Earlier in December, I made my annual pilgrimage to the West End theater district of London. December is a delightful time to be in London, with good weather and Christmas decorations, events and cheer all over town. What’s new in the West End gives me an idea of what might be coming to Broadway and, a few years down the road, to Salt Lake City.
This year was a bit disappointing, with only one new musical of note, but there was the typical abundance of great theater available, including a hit that some people say is as big as Hamilton. And I have no problem sitting through a couple hours well-staged and –acted drama without singing or dancing.
Half a Sixpence is a Cameron Mackintosh production of the 1963 musical. The musical was originally written as a star vehicle for pop star Tommy Steele who performed the lead role in London in 1963, Broadway in 1965 and in the 1967 film adaptation. The theater piece is based on an HG Wells novel, Kipps: the Story of a Simple Soul and delivers an entertaining experience full of song and dance with a happy ending.
I spent another evening of music and dance viewing the new Matthew Bourne ballet “the Red Shoes”. Bourne, best known for his gender-bending Swan Lake danced by male swans, has created a ballet based on the 1948 British film and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. A smash hit, it is sold out for the entire run at Sadler’s Wells.
Then I went across the Thames to the National Theatre for the Ivo Van Hove production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabbler”. Van Hove’s less-is-more style delivers a devastating, dark Hedda that leaves one feeling exhausted by the finale. The show was sold out, but I was able to get a “day ticket” for 15 pounds by waiting in line at 9am the morning of the performance.
At the Harold Pinter Theatre was an appropriately absurd comedy “Nice Fish”, written by and starring Tony-award-winning actor Mark Rylance. The Telegraph said, “Imagine Waiting For Godot on ice, as adapted by Garrison Keillor and presented as if it were torn-off bits from a comic strip.” Ice-fishing has never been so intellectual, funny and bizarre.
At the Wyndham’s Theatre I found an absurd play by Harold Pinter, “No Man’s Land” which was also sold out. Possibly the reason for this inscrutable play’s popularity is its stars – Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, etc) who have a combined age of 153. I don’t know that I have ever seen better acting, or understood a play less.
My last day in London was reserved for the biggest theatrical hit on this side of the Atlantic – “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”. Completely sold out for its entire announced run, it is expected to stay that way for years. I managed to get a ticket online – last row of the second balcony for $330! The play was long (two parts running a total five and a half hours), full of special effects, and great fun. It was recently announced that Cursed Child will be seen on Broadway in 2018 and tickets will certainly be as difficult to obtain as those for Hamilton.
Other theaters in the West End were filled with shows from Broadway – Wicked, Book of Mormon, Lion King, Aladdin, Motown and Beautiful, to name a few. I was happy to see that theater in London continues to thrive.