William Russell looks over 2014, and finds the London small venues powerhouses of creativity.
Little theatres have their drawbacks – the seats can be hard, the stairs to the inevitable room above a pub can be precipitous, and the pub itself less than desirable. The drawbacks are, however, frequently offset by what is on offer. Nothing wrong, by the way, about the following venues.
London Theatre Workshop’s Apartment 40c staged in the Eel Brook public house in New King’s Road where there be dragons outshone all the West End had to offer by way of musicals in 2014. It had a gorgeous score by Tim Lees, good lyrics and a really clever book and Ray Rackham who also directed it stylishly. It was performed by a fine cast of six and all it lacked for me was that musical essential – a killer ballad linking the three story lines. Rackham and Lees are names to watch out for.
The Union Theatre in Southwark, shortly to leave its interesting railway arch for new premises, staged a magnificent production of Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures. Director Michael Strassen transformed this musical, which on larger stages in the past has seemed both dreadfully pretentious and ponderous, into something memorable. The assault by the West on Japan’s traditional way of life was beautifully realised with not much more than some gauze curtains, a few sprigs of bamboo and a young cast rising successfully to the challenge of both score and subject.
At Jermyn Street Theatre Mordaunt Shairp’s The Green Bay Tree, one of those plays everyone talks about as being of historic significance theatrically but which seldom get performed, proved enthralling. It is about a beautiful young man, his possessive guardian, an elderly aesthete, and the fiancée who must fight to get the young man she loves. Somehow in the 1930s the love that dared not speak its name got spoken about loud and clear, the battle for Julian, played to the hilt by Christopher Leveaux was fought to the death, and the play revealed as being every bit as powerful now as when first staged, something which does not always happen.
Without little theatres none of them would have happened.