one has every reason to imagine that its power has only been redoubled with time. 


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