West end

London e-bike blight

The past few weeks have been spent in the enclosed rehearsal spaces of the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End, preparing and finally opening in Private Lives. Shut off from the world as I am, we could have become a colony of North Korea for all I know. And yet some things do penetrate – who could fail to be horrified and appalled by the twin disasters in North Africa recently? These two devastating events have resulted in the deaths of an ever-rising number of tens of thousands of people. And yet they already seem to have dropped off our news coverage. Has the enormity of the 2004 Indian Ocean

Why Harry Hill’s little green aliens are popping up all over London

Sitting in a posh office overlooking the Royal Academy, the comedian Harry Hill is deploying one of his lesser known modes: introspection. ‘I suppose I’m one of a growing number of celebrities who do art,’ he says, one hand fiddling with his trademark oversized shirt-cuff. His point – which he returns to several times – is one of definition: as much as he enjoys making art, and as much art as he makes, he can never quite see himself as an artist. In his defence, he isn’t alone. After more than a decade as the face of one of the most-loved comedy shows this century, Hill can probably count himself

In praise of understudies

The actor Ronald Fraser was famous for two things: his comic timing and his liking for a drink. On one occasion in the 1960s, he was happily sitting three sheets to the wind in a local hostelry, when he remembered that he was supposed to be on stage at a matinee. After walking unsteadily to the theatre, he stood in the wings and heard someone else in his role: the understudy, holding the audience in the palm of his hand. His name was Donald Sutherland, and he was revealing the quality that took him from bit parts on the London stage to worldwide stardom. The importance of understudies and covers

How the British musical conquered the world

What do Henry VIII’s wives, a Rastafarian musical icon and a drag queen have in common? They are all the subjects of new stage shows that are heralding a golden age of the British musical. Let’s start with the court of Henry VIII. A pair of friends at Cambridge University, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, decided to write their own musical four years ago because the student theatre society couldn’t afford to pay the royalties for an existing one. They based it on the life stories of the six women who were unfortunate enough to marry Henry VIII. Six, as this debut effort came to be known, opens on Broadway

The history of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is the theatrical history of England

Andrew Lloyd Webber has not been in the best of moods lately, largely thanks to all the Covid delays to his new musical Cinderella, now finally about to open — for the umpteenth announced time — at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. The bigger news, however, is that his theatre at the other end of Drury Lane, the grand old Theatre Royal, is finally finished after massive renovations. Lloyd Webber has spent an awesome £60 million on the rebirth of his Grade I-listed theatre, known to show folk as ‘the Lane’, with his wife Madeleine heavily involved and in cahoots with the heritage expert Simon Thurley and the great theatre architect

How real is the performing arts exodus?

Think back 12 months to when you first felt the pandemic. Not when you first read about Covid-19, but the moment of impact — the lurch in the stomach as it hit you that this time, it really wasn’t going to be OK. For Emma Cook, a freelance stage manager on the John Cleese farce Bang Bang!, the moment came during a rare week off. ‘I was sitting in a restaurant near the Bush Theatre in London, waiting to go and see The High Table, and I got a message from a friend who had just flown back from overseas: “Why are the theatres all closed?”. I thought, no they’re

When theatres reopen they’ll resemble prison camps

‘Give us a date, mate!’ That was the sound of Andrew Lloyd Webber begging Boris Johnson to announce when the West End can return to normal. He made his plea at the London Palladium on 23 July, where he was testing a new set of Covid-compliant measures during a one-hour solo show by Beverley Knight. It was the first indoor live performance in the capital since lockdown began. The impresario’s advance preparations had been exhaustively thorough. He arranged for the entire venue to be hosed down with an anti-viral fluid that kills the bug for up to four weeks. Every door handle had been fitted with a special cover that

Theatre closures are not necessarily a disaster – they offer a chance to remake culture

Theatre stands on the brink of ruin, says Sonia Friedman. And if you believe Twitter, so is my career. I’m apparently ‘a disgrace to my profession’. ‘Not fit to do my job’. I wear ‘grubby’ oversized T-shirts, dare to have ‘an anagram for a name‘ (sorry for being foreign) and possess the face of an ‘etiolated ferret’ and, naturally, for all this, I should be fired.  Leaving aside for a moment my funny name, ferrety face and baggy clothes (all criticisms not without some merit), what was my crime? To suggest that theatre being on the brink of ruin might not be such a disaster. That tongue was firmly lodged in cheek was of course