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Between my father’s illness, coursework and a month in Mallorca (sigh), I was out of show-going circulation for six weeks. Social media monitoring is fine for staying in the openings, closings and castings loop, but I was missing ACTUAL theatre.

So, when I arrived back in London, I had a very very long wish list.

I hit the ground running last Saturday afternoon and have so far crossed five shows off my list. One advantage to catching up, rather than chasing the opening nights diary, is a high – I’m talking 100% to date – hit rate. I’ve mainly been seeing shows on recommendations of critics and other knowledgeable friends.

Of those I’ve seen this week, I can honestly and whole-heartedly recommend each one – though, I feel guilty in tantalising you with some as it may be nigh on impossible to get a ticket. If you follow me on Twitter, or want to scroll back through my tweets, you can see instant reactions to each show, which I post in my pseudo “theatre selfie” series.

Ditto for Twitter first reactions for those still on the to-see list. I’m frantically organising my diary over the next fortnight to squeeze in as many of them as possible. And the list keeps growing as I catch up with more people and their recommendations. With that in mind, do please add any more you think I should see to the bottom of the page or tweet me @TerriPaddock.

Hope to see you inside or outside a theatre soon.

SEEN

  • Fleabag – This is the one I feel guiltiest raving about because you can’t see it anymore. After a sell-out run last year – and awards including a Fringe First and a Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Play – this one-woman monologue about sex addiction, written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, returned for a limited run at Soho Theatre this month. I – along with Rosamund Pike and a packed house – crammed in to see the last performance last Sunday.

The playscript, published by Nick Hern Books, is still worth a read, though the words on the page don’t do justice do Waller-Bridge’s hysterical and occasionally heart-breaking delivery.

          • This May Hurt a Bit – Health matters have been more front-of-mind for me than usual over recent months, with my father’s hospital scare back in the States and my own, more frequent visits to my GP in recent months. So matters relating to the NHS have caught my attention, including Rufus Hound’s incredible campaigning for the National Health Action party in last week’s European elections.

On the back of that, seeing Stella Feehily’s play for Out of Joint about the current state of the NHS and the coalition government’s advanced plans to privatise it was one of the most galvanising evenings of political theatre I’ve ever experienced. Dramatically, there may be some clunkiness, but this is an important and thought-provoking play. I came out extraordinarily angry and rushed home to a) read up on Private Finance Initiatives and the 2013 Health and Social Care Bill, b) join the National Health Action Party and c) tweet like crazy.

This May Hurt a Bit continues at the St James Theatre until 21 June 2014 only. Tickets from just £14.

 

  • The Pajama Game – This is good, old-fashioned Broadway musical fare with Michael Xavier and Joanna Riding on feisty, flirty form as manager Sid and Union rep Babe, who fall in love despite being on opposite sides of a worker dispute at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory. Myself and about thirty other aspiring producers caught this on Saturday at the end of an intense, three-day Stage One workshop, with lots of learning and little sleep. But we all stayed awake and came out humming.

The production is directed by Richard Eyre and choreographed by Stephen Mear, and comes via hit factory Chichester Festival, where it ran last summer. It’s playing a limited season this summer at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre.

        • In the Heights – Another musical originated in New York, albeit more than 50 years later, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony-nominated musical, set over three hot summer days in NYC’s Latin-American neighbourhood of Washington Heights, is finally getting its London premiere in this Off-West End production at Southwark Playhouse. Again, you’ll have difficulty getting a ticket. Even the Thursday matinee was packed – amongst the house were Stephen Ashfield, Chris Jarman and half the cast of The Book of Mormon enjoying their afternoon off.

There’s lots of talk about a transfer, and the show definitely deserves a future life, though it’s hard to imagine it being nearly so exciting staged in a traditional proscenium arch West End house. It’s directed by Luke Sheppard, with astonishing choreography by Drew McOnie. David Bedella and Victoria Hamilton-Barrit are the biggest names in a cast – for now – but all deliver with passion and exuberance. And Miranda’s score is knock-out.

In the Heights runs at Southwark Playhouse until 7 June 2014.

 

  • Good People – Could Imelda Staunton be more versatile? From Sweeney Todd to this (both under the direction of Jonathan Kent) is just astonishing – and Gypsy back at Chichester next…. In American David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, she’s the middle-aged, working-class south Boston mother of a severely disabled, grown daughter. She’s just lost her job, the rent is due, and she’s so desperate, she turns up, pleading for help and unannounced at first the office and then the home of an old high-school flame (Lloyd Owen), whose life has turned out much differently.

With the early closure of The Full Monty creating a gap at the Noel Coward Theatre, Good People grabbed a direct transfer from Hampstead Theatre, where it sold out before it even opened. Staunton and Owen get great support from Angel Coulby, Lorraine Ashbourne (the ‘mouthie from Southie’), Susan Brown and Matthew Barker.

Lindsay-Abaire had a critical flop with his London debut, the ill-fated Fuddy Meers in 2004. But with this (and, on the musical front, his book for Shrek), he has commandingly expunged that wobble from his UK records. I now can’t wait to see the his 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner Rabbit Hole, which will receive its West End premiere this September at the Vaudeville Theatre, starring Joanna Froggatt and directed by actor Nigel Harman (who won the Olivier for his kneeling performance as Lord Farquaad in Shrek).

Good People runs at the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre until 14 June 2014.

 

STILL TO SEE!

Not sure whether I’ll be able to wangle my way into all of these while they’re still on but here’s hoping…

  • Miss Saigon – I don’t think they’ll recreate the opening night fireworks for me, but I can’t miss the helicopter. At the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, booking until April 2015.
  • Fings Ain’t Wot They Use T’Be – Lionel Bart’s East End musical, running as part of Theatre Royal Stratford East’s 50th anniversary season until 7 June only.
  • Relative ValuesAs previously blogged, I really do want to see Caroline Quentin and Neil Morrissey together again in this Coward comedy!
  • A Small Family Business – Alan Ayckbourn on entrepreneurial greed, starring the always-top-value Nigel Lindsay. In rep at the National’s Olivier until 27 August 2014 and screened via NT Live on 12 June.
  • Bakersfield Mist – Kathleen Turner is the quintessential American ‘brassy broad’, isn’t she? I love her.
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies – Epics must always be on the list. This is one of those that, in years to come, we’ll say, “I was there when….”
  • Incognito – Nick Payne’s new play at the Bush Theatre until 21 June only. Sounds mind-boggling. Another Constellations calibre instant classic?
  • BASH: latterday plays – I missed Neil LaBute’s three one-act plays in their previous London run (and this production’s previous dates at the Old Red Lion), and am intrigued to see them tackled by a new, younger generation. At Trafalgar Studios 2 until 7 June 2014.
  • Venice Preserv’d – This site-specific promenade production just looks cool (and boasts a very cool website). Plus, the cast includes Jessie Buckley and Ashley Zhangazha, both so good in Michael Grandage’s Henry V with Jude Law. Embarking from the Cutty Sark in Greenwich until 8 June 2014.

 

MISSED – OR MAYBE NOT?

King Charles III – Phew! It’s got a transfer so I hope to catch this one the other side of its Almeida run. It reopens at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre in September.

Fingers crossed for transfer announcements for two other recently closed productions: The Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon at Hampstead Theatre and James Graham’s digital age play Privacy at the Donmar Warehouse.

Go on, tell me, what else is a must-see?

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