Peter Shaffer turns 80 in May, and London legit will be busy marking the event. Most advanced of the projects under consideration is a Trevor Nunn-helmed National Theater revival of Shaffer’s epic play “The Royal Hunt of the Sun.” “No greater play has been written and produced in our language in my lifetime,” wrote the influential London critic Bernard Levinon the occasion of its 1964 premiere.
Project could well kick off the 2006 £10 season ($17.75) at the state-funded venue, where two-thirds of seats in the National’s largest auditorium, the Olivier, are sold for less than the London ticket price of a firstrun film. Assuming it happens, show will mark Nunn’s return to the National, where he was artistic director for 5½ years.
More preliminary discussion surrounds commercial West End revivals of “Equus” and “The Gift of the Gorgon,” both of which were first seen in the subsidized sector — the National and the Royal Shakespeare Company, respectively.
“Equus” is an especially intriguing prospect. So much of its original London and Broadway success remains associated withdirector John Dexter’s singularly stylized approach to the story of the relationship between a teenage boy who blinds horses and his self-doubting psychiatrist.
London: his kind of town
As if London hasn’t already had enough Rat Pack shows, Frank Sinatra will live on in what is the only new West End musical announced for the first quarter of next year: “Sinatra at the London Palladium.” Show opens March 8 at — you guessed it! — the 2,200-seat Palladium, following previews from Feb. 17.
“We’ll take that window,” co-producer Joshua Rosenblum told Variety, referring to the current lull in West End musicals after a busy 2004-05 season that included “The Producers,” “Mary Poppins” and “Billy Elliot — the Musical.” “I don’t mind that at all.”
Plan is for the $8 million multimedia show to spark interest in a global rollout even as Rosenblum and partner James Sanna‘s Running Subway Prods. keep one eye on what Rosenblum calls “the motherland,” i.e., Las Vegas.
And what of Broadway? Way down the list, even if Rosenblum did spend six years working for the Dodgers and nearly six for Radio City Entertainment before setting up Running Subway. “Our intention isn’t to dive back to Broadway; that model’s broken, quite frankly.” In any case, he adds, this Sinatra evening “is too big” for New York. “It’s almost too big for the West End.”
Vegas is eventually expected to be even bigger. “That will be a different animal,” says Rosenblum, “and I didn’t want Las Vegas to be the measure for what’s possible. London is the production that’s going to have a life in lots of different markets.”
The director is David Leveaux, making his commercial musical debut in his native U.K. (His London “Nine” played the off-West End Donmar.)
‘Bottle’ rockets thesp
Not every play at west London’s ever-enterprising 81-seat Bush always lands, and it’s especially disappointing when a writer who has previously shown promise at this address falls short the next time out. But even if Simon Burt‘s “Bottle Universe” is both overdesigned and underfelt, Sue Dunderdale‘s production merits attention for the work of young performer Jessica Harris in her sophomore acting stint. (Play closes Nov. 12.)
Harris plays Lauren, a suicidal 14-year-old somewhere in the north of England who is sure of just one thing: “I hate being me. I can’t stand being me.” You anticipate the play’s arc (and tend to resist the hyperactivity of fellow actor Mikey North in a role known as Cock Dave), returning throughout to Harris. As a teenager who learns to embrace being “average,” thesp makes the unexceptional exceptional. Average, Harris is clearly not.