Category Archives: Events


(Susannah Clapp’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/29; via Pam Green; Photo:A tragedy in which ‘bludgeoning comes naturally’: Michael Akinsulire, centre, in the title role, and company in Othello. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Lyric Hammersmith; Criterion; Park theatre, London
Brute force speaks volumes in Frantic Assembly’s breathtaking Othello; Steven Moffat and co flirt with farce; and the story of Windrush boxer Vernon Vanriel hits home in song

Frantic Assembly’s roughed-up, seized-by-the-scruff-of-its-neck version of Othello keeps shining new lights on Shakespeare’s play. When I first saw Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s adaptation 14 years ago, the switch of setting – to a pool bar in the 21st century – was invigorating, but the main excitement was the way the stage seemed to be expanding its vocabulary. Shakespeare’s words were there all right, but their meaning was danced as well as spoken.

In Graham’s new production, which is concluding a nationwide tour with a London run, the velocity and agility of movement is still breathtaking. Characters seem to lean on the air or be pushed by it; the atmosphere might be another cast member. The dynamics of the plot are evident before anyone speaks: Iago scissors himself between Othello and Desdemona; male bodies arch back and forward, as if tugged by gusts of violence; Desdemona and Emilia swivel towards each other for a chat, their limbs making a protective chamber as they bend together.

Still, this time the revelation is different. What struck me most forcibly now is the way Othello’s violence can be seen growing from the entrenched habits of fighting that surround him. With the sheer outnumbering of women by men more evident than ever, the play becomes without strain a tragedy in which males are automatically pitted against females. Michael Akinsulire’s Othello may be cranked up by Joe Layton’s muscular, slippery Iago but he goes on to kill because bludgeoning comes so naturally, is so all-pervasive.

At a matinee of The Unfriend, the theatre seemed to be an enormous communal sofa

The evening opens to the sound of drums and the sight of flying fists and hurtling limbs – with pool cues slid around suggestively. No wonder it should end in a clamour of violence. Akinsulire’s delivery is staccato, as if each phrase were a stab. Beside him, Chanel Waddock’s Desdemona (big hoops and Lycra) is fresh, unposh, relaxed. The key to their relationship is Emilia’s late plea for women to behave with the same liberty as men. It is a mighty speech from one of Shakespeare’s most vivid characters, but it isn’t always given due weight. Finely framed by this production, Kirsty Stuart makes it the verbal high point of the evening.

The Unfriend transfers to the West End after success at Chichester. Sherlocked-up – directed by Mark Gatiss, written by Steven Moffat and with Amanda Abbington among the cast – it is at the other end of the comedy-thriller spectrum from the now long-running 2:22 A Ghost Story: humorous, with a few chiller touches.

A couple find themselves hosting a holiday acquaintance whom they believe to be a serial killer. Preposterousness is scattered with perspicacity: the couple’s reactions are, well, strangled by politeness. The murderess turns out to have a liberating, beneficial effect on the hitherto sullen family.

Robert Jones’s design of suburban interior and roofscape wink at sitcom; clever Michael Simkins blends seamlessly into this as the flatpack neighbour so dull no one can remember his name. Plot and performances flirt with farce. Frances Barber, both luscious and frightening, has a smile so wide she looks capable of carrying out her threat to gobble every one up; praise is due to head of wardrobe, Amy Jeskins, who gives her an apricot velour tracksuit with, on the back, the glittering instruction to “Love Life”. Reece Shearsmith, hovering between the feeble and the sinister, provides a knockout poo episode: face slipping all over the place, loo brush held aloft in the sitting room, stumblingly putting far-from routine inquiries about faeces to a policeman.

None of the teasing or nudging lands much of a point, and edginess quickly evaporates – though there is an impressive performance from Gabriel Howell as a teenager who moves from slump to sunshine. Yet at a matinee, an appreciative audience gave a glow of enjoyment to my experience: cosiness reigned; the theatre seemed to be an enormous communal sofa.

Gathered around a boxing ring, the audience for On the Ropes watch Mensah Bediako slugging it out as Vernon Vanriel, in a play written by Vanriel himself with Dougie Blaxland. They are watching a Windrush battle, a fight between British authorities and people they treat as subjects – not citizens.

Vanriel, who grew up in Tottenham, rose to fame as a flamboyant fighter (draped in the union jack), struggled with addiction and depression, and was, after an extended visit to Jamaica, barred by bureaucratic tangles from returning to the country where he had spent 43 years. He was finally rescued from 13 years of destitution when Amelia Gentleman wrote about his plight in the Guardian and MP David Lammy took up his case.

(Read more)


(Olivia Salazar-Winpear’s, Jennifer Ben Brahim’s, Marion Chaval’s, and Magali Faure’s report appeared on France 24, 1/26.)

A century and a half after her birth, Colette remains an icon: a bestselling author, a music hall star, a mime artist and, eventually, an elder stateswoman of French literature. We discuss her extraordinary trajectory with author Emmanuelle Lambert, whose book “Sidonie Gabrielle Colette” takes us through the many faces of the trailblazing artist. We also we take a trip to Colette’s childhood home in Burgundy to learn more about how her rural roots fed into her artistic output and her worldview.


(Silke Wünsch’s article appeared in DW, 1/23/23; Photo: Singer Nena in the 1980sImage: United Archives/kpa/picture alliance.)

Despite the recording company’s initial doubts about the song’s potential, “99 Red Balloons” topped charts worldwide.

In January 1983, shallow pop music dominated the international charts. Phil Collins was No. 1 in the United Kingdom with “You Can’t Hurry Love.” In the USA, Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” and Men at Work’s “Down Under” topped the Billboard charts. In Germany, Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” was making waves.

But the German music scene back then featured more than the standard Anglophone superstar pop.

There was a new genre of dance-worthy German-language songs with funny, colorful and imaginative lyrics, which also featured synthesizers and electronic drums.

Groups such as Spliff, Fräulein Menke, Peter Schilling, Trio and Hubert Kah all belonged to this genre called Neue Deutsche Welle (or New German Wave) and made their mark in the German charts alongside international stars like Supertramp, Eddie Grant, Dionne Warwick and Phil Collins.

The genre comprised mainly West German rock music originally derived from post-punk and new wave music, with electronic influences.

(Read more)


Get to know the real Cary Grant for his 119th birthday, in Nancy Nelson’s acclaimed biography (he was born January 18, 1904).

Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best

Nancy Nelson’s Evenings with Cary Grant, which uses the icon’s own words—and is enhanced with material from Grant’s personal papers—draws from the remembrances of Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Reynolds, Sophia Loren, Quincy Jones, Deborah Kerr, and George Burns (over one hundred and fifty voices in all). Together these friends, colleagues, and loved ones provide a sublime, truthful, and candid portrait—as close to a memoir as Grant ever got.

Foreword by Barbara and Jennifer Grant.  Available now.  

“Forget the other Grant books, this is it.  Superb.”–Kirkus Reviews.

“It’s a lovely, funny book about Cary.”–Katharine Hepburn.  

View on Amazon



(David Smith’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/14; via Pam Green; Photo: KPOP, Almost Famous, Ohio State Murders. Composite: Getty; Handout.)

A slew of well-reviewed productions have closed with poor ticket sales while blockbusters dominate the market

With ineffable talents and six Tony awards, Audra McDonald is box-office gold. But not this time. Not even she could save Ohio State Murders, a play that gave its author, Adrienne Kennedy, her Broadway debut at the age of 91.

“More of her work deserves to be produced commercially, and hopefully this will be the beginning of more and more awareness about who Adrienne Kennedy is, how incredible and poetic and profound and raw and revolutionary her work is,” McDonald said in a video posted on Instagram. “And that there needs to be more work out there centering Black women by Black women in the way that Adrienne has been doing for 70 years.”

Ohio State Murders took a drubbing over the holiday season, bringing in just $311,893 over nine performances in a grand but half-empty James Earl Jones Theatre. The final curtain will come down on Sunday, well before its originally planned closing date of 12 February.

The show is just one among a dozen closing during a brutal January in New York: A Christmas Carol, Almost Famous, Beetlejuice, Death of a Salesman, Into the Woods, The Music Man, The Old Man & the Pool, The Piano Lesson, 1776, A Strange Loop and Topdog/Underdog.

In some cases, the closures were planned; in others, producers apparently did not raise enough money to get through what is always a harsh winter for ticket sales. Last month saw the demise of KPOP, Broadway’s first Korean-centered musical, and Ain’t No Mo’, which was extended by a week after a rearguard action by Jordan E Cooper, the youngest Black American playwright to have a show on Broadway.

Race is perhaps a factor but not the only one as the industry continues to absorb the shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running show in Broadway history, will close in April after 35 years.

Sam Gold, a director of numerous Broadway productions, says: “We have to acknowledge that it’s a hard time for live theatre. We’re still dealing with fallout from the pandemic. We have challenging supply chain issues. We have the $1tn a month poured into streaming so people can stay home and watch things at home. That got sped up because of the pandemic.

“People just got used to staying home and getting people back out and remembering how amazing live theatre is is taking time. Also people are still suffering and dealing with the trauma of the last few years. People want to think everything’s back to normal but it’s going to take longer for all people to feel normal after two and a half years of tragedy.”

(Read more)




​February 2–19, 2023

Thursday–Saturday at 7PM
Sunday at 2PM

Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East 4th Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10003


Adults: $30
Students/Seniors: $25
First 10 tickets are $10 (limit 2 per person)

Ticket prices are inclusive of all fees.


Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre returns with Audience by Vaclav Havel, translated and directed by Vit Horejs. The production celebrates Havel’s legacy as The Czech Republic assumed the European Union presidency in the second half of 2022.

The play, a dark comedy of spying in a brewery, is staged with projected closeups of puppets from security cameras in order to suggest surveillance. Featuring live actors and traditional marionettes, the production’s concept is by Vit Horejs and Theresa Linnihan, who will act the piece together. The play reflects on the time when Havel had to work in a brewery as penance for writing critically of the Czechoslovak communist government. He ultimately went from prison to the castle, becoming president of Czechoslovakia.

Vaclav Havel’s Audience (1975) is the first of his partly autobiographical one-act plays known as the “Vanek Trilogy” (followed by Unveiling (1975) and Protest (1978) based on his experience of being subjected to forced work while under constant harassment from government agents. Since the plays were banned in Communist Czechoslovakia, they were performed in people’s living rooms and even recorded on vinyl.

Suitable for ages 12+


AUDIENCE by Václav Havel

Translated and Directed by Vít Hořejš
Performed by Vít Hořejš & Theresa Linnihan
Production design: Alan Barnes Netherton
Marionettes: Milos Kasal, Jakub”Kuba” Krejci, Theresa Linnihan
Costumes, Vaněk and Brewmaster puppets: Theresa Linnihan  
Pre-show video: Suzanna Halsey
Producer of GOH: Bonnie Sue Stein/GOH Productions
Presented by: La MaMa in association with GOH Productions and Vaclav Havel Library Foundation

THE CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATRE (CAMT) is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of traditional and not-so-traditional puppetry. As new immigrants from Prague, we wanted to create a theatre company based on the well-known marionette traditions of Central Europe, where puppetry has a strong and creative history. Since founding the company in 1990, we have created over a dozen original productions and garnered accolades from the press and dedicated audiences.

Visit La MaMa


(via Michael Jorgensen,

“(Tennessee) Williams would probably love Matt de Rogatis’ Brick.”

– The New York Times



“An innovative Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” – The Observer












New York, NY (January 12, 2023) – Ruth Stage announced today that Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Frederick Weller (To Kill a Mockingbird, “In Plain Sight”) will join their provocative and controversial modern staging of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as ‘Big Daddy.’ An 8x Broadway veteran, Mr. Weller is also known for originating the role of ‘Shane Mungitt’ in Take Me Out which debuted on Broadway in February of 2003 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Ruth Stage’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof returns to the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 W 46th Street) after a hit off-Broadway premiere run last summer. The original 35 performance run was the first time in history that the Tennessee Williams estate had granted permission for the show to be staged off-Broadway.

“We couldn’t be more excited to have Fred in the role,” added director Joe Rosario. “One of the strengths of our last production was out of the box casting and an effective re-imagining of this play. Mr. Weller’s gravitas, intensity and ability to adapt makes him not only a stellar addition to our cast but the quintessential ‘Big Daddy’ for our modern interpretation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Mr. Weller will be joined by previously announced leads: Courtney Henggeler (“Cobra Kai” series regular) in her New York City stage debut as the central role of ‘Maggie the Cat,’ and Matt de Rogatis who will reprise his critically acclaimed role as ‘Brick’.

This landmark production will be helmed by returning director Joe Rosario and his creative team which features Matt Imhoff as the set designer, Christian Specht as the lighting designer and Jesse Meckl as the stage manager. Casting is by Ruth Stage.

Ruth Stage’s off-Broadway premiere of the Tennessee Williams masterpiece concluded its run on August 14, 2022, playing to sold out audiences and standing ovations. On the heels of the show’s success, the Tennessee Williams estate has issued an unprecedented re-engagement license to the maverick theatre group.

Performances of Ruth Stage’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are set to begin on Friday, February 24, 2023, ahead of an opening night set for Sunday, March 5, 2023. This strictly-limited 42 performance re-engagement will run through Friday, March 31, 2023.

Tennessee Williams’ sultry, southern storm of a play about greed, deceit, self-delusion, sexual desire and repression, homophobia, sexism, and the looming specter of death won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955. Ruth Stage’s modern and haunting interpretation is set in an estate in the Mississippi Delta of Big Daddy Pollitt, a wealthy cotton tycoon. The play examines the relationships among members of Big Daddy’s highly dysfunctional family, primarily between his son Brick and Maggie the Cat, Brick’s wife.

The production is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

Tickets, priced between $39 and $125, are on sale now and can be purchased at either or


COURTNEY HENGGELER (Maggie) stars as ‘Amanda LaRusso’ on the global hit Netflix series, “Cobra Kai”, the much-buzzed reboot of The Karate Kid, which is in its fifth season on Netflix. For her work on the series, Henggeler has been hailed as a “natural screen comic” by The Hollywood Reporter and the “season’s MVP” by Entertainment Weekly. Upcoming, she will star in George Clooney-directed The Boys in the Boat opposite Joel Edgerton. Based on #1 New York Times bestselling author Daniel James Brown’s 2013 book of the same name, the film tells the triumphant underdog story of the University of Washington men’s rowing team, who stunned the world by winning gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Henggeler will play Hazel Ulbrickson, the wife of Edgerton’s Coach Ulbrickson. Henggeler has made many memorable television appearances, including as ‘Missy’, the twin sister of Jim Parson’s ‘Sheldon’, on CBS’s smash hit “The Big Bang Theory”; recurred as ‘Claudia’ on CBS’s “Mom” opposite Anna Faris and Allison Janney; plus The CW’s “Jane The Virgin”, Netflix’s “Fuller House”, Hulu’s crime drama “Into The Dark”, Fox’s long-running hit “Bones”, ABC’s comedy series “Happy Endings”, and many more. For film, she has appeared in Friends With Benefits opposite Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake; and Tyler Perry’s Nobody’s Fool starring Tiffany Haddish and Tika Sumpter. Also an emerging producer and screenwriter, she recently made her debut as writer and executive producer with the Lifetime original movie, The Secret Life of a Celebrity Surrogate. She continues to develop projects for television and film. Henggeler lives on Long Island with her husband and two children.

MATT de ROGATIS (Brick). Some previous New York City credits for Matt de Rogatis include ‘Frederick Clegg’ in the United States premiere of The Collector at 59E59, ‘Richard III’ in Austin Pendleton’s Wars of the Roses (124 Bank Street Theater), ‘Tom’ in The Glass Menagerie (Wild Project), and ‘Roy’ in Lone Star (Triad). He was last seen on stage as ‘Brick’ in Ruth Stage’s summer 2022 off-Broadway premiere of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Theatre at St. Clement’s). Find Matt on social media @themightydero and

FREDERICK WELLER’s (Big Daddy) extensive theater work includes eight principal roles on Broadway (including Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird, Shane Mungit in the original Take Me Out and Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross opposite Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber), as well as twelve principal roles off-Broadway (including 4 roles for playwright Neil LaBute). He has received an Ensemble Obie Award, an Ensemble Drama Desk Award, two Drama Desk nominations, and two Lucille Lortel nominations. Outside of New York, Frederick is probably best known for his role as Marshall Mann on the series “In Plain Sight” (USA Network), which ran five seasons from 2007-2012. His many other film and TV credits include Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, Steven Soderbergh’s Mosaic (HBO), and the mini-series “The Beach Boys: An American Family”. He can currently be seen in Apple TV’s Causeway with Jennifer Lawrence and Peacock’s The Independent with John Cena.

JOE ROSARIO (Director) is a writer, producer, actor and director from the New York City area. As an actor he has appeared on “The Sopranos”, “Ed”, “Law and Order”, “Sex and the City”, “Law and Order SVU”, “Oz”, “100 Centre St”, “Hope and Faith”, and the original pilot “Thunderbox”. Joe has also appeared numerous times on “The Chappelle Show” and “The View” in various comedic skits and was a re-occurring character on the “Late Show with David Letterman”. He has also appeared in over 50 commercials. Rosario is also an award-winning filmmaker and producer. His films and scripts have been official selections at over 50 festivals including Cannes, Barcelona and the New York International Film Festival. His feature length drama, Snapshot, starring Zach McGowan of “Shameless”, was one of his winning submissions. A resident of New Jersey, Joe is also an accomplished acting teacher and he coaches many actors seen on TV and film. Rosario directed the summer 2022 off-Broadway premiere of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in New York City.

MATT IMHOFF (Set Design) is an award-winning scenic and lighting designer, and the resident scenic designer for Ruth Stage. He designed the critically acclaimed off-Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this past summer at Theatre at St. Clement’s. Additional Off Broadway: soot and spit (New York Times Critics Pick), Love and Yogurt: A Modest Proposal (world premiere, Cherry Lane Theatre), A Little Princess (US Premiere), Disney’s High School MusicalFrankenstein. Additional NYC: Danny and the Deep Blue SeaRabbit HoleProofHamlet. US National Tour: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Live! Regional: Stephen Temperley’s A Christmas Carol (premiere): Crazy For YouAnna in the Tropics; Boston Lyric Opera; Opera Naples.

JESSE MECKL (Stage Manager) is a graduate of the New School for Drama (2018), who earned a Dramatic Arts degree with an emphasis on directing, acting, and stage management. Jesse has enjoyed working in all three disciplines to add his voice to this community of artists. His favorite productions include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The New School for Drama), Echoes of Ebola (ASM: Playwrights Horizons), Fabuloso (Theatre Row), The Land of Cheesecake and Ice Cream (Theatre Row), KATIE (Theatre for the New City), and Wars of the Roses: Henry VI & Richard III (Bank Street Theatre & Theatre for the New City). He’s thrilled to be RETURNING to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and is extremely grateful to be a part of this ensemble. @JTFreckle96

CHRISTIAN SPECHT (Lighting Design). RagtimeThe Music ManCrazy for YouHello DollyBright StarCabaret (SSTI); Engineers Not Found (Honest Accomplice Theatre); Duets of Difference (Creative Traffic Flow); Peter and the Starcatcher1776Freaky FridayChildren of Eden (Samford University); Turn of the Screw (VST), Glen Campbell, The Manhattan TransferMandy Patinkin: Dress CasualAnn Hampton Callaway (Angelina Arts Alliance); Around the World in 80 Days/ ALD, Freaky Friday/ ALD (Alley Theatre); Titanic The Musical (ALD) (Signature Theatre); Ain’t Too Proud/ intern (Kennedy Center); Originally from Leesburg, GA. MFA in Lighting Design, Virginia Tech; BFA Performance, Valdosta State University. @Spechtc5792, 

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (1911-1983) explored passion with daring honesty and forged a poetic theatre of raw psychological insight that shattered conventional proprieties and transformed the American stage. The autobiographical The Glass Menagerie brought what Mr. Williams called “the catastrophe of success,” a success capped by A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most influential works of modern American literature. An extraordinary series of masterpieces followed, including Vieux CarreSweet Bird of YouthThe Rose TattooOrpheus Descending and the classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

A B O U T   R U T H   S T A G E

RUTH STAGE is an edgy and innovative New Jersey based nonprofit theater group, founded by the late Bob Lamb in 1982. Over the last four decades, our maverick organization has produced nearly 200 productions. Our nonprofit has employed hundreds of actors, stage managers, designers, crafts people and a litany of other behind the scenes artists. Our productions, seen by hundreds of thousands of theater goers, have inspired generations to get involved in the arts. By re-introducing thought provoking, seminal playwrights like Tennessee Williams to more audiences, Ruth Stage aims to keep the classics alive. Ruth Stage re-imagines, reinvents and accessibly presents must see, formative works to audiences of all ages. Another unique aspect of our theater group is our Foundation for the Arts initiative. A portion of all our fundraising dollars is dedicated to supporting other organizations in the communities around us. Ruth Stage has given out tens of thousands of dollars in grants to deserving causes. Vietnam veterans, families of fallen first responders, students in the arts and a handful of theater groups have been the recipients of our awards. In September of 2022 Ruth Stage gave away our premiere gift, The Bob Lamb Community Grant, to the Autistic Community Theater group in New York City. In October of 2021 we also sponsored a gala event in Soho called Theater Saves Lives where we partnered with the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation to raise money and awareness for those living with Bile Duct cancer.

Photos credit: Miles Skalli

# # # #

Facebook: @RuthStageInc
Instagram: @OfficialRuthStage


(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/11/23; Photo: Channelling Bette Davis … Patricia Hodge in Watch on the Rhine. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

Donmar Warehouse, London
Patricia Hodge stars in Hellman’s play about a liberal American family confronted by war in Europe and the dangers of inaction

Lillian Hellman’s 1941 play looks like the silver screen come to life. It is framed as if inside an old-style cinema, with a rolling prologue in period typeface, the back wall flickering intermittently – a reminder that her plays were numerously made into Hollywood films.

Despite these dated effects, this quietly incandescent play about Nazi tyranny in Europe – and the US’s inertia in the face of it – feels current in the ethical questions it raises.

We meet the Farrelly family in their refined Washington DC home as matriarch Fanny (Patricia Hodge) waits to welcome back, after a 20-year absence, her daughter Sara (Caitlin FitzGerald) who has a German husband Kurt (Mark Waschke) and three children in tow.

Impeccably directed by Ellen McDougall, with an inspired design by Basia Bińkowska, what seems like a potential comedy of manners or family friction drama becomes charged with bigger world politics and violence.

Sara and Kurt are anti-fascist fugitives who bring the war in Europe to the door of this ostensibly liberal household, albeit with a Black butler who answers Fanny with “yes’m”. Kurt describes how he was compelled to fight against nazism after watching 27 people killed in the street (the word “Jew” is rarely uttered in this play but lies just beneath its surface).

“I could not stand by and watch,” he says. That message might have been written as a wake-up call to the US which had still not entered the second world war at the time of the play’s Broadway premiere in 1941 – but it is also instructive for us in light of the Ukraine war.

(Read more)


(Helen Pitt’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1/10/23; Photo: Swiss-French circus performer, violinist and actor James Theirree in Sydney.CREDIT:JAMES BRICKWOOD.)

When performer James Thierree’s mother Victoria Chaplin ran away at 18 to join the circus, her father, silent movie star Charlie Chaplin wasn’t happy.

Victoria’s mother was Chaplin’s fourth wife, Oona, herself the daughter of US playwright Eugene O’Neill. Yet when Victoria fled Switzerland with a French circus performer, Jean-Baptiste Thierree, 14 years her senior, her showbiz parents did not approve.

Thierree said: “They thought she was crazy. They weren’t on speaking terms for three or four years because they were afraid she was going off to work in this really raw and fragile environment. Circuses were not the theatre or movies.

“My parents started what we call today the ‘new circus’, ‘the imaginary circus’ in 1970, which at the time broke new ground with rock ‘n’ roll, music and dance and no animals as opposed to the traditional circus; they were circus pioneers,” said Thierree, who was raised in the circus and made his onstage debut with his parents aged four.

His parents’ “grand love story” with each other, and the form of physical theatre they created, continues today. His mother 71, and father 85, are preparing for a new show in April performing with his older sister Aurelia, 51.

Thierree at 48 continues in the family trade too, and is in Sydney for the first time in several years for the Sydney Festival performance of his show, Room.

Thierree says the show, which starts in Sydney on Wednesday at Roslyn Packer Theatre and continues until January 25, will resonate for everyone who has been stuck inside a room at home during lockdown.

“The room is a playground or a wild dream. It is an ode to surrealism and the beautiful British idea of nonsense.” he said.

“My take is that the world has gotten so crazy that it was interesting for me as an artist to come up with kind of a mad project. It is sort of saying, ‘Let’s make something joyful out of it, out of the chaos of COVID’.”

(Read more)


(Vanessa Thorpe’s interview appeared in the Observer, 1/8; via Pam Green;  Photo:  ‘A workaday farce’: (from left) Felicity Kendal, Alexander Hanson and Tracy-Ann Oberman in Noises Off by Michael Frayn at London’s Phoenix Theatre. Photograph: Nobby Clark.)

The 1982 play stills pulls in crowds from Broadway to Helsinki, and is now returning to the West End for a fifth time. ‘I just can’t understand it,’ says its creator)

The arrival of anything by post was significant during the pandemic lockdown but, for the writer Michael Frayn, the contents of one envelope were particularly welcome. “Theatre had stopped and my income had dried up, so I was astonished when a large cheque arrived for amateur performances of Noises Off all over America. People are putting it on all the time.”

Since 1982, when Frayn, 89, first staged his fast-paced comedy about actors in a workaday farce, it has become a staple crowdpleaser around the world. This month, a touring 4oth anniversary production brings the show home to London’s West End for a triumphal fifth time, now at the Phoenix Theatre.

“I can’t quite understand it. Local theatres in Germany seem to be doing it continuously,” said the playwright. “In Finland, they used the idea that a company in the north were putting on an effete farce sent up from Helsinki, while in Barcelona a controversial production had a Catalan company putting on a Spanish-speaking show.”

On Broadway, however, producers have so far stuck to Frayn’s original English setting, which sees a troupe of jobbing performers simply “putting on some dreadful sex comedy”.

Funny shows can age quickly, but when the mechanics are as finely wrought and the human confusion as universal as in this, Frayn’s biggest hit, the length of the laughter appears limitless. Very few changes to the dialogue are ever made. “I am amazed that people are still prepared today to put on a play in which a rather dim young actress spends all evening in her underclothes,” said Frayn, who lives in Richmond with his wife, the acclaimed biographer Claire Tomalin.

The author, who wrote for the Observer in the late 1960s and early 70s, has since produced a string of celebrated works, including the serious plays Copenhagen and Democracy and the admired novels Spies and Towards the End of the Morning (the latter, set in a newspaper office, is especially loved by journalists). Usually, he says, the decision to tell a story on stage or in a book comes early. “Ideas immediately suggest one thing or the other, and Noises Off, obviously, had to be a play.”

The show’s first London cast was led by the late Paul Eddington, known for The Good Life and Yes Minister on TV, as the show’s beleaguered director, Lloyd Dallas. “He was terribly good,” recalls Frayn. “Claire remembers the management had to hold the curtain for 20 minutes at the beginning of the second preview because there was such a queue for tickets at the box office.

Word had got out that we had something.” But the play’s birth had been as complicated as its layers of cross-purposes might suggest. The idea first came to Frayn while watching, from behind the scenes, a one-act play he had written for Lynn Redgrave and Richard Briers. It was a pastiche of a five-character farce which, with a cast of just two, involved silly quick-changes and theatrical illusions. “I thought I would like to write a farce seen from backstage like this. It was a simple thought to have, but it turned out to be fiendishly difficult to do,” he says.

His notion of a staging a play which deliberately unravels before the audience’s eyes has proved highly influential. Not only did it permanently mess with theatrical expectations, it also arguably laid the groundwork for a string of spoof fly-on-the-wall formats on television, each revelling in the background mishaps of, say, a ministerial department in The Thick of It. More directly, it may have inspired the The Play That Goes Wrong series, a popular stage and television franchise that Frayn says he is ashamed not to have yet seen, adding: “But I am told they are very good.”

The first version of Noises Off, which takes its title from a common stage direction, was a one-act affair put on for a charity event. Renowned stage producer Michael Codron saw its potential and commissioned a full-length version. “I could see a way to do it by separating it out into three acts so that I was not trying to show everything simultaneously,” says Frayn.

“First, you needed to see the play and get to know the cast, then we needed to see what went on backstage between the actors, and then finally you see what complete mince is made of the play. But it took me a long time.”

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