Amongst the major new London shows in a very busy week of openings are:

OPENING TONIGHT, Monday 10 May 2004 (previews from 28 April), Michael Praed and Helen Anker star as the Roaring Twenties glamour couple F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in Beautiful and Damned at the West End’s Lyric Theatre (See News, 15 May 2004). The Great Gatsby author and his artist wife enjoyed the ultimate globe-trotting, party-going, big-spending high life. But for all the glamour, there was also abundant tragedy, including alcoholism, insanity, incarceration, poverty and untimely deaths for them both.

Beautiful and Damned is the brainchild of singer and songwriter Roger Cook, who originally had the idea in 1977. It had a three-week tryout last year at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. The revised production is directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood.

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OPENING TUESDAY, 11 May 2004 (previews from 6 May), Michelle Collins (EastEnders) and Stephen Tompkinson (Arsenic and Old Lace< TV’s Drop the Dead Donkey, Ballykissangel) star in John Caird’s revival of Charles Dyer’s 1962 comedy, The Rattle of a Simple Man at the West End’s Comedy Theatre (See News, 25 Mar 2004). Down from Manchester, timid football fan Percy accepts a bet from the lads to go home with a prostitute after the match.

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OPENING WEDNESDAY, 12 May 2004 (previews from 7 May), Whistling Psyche, by Irish playwright Sebastian Barry (Our Lady of Sligo, The Steward of Christendom), receives its world premiere at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, north London, where it continues until 19 June (See News, 5 Apr 2004). It’s a dark night in an old waiting room and two supposed strangers are eager to reach their destinations. Claire Bloom and Kathryn Hunter play Florence Nightingale and Dr James Barry in Robert Delamere’s production.

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ALSO ON WEDNESDAY, 12 May 2004 (preview 11 May), Shared Experience bring their latest stage adaptation of a literary classic, Gone to Earth, written by Helen Edmundson based on Mary Webb’s 1916 First World War novel, to west London’s Lyric Hammersmith (See News, 24 Mar 2004). As battle rages in the distance, innocent Hazel Woodus lives happily in her forest cottage in the English countryside, until two men and their obsessive passions threaten to tear her apart. The production, directed by joint artistic director Nancy Meckler, finishes its London season on 5 June before resuming its UK tour until 12 June.

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OPENING THURSDAY, 13 May 2004 (previews from 5 May), renowned European director Luc Bondy makes his British stage debut with Cruel and Tender at south London’s Young Vic. Martin Crimp’s new version of Sophocles' darkly comic account of the abuses of war, Trachiniae, stars Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave) and Joe Dixon as Amelia and Herakles (See News, 15 Apr 2004). The production plays at the Young Vic this week, until 15 May, before embarking on a continental schedule and then returning from 17 June to 10 July 2004, as the South Bank landmark’s final show before its two-year, £12.5 million rebuild (See News, 24 Feb 2004).

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ALSO ON THURSDAY, 13 May 2004 (preview 11 May), Broadway diva Barbara Cook returns to the West End with her latest one-woman show, Barbara Cook’s Broadway, which has a strictly limited season to 29 May at the Gielgud Theatre. Cook was last seen in London with her 2001 Olivier-nominated show Mostly Sondheim, and has had earlier cabaret seasons at the Donmar Warehouse and the Albery Theatre. In 1997, she celebrated her 70th birthday with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall (See News, 23 Apr 2004).

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OPENING FRIDAY, 14 May 2004 (previews from 6 May), Michael Grandage’s acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ 1958 psycho-drama Suddenly Last Summer transfers to the West End’s Albery Theatre, following a regional tour and its initial dates at the Sheffield Lyceum. Diana Rigg and Whatsonstage.com Award winner Victoria Hamilton (A Day in the Death of Joe Egg) star as the distraught Mrs Venables and Catherine, the girl she holds responsible for the violent death of her son. The revival’s limited London season continues to 31 July.

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- by Terri Paddock