Category Archives: Current Affairs


(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.

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(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’.”

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(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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(Olivia Salazar-Winspear’s, Marion Chaval’s, Sonia Paricelli’s and Gerome Vassilacos’s article appeared on France 24, 1/3.)

We take a tour of the spectacular shows illuminating the dark days of winter in the French capital, starting with the cult classic “Cabaret”. Robert Carsen is the latest director to adapt the musical, bringing its biting social commentary to a newly revamped venue: the Lido 2 Paris on the Champs-Élysées.

The legendary spot is moving away from its burlesque revue show reputation and embracing the appeal of musical theatre. Meanwhile, the Théâtre du Châtelet hosts another Broadway staple, as “42nd Street” zooms in on the hopes and dreams of the chorus line in 1930s New York. And contemporary dance creation “Stories” blends tap dancing with modern jazz to take the audience on a narrative journey at the 13ème Art theatre in Paris.


(Benjamin Lee’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/1/23; via the Drudge Report; Photo: Franco Zeffirelli directing Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in Romeo and Juliet. Photograph: REX Shutterstock.)

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting accuse studio of sexual exploitation in nude scene in Franco Zeffirelli adaptation

The two leads from the 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet are suing Paramount for child abuse over a nude scene in the film.

According to Variety, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were teenagers when making the Oscar-winning film, filed a lawsuit on 30 December accusing the studio of sexual exploitation.

In the suit, the pair claim that the director, Franco Zeffirelli, told them there would be no nudity and flesh-coloured items would be worn in the bedroom scene but he then later insisted they performed nude “or the picture would fail”. Zeffirelli died in 2019.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, a business manager for the two actors. “They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo.”

Hussey was 15 and Whiting 16 at the time of production. The complaint alleges the pair have suffered “mental anguish and emotional distress” in the years since and have lost out on job opportunities. Damages are being sought “believed to be in excess of $500m”.

“These were very young naive children in the 60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them,” said Solomon Gresen, a lawyer for the pair. “All of a sudden they were famous at a level they never expected, and in addition they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.”

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(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian 12/31;  via Pam Green; Photo:  The gatehouse at Nottingham Castle. The site has been forced to close, despite a three-year, multimillion-pound renovation. Photograph: Ian Dagnall/Alamy.)

Rising costs have led to staff redundancies and curtailed opening hours as nine out of 10 sites fear they could close permanently

Theatres, museums, castles and other heritage sites are making staff redundant, turning down the heating, shutting rooms to the public and closing early.

The findings come from research that shows nine in 10 such sites across the UK now fear for their future.

The alarming findings reveal that 84% are having to slash costs to survive. The survey, conducted by OnePoll, was commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance, specialists for the heritage sector. It involved 500 “decision makers” within UK heritage organisations, including museums, galleries, theatres, hotels, castles and stately homes.

“Nine in 10 heritage leaders are really concerned about their organisation’s future,” said Faith Kitchen of Ecclesiastical Insurance. “Many heritage organisations – not just one or two – will be at risk of closure in the next few years if costs continue to rise. That’s pretty shocking and sad.”

Almost half of those questioned said they were having to make staff redundant with almost as many reducing their opening hours. Amid rising fuel and energy prices, they were limiting rooms that were open and heated (42%) and restricting public access by opening on fewer days (39%). They were also renegotiating contracts with existing suppliers (45%), which will no doubt take its toll on those businesses.

Some heritage sites have already closed, including Nottingham castle, whose trust confirmed in November that it was “saddened and hugely disappointed” to be closing, but visitors were “significantly below” the 300,000 a year projected after a three-year, £33m renovation.

“That, to me, really stands out because normally – in any other economic time – to have that refurbishment, you would then expect that to be a really successful aspect for the local community,” said Kitchen. “But because of the cost of living, the community aren’t able to support it in terms of visitors. The whole landscape is different post-pandemic.”

Other closures in 2022 include Eastleigh Museum in Hampshire. On its website, Paul Sapwell, chief executive of Hampshire Cultural Trust, states: “We are unfortunately not in a financial position to support staffing the museum and front-of-house running costs with the venue in its current form, as revenue from the existing shop and cafe is not sufficient to support the operations.”

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(The Guardian readers’ article appeared 12/19 in that media; via Pam Green; Photo: ‘It managed to surpass my expectations’ … Davina De Campo in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photograph: The Other Richard.

This year readers saw some amazing theatre, provoking tears, recognition, anger, inspiration and awe.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Leeds Playhouse

I had been wanting to see Hedwig live for the better part of four years and it somehow managed to surpass my expectations. The atmosphere in the room during the first preview was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I really hope it comes back next year as more people should get to see it. Ella Catherall, 22, Edinburgh


Traverse theatre, Edinburgh

From the beginning, this show was so funny and tender and shocking. I cackled with glee, the performers were fantastic, the writing was stunning, the use of music, the sound, the lights, the design – everything! As a theatre director (especially a sick director at the fringe) you can become desensitised to work and notice the container more than the story, or you don’t always leave plays as euphorically inspired as others. I voicenoted 10 friends immediately after the show because I desperately wanted them to share this experience. Stephanie Kempson, 35, Bristol

Magnolia Walls

Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne

An amazing show that used testimonies from real military spouses to present a piece of theatre that gave a voice to a silent group of women who aren’t acknowledged or celebrated by the armed forces. Powerful storytelling. Sarah Dodd, 40, Northumberland

To Kill a Mockingbird

Gielgud theatre, London

This year it has to be, hands down, To Kill a Mockingbird. It was well worth the wait after the first run was postponed. Rafe Spall was brilliant as Atticus. It’s such a wonderful story and this production really did it justice (pardon the pun). I still get emotional when I think of the last line, “All rise”. Jenny Hughes, 52, Northamptonshire


Theatre Royal Bath

After an overwhelming and difficult year, watching this show by Dickie Beau helped restore my faith in humanity. It reminded me how beautiful humanity’s freakish obsession with sharing and creating stories really is. It reminded me how sympathetic humans are as creatures; we are all just tiny little specks in a massive confusing universe, and all we are trying to do is recognise and be recognised in return. This show honours that endeavour so cleverly and beautifully. Lorelei, 21, London

The Book Thief

Bolton Octagon

I knew the book but didn’t know what to expect from a musical adaptation – and it turned out to be superb. The songs worked well, the stage scenery and lighting were stunning on such a small stage. There was also a bit of puppetry, which was just beautiful. It was a standing ovation and floods of tears from me. This show should definitely tour. Jan, 48, Manchester


Hampstead theatre, London

I heard good things and went without knowing much about it. It’s an intimate, very moving show. The writing and directing were great, and the four players performed gracefully. One of the rare times where theatre really speaks to you and makes you part of it. Julio Roel, 50, NHS nurse, London

Whale of a Time

Alphabetti theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

A beautiful story of two men, one old and one young, thrown together in the belly of a whale with no idea what connects them. It explores generational differences and how the world has changed in the north-east through a growing relationship between the two. It made me laugh out loud and sob my heart out. It stayed with me for a long time after. Ann Hunter, 54, Gateshead

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(Laura Snapes’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/24; Photo:  ‘A desperate cry’ … (L-R) Diana Burkot, Taso Pletner, Maria Alyokhina and Olga Borisova of Pussy Riot performing in Edinburgh in November. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns. )

The collective said Mama, Don’t Watch TV – a reference to the words of a captured Russian conscript soldier – rails against the Russian leader’s ‘bloodthirsty puppets’ and ‘war criminals’

Pussy Riot have released a new song protesting against the war in Ukraine, Russian censorship and the west “sponsoring” the regime through buying oil and gas from Russia. They have also called for the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, to be tried at an international tribunal.

In a statement, they described Putin’s government as a “terrorist regime” and call him, his officials, generals and propagandists “war criminals”.

They called Мама, не смотри телевизор (Mama, Don’t Watch TV), which comes 10 months after Russia invaded Ukraine: “The music of our anger, indignation, disagreement, a reproachful desperate cry against Putin’s bloodthirsty puppets, led by a real cannibal monster, whose place is in the infinity of fierce hellish flames on the bones of the victims of this terrible war.”

The collective, in this instance represented by Maria Alyokhina, Olga Borisova, Diana Burkot and Taso Pletner, said the chorus is based on the words of a captured Russian conscript soldier who told his mother: “Mum, there are no Nazis here, don’t watch TV.”

ussian propaganda daily poisons the hearts of people with hatred,” they wrote. “The law on foreign agents is used to silence opposition activists and journalists, to stop the activities of the last independent human rights organisations.”

Pussy Riot release song protesting against Putin’s war on Ukraine – video

They outlined the consequences for anyone who defies the regime. “Those who oppose Putin are imprisoned, poisoned with military poisons and killed,” they said, drawing attention to the “tradition of political poisoning” represented by Russia’s Lab X, a poison factory that helped silence the Soviets’ critics and that is believed to play a similar function today.

“Opposition figures of anti-government movements became victims of the ‘experiments’. Putin and the FSB are proud of this “tradition” and continue it: Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Skripal, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Pyotr Verzilov, Alexei Navalny.”

The group said that the money the Kremlin receives from the international community conducting business with Russia is converted “into Ukrainian blood”.

They issued a three-point demand, calling for an embargo on the purchase of Russian oil and gas and the sale of weapons and police ammunition to Russia; the seizure of western bank accounts and property of Russian officials and oligarchs and personal sanctions against them; and an international tribunal to try Putin, employees of Russian state propaganda, army officers and everyone responsible for the genocide of the Ukrainian nation.

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(David Belcher’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/23; Photo: Members of the cast of “The Threepenny Opera” at the Volksoper in Vienna. The production’s cross-gender casting put Oliver Liebl, wearing the blue coat, in the role of Jenny the prostitute.Credit…Barbara Pálffy/Volksoper Wien.)

Starting with “The Threepenny Opera,” the Volksoper in Vienna is reconsidering a series of works and inviting audiences to join the discussion.

“The Threepenny Opera” could be considered an antiopera as much as its menacing lead character, Macheath, is an antihero. This satirical and existential piece spoofed opera and, in doing so, broke the rules and pushed the art form of musical theater forward.

And this is precisely the lure for the Volksoper in Vienna. The house stages musicals and operas, often with a new spin. Right now, it is exploring “The Threepenny Opera,” with a new production running through January.

The 1928 work, based on the 18th-century work “The Beggar’s Opera” by John Gay, was written by the German composer Kurt Weill and the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht as a harsh satire of capitalism just before the rise of Nazism. The show’s antihero, Macheath, is a criminal among a rogue’s gallery of friends and business acquaintances relishing in the corruption and greed of 19th-century England, but with a wink to pre-fascist Germany.

Cue the Volksoper’s new Manifesto concept, which seeks to reconsider two pieces each year and give them life to new generations of theatergoers. While some might consider “The Threepenny Opera” to be off-putting, the Volksoper found it to be the perfect springboard.

“When we started reading the text, we realized that everyone thought that they knew the text really well, but that nobody really did,” said the production’s director, Maurice Lenhard. “It felt like an experiment. But ‘The Threepenny Opera’ allows for that more than, say, a Mozart opera.”

That experiment revealed that the sinister elements of the musical, from characters to the production design, were open to interpretation. The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in New York, which oversees all of Weill’s productions, allowed for cross-gender casting, which was a way to dive deeper into the piece and find something more abstract, Mr. Lenhard said, rather than the usual gritty realism. More colorful costumes and sets (versus the street-urchin depiction of most productions) helped transform this production.

“The Threepenny Opera” premiered in 1928 in Berlin and was performed thousands of times across Europe in several languages before Weill and Brecht fled Germany in 1933 as the Nazis seized power. Its initial New York production that same year closed after 12 performances. A revival in the 1950s cemented its place in theater history. But its many commercial productions, with such famous Macheaths as Raul Julia, Sting and Alan Cumming, have not always been successful critically or financially. It’s probably most famous for “Mack the Knife,” the sinister ballad about Macheath that became a perky, up-tempo jazz standard thanks to Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby Darin.

How the musical has been interpreted over the decades is part of the lure for the Volksoper team. Mr. Lenhard said the idea of cross-gender casting seemed ideal for “The Threepenny Opera” because of how Brecht revolutionized theater by challenging the audience with his “verfremdungseffekt.” This is often translated in English as the distancing, or alienation, effect, which sought to break the theatrical “fourth wall” and lure the audience into the production more as a critical observer, not just as the emotional passive observer. “Brecht was happy when the youngest character in one of his plays was played by an old person,” Mr. Lenhard said. “Then the audience had to really pay attention and to listen.”

In “Die Dreigroschenoper” at the Volksoper (this production is sung in the original German and runs through Jan. 23), Macheath is played by a woman, Sona MacDonald, and Jenny, the prostitute who was once Macheath’s lover and is in many ways the heart and soul — and hope — of the musical, is played by a man, Oliver Liebl.

Despite these bold changes, no words have been altered, said Lotte de Beer, the artistic director of the Volksoper.

“Not a word has been rewritten,” Ms. de Beer said. “Manifesto is not an invitation to rewrite anything.”

But part of the Manifesto concept is bringing the audience into the discussion. For the debut of the series, the Volksoper held three evenings of talks with the public, with numbers from different musicals and operas performed. About 80 people attended each session, as well as an open rehearsal of “The Threepenny Opera” with an audience discussion afterward.

It all seems suited to the vision of Weill and particularly Brecht, who was constantly pushing the boundaries of theater and how it can change culture.

“Doing Brecht, you’re forced to reflect on the whole idea of how he imagined theater to be played,” Ms. de Beer said. “Brecht wanted to actively pull people out of their comfort zones.

“This production is stirring up some reaction here in Vienna,” she added. “And I think that’s good.”

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(PJ Cresswell’s article appeared in TimeOut, 12/22; Photo: Croatian National Theatre.)

New backing and expertise to transform the experience for audiences at this venerable Zagreb landmark

The Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb has just announced a major new sponsorship with the M+ Group. Currently with 13 bases across south-eastern Europe, this multinational independent contact centre and outsourcer of business process technology is perfectly placed to partner with Zagreb’s most venerable cultural institution in the heart of Croatia’s capital. This has been the prestigious home of theatre, opera and ballet for the best part of two centuries, having evolved from Zagreb’s first theatre in 1834 and granted an ornate landmark building unveiled in the presence of the Emperor Franz Joseph in 1895.

In the modern day, many theatres around Europe and beyond have been cultivating win-win business relationships with the corporate world, allowing them to stage productions of the highest standard, both from an artistic and a technical standpoint.

With its innovative business model, the M+ Group has achieved significant growth over the last five years and expanded its operations to the markets of western Europe, providing services to leading global companies. Founded in Croatia in 2007, M+ successfully integrates the dynamic industries of contact centre, information technology and employment services with the aim of solving global challenges in the field of customer support.

Now, thanks to this new agreement said to be worth a total value of 500,000 Croatian kuna, the Zagreb theatre, known by its local acronym of HNK, can look forward to a richer repertoire and a more interactive experience for its audience. With the help of the resources, knowledge and experience of M+ Group, the HNK will be able to offer greater user satisfaction, faster information and notifications, and a better overall service.

HNK intendant Iva Hraste Sočo pointed out the mutual benefits of the new relationship: “The Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb and the M+ Group share common values. Here at HNK, foreign artists work alongside Croatian ones, making this an international ensemble in which creatives and exceptional people from all over the world are gathered. In the same way, the M+ Group covers the needs of its own users with a diverse international team operating in eight markets. Both the HNK and the M+ Group are proof that it is possible to achieve a regional and international reputation by operating out of Zagreb, therefore M+ has proved to be the best choice for our needs”.

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