With a new Prime Minister on the horizon, Brexit looming and a recent Women’s World Cup loss to the United States, world-weary Londoners need an escape from the headlines. Good thing for them then that the theater, for the most part, is here to nurse their wounds.
Here’s what’s on London’s stages this summer.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Bridge Theatre
Weeks after being knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth on “Game of Thrones,” Gwendoline Christie has already ditched her armor for a frock.
The striking actress plays the dual roles of Queens Hippolyta and Titania in director Nicholas Hytner’s party-hardy, immersive production of Shakespeare’s comedy. And rather than lobbing off heads, she’s turning ‘em.
Christie, who was nominated for an Emmy Award Tuesday, is this delectable staging’s biggest attraction, but hardly the only reason worth going. The vibe is Peter Pan-meets-dance-club, as Hytner has his audience stand, walk around and dance onstage while the four young lovers get lost in the magical woods.
It sheds no new light on “Midsummer” — what’s left, really? — but it has a nifty bunk-bed motif and a very funny Bottom and Oberon hookup set to pop music.
Involving the crowd in the show largely works better here than in last summer’s bloodier “Julius Caesar,” too, and the actors (Kit Young’s Lysander is a highlight) dart around ticket-buyers as if they were oak trees.
And, hey, you get a few minutes of dancing at the end with Brienne.
“Rosmersholm” at the Duke of York’s Theatre
A lesser-known and hardly ever performed drama by Henrik Ibsen, “Rosmersholm” should stay at home.
Broadway doesn’t want the sleepy production, despite a capable lead performance from Hayley Atwell. It’s about a widower, Rosmer (Tom Burke), whose wife drowned herself in their pond years earlier. Now he spends his days in a huge, drab house and is scandalously attracted to his friend Rebecca (Atwell of “Avengers: Endgame”).
That bit’s fun, but the rest is armchair blather about a rising political party and the impact of the local newspaper. Every so often a timely line of dialogue is uttered, just like every so often Halley’s Comet comes around.
Atwell, in particular, is a compelling presence. It’s easy to imagine her as Nora in “A Doll’s House” or a Hedda Gabler down the line. But director Ian Rickson tends to have everybody to stroll to a spot, yak a bit and then walk to the next. Is this a play or a convention keynote?
“Europe” at Donmar Warehouse
“Europe” is not only is not only a body of nations the UK is about to leave, but also a play at which I regrettably stayed.
David Greig’s drama was written in 1994 in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and tells the story of eastern European migrants who make camp (they pitch a tent) in a small-town train station. The locals want them out. Naturally.
This play is just what the world is craving: A sledgehammer’s take on immigration told through locomotive metaphors.
The acting, particularly Ron Cook from HBO’s “Chernobyl” as a station agent, is fine. But the screed against national borders is tedious.
The Donmar Warehouse — which long ago gave us the mind-blowing Broadway revival of “Cabaret” — is getting rightly mocked for a wimpy change under its new artistic director, Michael Longhurst: the theater has instituted laughable trigger warnings.
Here’s one: “In the first half of the play, a man repeatedly places his hand on a woman’s leg, to her discomfort.”
It would seem the snowflakes have drifted east!
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Palladium
My trigger warning: This musical contains joy and songs you actually like.
I’ve long been a fan — and defender — of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first big, biblical hit. “Joseph” is a humble show that began life in a school in 1968 and fast became a British staple as beloved as Sunday roast.
The show hasn’t been on Broadway since 1993, however, and this refreshed production makes a strong argument for a comeback.
For one, the strength of Lloyd Webber’s tight score has become more obvious in recent years, as we’ve been handed such ear-splitters as “King Kong” and “Be More Chill.” My kingdom for a “Benjamin Calypso”!
Admittedly, the familiar staging with Donny Osmond and a rotating chorus of kids that toured for centuries became tired. So, director Laurence Connor’s new production makes some inspired changes.
The narrator is now a comedienne, British megastar Sherdian Smith, who has a blast playing multiple parts. Smith is a bit naughty and improvisational, which reins in the musical’s Old Testament wholesomeness. The children’s chorus no longer just sits there “ahhh”-ing, either. The kids play big parts, such as a very campy, shekel-counting Potiphar.
And our Joseph is younger than usual, too. He’s 20-year-old Jac Yarrow, who’s not yet done with school. Yarrow has a crystalline voice that is best showed off during “Close Every Door.” That song will open a lot of doors for him.
By Johnny Oleksinski