Michael Coveney: Good news as Apollo reopens and Tricycle Young Company takes off
The Apollo Theatre opens its refurbished doors with vampire thriller ''Let the Right One In'', while across town the Tricyle Young Company brings a new community play, ''The Kilburn Passion,'' to the stage
Almost 17 weeks since the ceiling collapsed at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, the doors re-open tonight for the press performance of Let the Right One In; let's hope it is the right one and worth the wait, for theatre owner Nica Burns said on that fateful night - which coincided with the opening of Stephen Ward across town at the Aldwych, just before Christmas - that the venue would re-open in a matter of days.
My putative guest rang me over the weekend to ask if the dress code was black tie or hard hat. I assured her that neither was compulsory and that only the latter was remotely advisable. Nobody dresses up for first nights any more, alas, unless it's a gala, and then everyone goes ridiculously over the top; mind you, I rather admire, indeed covet, the black and silver evening jacket director Jerry Mitchell wore to his own gala night for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy.
Meanwhile, back at the Apollo, we shall be inspecting the temporary ceiling, which is said to be part of the show, presumably the night sky in a spooky forest, as keenly as John Tiffany's production, which is derived from a Swedish novel I haven't read and a Swedish movie I haven't seen, partly because it's a horror vampire flick and I don't like such things unless the late, great Kate O'Mara's in it.
Most of the reviewers at the presentation of Tiffany's National Theatre of Scotland production as a Christmas offering at the Royal Court (panto for party-poopers?) confidently remarked that the Swedish film was haunting and memorable and the Hollywood re-make, Let Me In; very poor and over-sanitised.
Tiffany is reunited with his choreographer partner on Black Watch, Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly... who, it turns out, is a friend from childhood days in Huddersfield, though not a vampiric one, we trust. Other good info in an interview with Tiffany in yesterday's Sunday Times is that he first met Vicky Featherstone, founding director of the NTS, and now artistic director of the Royal Court, and a constant Tiffany champion, when he volunteered to get stuck in doing anything at all at the West Yorkshire Playhouse where she was organising a street theatre festival. He said to her, "Just tell my mum you're paying me, so she doesn't make me do a pub job."
Scandinavian darkness, weird sex, blood, melancholy and grainy realism are all the rage on television these days, while the Twilight movies with Robert Pattinson and Kirsten Stewart might steer a young audience towards the Apollo. Whatever the calculations behind the show's popular appeal, producer Bill Kenwright is probably hoping he pulls in the same crowd who flocked to see Rufus Norris' fine Almeida Theatre production of Festen which he presented in the West End a few years ago. I thought that was absolutely terrific - until I caught up with the movie it was based on. And that's another reason for keeping my Let the Right One In video back there in its plastic box for now.
Kenwright, incidentally, is nearly in seventh heaven as his football team, Everton (he's the chairman) beat Arsenal yesterday and moved ever closer to a magic fourth spot in the Premier League and European Championship football next year at Goodison Park; in an interview on Sky News he said that he'd be happy for God to take him now, with his players pumping and his stadium rocking. What, and miss tonight's opening?
In an accompanying article to the Tiffany interview, producer Colin Ingram, who is developing yet another movie-based musical, Back to the Future, to be directed next year by Jamie Lloyd, says two things of note: that theatre taking inspiration from movies is nothing new and, anyway, a significant trend reflected right across the arts; and that the average ticket buyer in the West End is 43 years old, and a woman, so it makes sense to be doing work that made a big impact on that target audience at an impressionable age.
You can see the reasoning in this, but I don't much like the sound of it, any more than I do the news that Back to the Future is already attracting investment from Korean entertainment giants CJ E&M, as well as from Brazil, "an increasingly important emerging economy for producers"; that seems a strange remark, with the upcoming football World Cup creating economic mayhem amid outraged mass protests from people who cannot afford a bus ticket, let alone a theatre ticket, millions of them.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Indhu Rubasingham's Young Tricycle Company last week launched a stunning new community play (not four words you very often see in close contact with each other), The Kilburn Passion by Suhayla El-Bushra, who has form at the Royal Court and the Unicorn. This proved that you can, after all, create good theatre by committee, as our own Out of Joint company used to do, and indeed Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, not to mention Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop.
By "committee" I mean all the actors and production team (am I alone in hating that new coinage of "the creatives"? It's as horrible as "luvvies") chipping in all along the line, which I guess is what really happens all the time anyway (which is what worries me about those Koreans and Brazilians). The story of these intersecting Kilburn lives emerged from a series of workshops in which the actors, all aged between 19 and 25, talked about their struggles, sexuality, dreams and demons. The result is a vibrant, kaleidoscopic and gripping narrative drama, skilfully knitted together and shaped by El-Bushra, and produced to a level of professional competence (the director was Emily Lim) unusual in this area of un-reviewed educational work.
I watched the show on Saturday afternoon after placing my bets on the Grand National. I chose two horses to win - the Irish cross country jumper Big Shu, and jockey Sam Waley-Cohen's Long Run - and three others to win a place on an each way bet. Elated from The Kilburn Passion, I crossed the road to the Sir Colin Campbell pub to watch a re-run on the television and discover the awful news that four of my five horses had fallen and that the only one to complete the course came in tenth. So that was a few quid down the drain, and no chance of me ringing up Colin Ingram with an offer of financial assistance on Back to the Future or anything else.
Indhu Rubasingham told me before the show started that she was a bit jet-lagged but still flying, really. These are heady days for her and the Trike, not just with this Young Theatre mob, but also the huge current New York success of Red Velvet at St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn (there's talk of a Broadway transfer) and her sassy production of Moira Buffini's Handbagged, which she's been "teching" at the Vaudeville where it opens this week, giving owner Nica Burns two big shows on her watch in a couple of days.