(NOTE. Revivals of two plays by Peter Nichols occur in this period, including a play with music, Privates on Parade, originally mounted by the RSC in 1977 and an earlier play, A Day in the Life of Joe Egg, which made him deservedly famous in 1967 — both of them evidence of Nichols’s talent for turning satire to telling social commentary. Pinter’s No Man’s Land, with its metaphorical premise identifying a state of war, once again attracts actors capable of the bravura playing required to do this play, like all of Pinter’s work, justice. West End audiences have been welcoming Tennessee Williams for some time, notwithstanding the challenges of capturing American deep south accents and the tortured psyches typical of this dramatist’s deeply maladjusted characters, as in this production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Michael Frayne, the author of Copenhagen, a probing analysis of issues with world-scale implications, has undeniably proved his versatility in things theatrical with a consummate farce, Noises Off, exploiting at the same time one of the most reliable of genres, the rehearsal play, in which things can go catastrophically wrong and still be enjoyed as absolutely right. Billy Roche, who came to attention via his Wexford trilogy, has set this later play, The Cavalcaders, also in Wexford. Revived here in that preeminent venue for Irish plays, the Tricycle, in Kilbourn, it identifies once again the fraught circumstances of ordinary people caught up in difficulties only partly of their own making, but gaining something extraordinary by virtue of its memorable musical content.
Star Quality, an unknown work by a familiar dramatist, was Coward’s last play, dating from 1967 and unproduced at the time. If not in the same league with Private Lives and The Vortex, still it offers the same, recognizable insights into the folly of egotism and pretense that distinguish his most memorable comedies. Another play evidently worth reviving and updating is J. B. Priestley’s thoughtful 1930s thriller Dangerous Corner, a near-murder mystery that also offers some of the best special effects on view in the contemporary London theatre. Irish theatre may be found elsewhere than in Kilbourn, of course, as the Barbican Pit’s presentation of Martin McDonough’s violent and simultaneously hilarious The Lieutenant of Inishmore demonstrates. The time-honored character of the grande dame is revisited with aplomb by Judi Dench, reigning at the center of Kaufman and Ferber’s heart-warming tribute to theatrical American royalty, The Royal Family.
Three plays by Shakespeare also grace this season of revivals, and also at the Barbican or its black box complement the Pit. Comedy, history, and tragedy get equal attention there in Twelfth Night, King John, and Hamlet, freshly conceived and played with the RSC’s dependable mastery. Twenty years after its London debut, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls appears undiminished in this revival at the Aldwych, hailed by critics but still showing signs of problematic writing in its second act. In temporary quarters in a cavernous coach station in King’s Cross, the Almeida company makes a virtue of unwelcoming surroundings in this restaging by Jonathan Kent of its 2001 production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, adding to its distinguished history of revivals on both sides of the Atlantic after a tentative American premiere in Boston in 1979. Oliver Parker sets his cinematic sights on a radical remake of Wilde’s classic farce The Importance of Being Earnest, featuring Judi Dench’s authoritative reinvigoration of the formidable Lady Bracknell,)