Nicholas de Jongh, soon to be ex-Evening Standard (See News, 30 Mar 2009) won’t be the only newspaper theatre critic with a play in the West End this year. Coming Up for Air - the stage version of George Orwell’s 1939 novel of the same name, written by Daily Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish – will receive its West End premiere at the 100-seat Trafalgar Studio 2, as part of a special Orwell festival running from 8 June to 4 July 2009.

Cavendish, who is deputy to the Daily Telegraph’s chief critic Charles Spencer, made his playwriting debut with Coming Up for Air, which received strong reviews when had its world premiere at the Assembly Rooms during the Edinburgh Fringe festival last August.

Set on the brink of World War Two, Coming Up for Air tells the story of George Bowling, a middle-aged insurance man who is married with kids, saddled with a mortgage and living a henpecked life. Filled with a sense of dread, he flees suburbia for the countryside of his childhood – but discovers only a vanishing England. Comedian-turned-actor Hal Cruttenden reprises his performance in the one-man play, directed by Gene David Kirk.

As part of the Orwell: A Celebration festival, which is billed as “an unprecedented theatrical homage to Orwell, marking the 60th and 70th anniversaries of the publication of Nineteen Eighty-four and Coming Up for Air”, there will also be monologue extracts of Nineteen Eighty-four, arguably Orwell’s most famous literary legacy, and two other works by the author, 1936’s Shooting an Elephant and 1931’s A Hanging.

A complementary strand of literary events held will raise funds for human rights group Liberty and the Orwell Prize, the British prize for political writing. Orwell: A Celebration is produced by Doublethink Theatre and The Fish Partnership in arrangement with the Orwell Estate.


Continuing the Edinburgh connection, Coming Up for Air will be followed in Trafalgar Studio 2 by another hit from the 2008 Fringe, Eight, running from 6 to 25 July 2009. Each night the audience can select four from a series of eight state-of-the-nation monologues that offer a collective portrait of Britain’s youth, from high-class hookers to 7/7 survivors. At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Eight, which is written and performed by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, won a Fringe First and the Carol Tambor Award, which paid all expenses for a limited season at New York’s PS122 theatre. The production arrives in the West End following its Stateside success.

- by Terri Paddock