West End bows its head

LONDON — The Almeida and Donmar Warehouse were among the London theaters that considered canceling performances Sept. 11 out of respect for the day’s ghastly events in the U.S.

But at those playhouses, as elsewhere across the West End, the show went on, albeit with a sorrowful nod across the Atlantic.

“We decided that (to cancel) was really caving into terrorism,” says Tom Siracusa, the staff producer — himself an American — for West End impresario Bill Kenwright on “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” The Tennessee Williams revival has been in previews and opens Sept. 18.

Its cast — including American leads Ned Beatty and Brendan Fraser — had just arrived for their press conference that afternoon when news of the assaults back home began coming through.

The same evening’s performance, reported an observer, “went up a couple of notches” in intensity (and played to about 75% capacity), no doubt reflecting a depth of emotion palpable across London theaterland, which has always had rich and full connections with New York.

The New York visitors to London appearing in Richard Maxwell’s “House” at the Barbican Center were given the choice to cancel if, says press rep Ellie Post, “they felt uncomfortable performing”; in the end, the show went ahead.

At the Royal National Theater, director Neil Armfield and his cast debated whether to perform their touring production of the Australian epic “Cloudstreet,” which travels to New York and Washington, D.C., next month.

The show got the greenlight, says NT head of press Lucinda Morrison: “They thought a play about the importance of love and understanding and humanity was more worthwhile than not under the circumstances.”

And while Armfield and Ron Cook, star of the NT’s Cottesloe staging of “Howard Katz,” led their respective companies in a pre-performance minute of silence, the NT’s Lyttelton revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” saved its commemorative quiet until after the show.

“They were just in a state of complete shock,” says Morrison, “particularly doing that play that evening.” The plot of the play involves a father’s ethical misdeeds resulting in the airborne deaths of many young men, including his own son.

Textual repercussions were everywhere.

Over at the Donmar Warehouse, where Sian Phillips was opening her cabaret act, many were seen looking downward during her rendition of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” with its reference to “gone to graveyards, everyone.”

And at the Almeida Theater preem of Chekhov’s “Platonov,” few could fail to think of that day’s kamikaze pilots bent on mass slaughter when one of the characters remarked, “Suicide is a sin; praying for suicide is a sin.”

The event’s ripple effects on U.K. legit have yet to be fully felt, with one L.A. legit tourist group skedded to cross the Pond at the end of the year reporting only two of 40-plus people pulling out due to fear of travel. But the tourist-dependent West End, like Broadway, obviously will suffer if trips are curtailed or if the terrorist threat intensifies.

Meanwhile, one cannot help but feel that the Almeida’s forthcoming mounting of “King Lear” — with its reference to “the weight of these sad times” — best provides the language most capable at any time of characterizing a largely unspeakable present: “The oldest hath borne most: We that are young,/Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”

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