The show must go on... Unless you get pinged by the Covid app

Plus dutch bikes and free gin

London’s theatres aren’t exactly jumping up and down with joy today, and they’re definitely not using the F word.

Theatres might be ‘free’ to welcome full capacity audiences from today, but the question over whether wearing masks should be enforced or not is as confusing and damaging in Theatreland as it is in other industries.

Producer Richard Jordan wrote an article for The Stage this week, calling for legal rules to enforce face masks inside auditoriums, and The Society of London Theatres and UK Theatre have backed him up.

The problem is so acute in theatres because once a cast member tests positive or is pinged by the NHS app, the producers can’t just call a replacement to start the next day. That’s not how show business works.

In yesterday’s Observer Vanessa Thorpe wrote that “the live entertainment industry is being pummelled by the Covid tracking system and will not survive the summer,” and quoted the chief exec’ of the Society of London Theatres and UK Theatre as saying “It is a kind of ‘closing down by stealth’”.

So for today’s issue we thought we’d just highlight some of the incredible shows that are on right now, or are coming up later in the year (because, let’s face it, it’s tough to get excited about sitting in a dark room when it’s this nice outside, but come the autumn you might be glad you snapped up a couple of tickets).

We’ll start with the big hitters

In a couple of weeks time Paradise opens at The National Theatre. This is Kae Tempest’s reimagining of Greek mythology with gender-blind casting that sees the incredible Lesley Sharp as the warrior Philoctetes, “on his way to fight in the Trojan war with his fabled bow and arrow”.

(Don’t forget, if you’re aged between 16-25 you can pick up tickets for NT shows - including Paradise - for between £5 and £10.)

From September the National is putting on Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, “a largely autobiographical play about the AIDS crisis in 1980, New York”. It’s the first time the play’s been performed in London since its European premiere in ‘86. The casting was just announced for this and it includes Ben Daniels (Lord Snowdon in The Crown as well as a ton of other stuff).

Casting also just got announced for Manor, a new play that’s on at the National in November… and which also stars someone who was in The Crown. Nancy Caroll played Lady Anne Glenconner in the Netflix drama, but in this she’s “the owner of a run down manor, who shelters a group of individuals during a storm – including the leader of a far-right organisation.”

Starting next week at the Young Vic is Changing Destiny, written by Booker Prize-winner Ben Okria and directed by the multi-talented actor, playwright, singer and broadcaster Kwame Kwei-Armah (who will forever be known to some as ‘that guy out of Casualty’). This is anepic new adaptation of the 4,000-year-old Egyptian poem about the Warrior King, Sinuhe” and there’s a smart gimmick too: a game is played on stage at the start of each performance to dictate which of the two leads will play the role of Sinuhe.

After that, the Young Vic has the inimitable Cush Jumbo as Hamlet. We’re not going to explain to you what Hamlet is about. And we’re not even going to tell you who Cush Jumbo is (what do you mean you haven’t watched The Good Fight?!). But we should mention that tickets have already sold out… but there are more to come, so you should definitely get on the YV’s mailing list now.

Four Quartets is one of the most hyped plays of the year for a few reasons. One, it’s got Ralph Fiennes in it. Two, it’s only running for 36 performances. And three, it’s a one man show in which Fiennes recites TS Eliot’s four-part, 1,000 line poem “on the nature of time, worldly experience and the quest for spiritual enlightenment”. Four Quartets has already been on at the Theatre Royal Bath where it received cracking reviews.

Moving on to the smaller theatres

The Hampstead Theatre has Tennessee William’s “innovative thriller” The Two Character Play on as of this week (until 27 August), the first time it’s been back to Hammersmith since it premiered there in 1967. Wikipedia describes the plot as “confusing and difficult to follow” so we’re just going to recommend you watch this short video about it:

If you don’t want to sit in a dark room, but you do fancy seeing a well-reviewed play this week, then Open Air Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet in Regent’s Park is probably a good shout. This review calls it ‘near perfect’ while Time Out called it ‘joyful’ and Pink News said it was brought “bang up to date” by the gender-flipping and diverse casting. The last performance is on Saturday though, so you’ll have to move quickly.

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner is also running right now (at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) but doesn’t finish until end of the month. There are tickets still available but they are ‘limited’ because this one has also been getting great reviews, including four stars from the Guardian (“sharp, furious and funny”) and the same from WhatsOnStage (“pure dynamite…a defining moment in theatre”).

Before we go, we have to mention that Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has been adapted for the stage and will be making its world premiere at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley in January of next year. We cannot wait to see how they pull that one off.

Meanwhile, we also learned this week that Quentin Tarantino wants to debut his stage play in London. The play’s already written, so maybe we’ll get that in 2023?… If there’s any theatres left by then.

And the rest…

  • Uber has announced that passengers will still be required to wear a face covering when using its services from today; and TfL have also announced that taxi drivers and passengers have to do the same.

  • It looks like there’s going to be four days of Tube strikes in August. The RMT has called for workers to strike on every tube line from noon until midnight the next day on August 3rd, 5th, 24th, and 26th. This is over the decision to cut the separate Night Tube Train Drivers pay grade.

  • A good time then for Dutch bike-hire company Swapfiets to start offering their monthly bicycle rental subscription in London. From £13 a month you’ll be able to rent a basic bike and they’ll even replace it if (when) it’s stolen and repair it if it breaks. There’s no exact launch yet but you can take a short test ride on a Swapfiets bike if you go to their store at 58 Commercial Street.

  • Sadiq Khan has said he wants to turn London into “Britain’s biggest playground” over the summer and to do that he’s is giving five kids the title of Mayor of Play. Those selected will help the Sadiq create “the ultimate guide to family-friendly fun in London”. Kids between 8-11 can apply for the position here.

  • Just as we thought we might go a whole week without anything being ‘immersive’, along comes the Tower of London’s announcement that they’ll be bringing “a new immersive experience to the vaults at the Tower of London”. No word yet on what the experience will be exactly, but if it doesn’t involve getting your head cut off then we’re not going.

  • 15 Old Bailey used to be famous for being the first hotel in London to have electric lighting. More recently it was a boring old serviced office space. But as nobody’s using offices much anymore, it’s due to be turned into “a high-end hotel”.

  • Greenall’s Gin will be handing out free gin and tonics on the South Bank this Thursday. They have a thousand drinks to give away, starting at midday, from their ‘giant ice cube’ at Queen’s Stone on Riverside Walkway (right next to Oxo Tower Wharf).

  • Not content with erecting a a 25-metre tall mound of earth at one of end of Oxford Street, Westminster Council have roped in sculptor Anthony James to install a “mesmerising infinity room called Lightfield” in the visitor hall beneath the temporary hill. A fantastic attraction “that alludes to the mycorrhizal nature of birch tree forests”? Or a bit of a Yayoi Kusama rip off? We’ll let you decide: