When I moved house about a year ago, there were 327 theatre programmes that had to be boxed up and brought with us. I don’t dare count again, but I estimate that there are probably somewhere in excess of 500 now. I had thought that it made me a conoisseur, but my friend, Rebecca, tells me it makes me a nerdy collector.
The truth is, like Ado Annie, I cain’t say no. Offer me a free ticket to something, anything, and if I have a free night, I’ll bite your hand off for it. From naked reindeer in a warehouse in Peckham to the ballet, from Guerilla Shakespeare in an office block to La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, I’m your man.
Thus it was that in February, despite the cold, and the fact that I was actually in something myself, doing 7 shows a week, I still managed to fit in Sex With A Stranger at the Traflagar Studios - brilliant performances and tight direction all round, The Madness of George III at the Apollo - David Haig in a virtuoso performance that was both inspiring and humbling, Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House, DNA at the Rose, Kingston (our official reviewer Amy Stow covering that for Fourthwall), Masterclass with Tyne Daly, Absent Friends at the Pinter, Pitchfork Disney at the Arcola, and I’ll be rocking up in Richmond at the Orange Tree on the 29th to see Muswell Hill. And for every single one of those, I bought a programme.
February was also awards month, the glittering star-studded Whatsonstage Awards at the Prince of Wales, and the slightly less glittering (but only because the snow meant the dress code was 'warm' rather than 'glam') Offies, between them celebrating the best of British theatre, both in the West End and the fringe. Awards will always divide people, and this year was no exception, but I am proud to work in an industry that works so hard to recognise the valuable contributions made right across the board. I am going to throw this into the ring though - it is time that the Whatsonstage Awards, the Offies, and the forthcoming Olivier Awards recognised Musical Direction as a category, and, dare I say it, Casting Directors.
So - onto March. And for musicals fans, it’s a big month. Sweeney Todd arrives in the West End at the Adelphi, after a critical and commercial success at Chichester Festival, bringing with it musical theatre heavyweights, Imelda Staunton, Michael Ball (right) and Peter Polycarpou, while Floyd Collins lands at the Southwark Playhouse with a no less pedigree cast. We caught up with a couple of members of the team, and the interview will be online soon. Also punching consistently above its weight in terms of casting, The Landor, home of the pristine pocket-musical, has landed West End star Peter Straker and Mike Christie of platinum selling group G4 for their production of Flaherty and Ahrens The Glorious Ones. The Landor scored big at the Offies with The Hired Man and Ragtime, and they will doubtless be hoping to match that success with The Glorious Ones.
Away from showtunes, supermodel Agyness Deyn will make her stage debut at Trafalgar Studio 2 in The Leisure Society, Southwark Playhouse present the World Premier of Phillip Ridley’s new play, Shivered - director Russell Bolam is definitely one to watch, and The Brockley Jack, another venue that just seems to quietly produce one quality production after another, definitely deserves a look as they present Julius Caesar. I’ll be at Hampstead Theatre again, as I’ve loved Richard Nelson’s writing since I saw Two Shakespearean Actors as boy, and I am salivating, figuratively, over the combination of Nelson’s writing, Roger Michell’s direction and a stellar cast, including Ben Chaplin and Jenna Redgrave, in Farewell to the Theatre. You won’t go far wrong booking a ticket to The American Clock at the Finborough, or Clockwork Orange at the Arcola either.
Further afield, if you’re in Leicester, don’t, whatever you do, miss Caroline O’Connor (left) as Mama Rose in Gypsy. Caroline is one of our greatest musical theatre stars in one of the greatest musical theatre roles ever written. In Edinburgh, at the Traverse, ANA has piqued my interest sufficiently - a bilingual play which combines French Canadian creatives with Scottish creatives, this is a European premier which is worth a look if you’re in the area. Incredible all-male Shakespeare company Propellor return to the UK, with Henry V and The Winter’s Tale, hitting The Rose, Kingston and The Marlowe in Canterbury this month, while Peter Gill, one of Wales’ greatest writers directs A Provincial Life, adapted by Gill from Chekhov, to the Sherman, Cymru in Cardiff.
For wild rovers touring around, I’d tip Blackeyed Theatre’s The Trial - after playing the last week in February at Greenwich Playhouse, they’re off on a frankly punishing schedule, touring around all through March. Speaking of punishing schedules, London Classic Theatre are also on the road, March through to July, with their acclaimed production of Equus. Catch them wherever you can.
One last tip for those in London, with stamina - The Nabokov Arts Club is a heady mix of theatre, nightclub, performance space, decadence and chaos. It's thrilling, exciting and not for the faint-hearted. Nabokov are one of the most exuberant exciting young companies working in London, at the forefront of the new writing movement, and adept at taking theatre to a new audience. The Arts Club is a fantastic introduction to nabokov for those who like their theatre a little more sweaty than usual. At BAC on March 2nd. Tickets go like lightning, so don't miss out. Sod it, even if you're not in London, get down to it, it runs until 2am so you can grab a coffee somewhere before catching the first train home. Old school.
That’s all from me. I’m off to alphabetise my programme collection. And then index them in a box file. Nerd? Me?
PS. Oh, by the way, if you haven’t got your tickets to see Mark Rylance, Samuel Barnett and Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night at the Globe yet, you can forget it. All gone. But perhaps all is not lost quite yet? My lips are sealed.