Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Not the 'West End'

It's easy to forget when reading about the 'West End' theatre that two of London's most interesting and highly regarded venues aren't in the so-called 'theatreland' at all, nor in some trendy venue in N1, but here in West London.

The two theatres I have in mind are the Lyric in Hammersmith and the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square. And despite the view that West London is a slightly stuffy, conservative place (small 'c', in this case - let's leave politics out of it), both theatres are renowned for their innovative programmes and championing of new writers. At the same time, both have traditional interiors, although the Lyric is rather hidden behind a rather unfortunate and unprepossessing exterior.

The Lyric's programme at the moment features a musical - in fact, 'Love - the Musical'. But this is not your average fare: for a start, it's set in an old people's home; secondly, it features a live choir composed of pensioners (yes, really - all 60+); and thirdly, they are not singing 'Keep the Home Fires Burning', but songs by the Smiths, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Rolling Stones, alongside Michael Jackson, Nick Cave, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the Beach Boys. Quite a mix. And yet, it's not a pointless mix of opposites, but a life-affirming challenge to our perceptions of what old age means. (Not that I'd take my 80+ Dad, to see it, but you can't please everybody.)

Meanwhile, back in Sloane Square, The Royal Court delivers challenge to the audience in what may oddly be more familiar ground: Martin Crimp's 'The City', a darkly surreal comedy about three adult's and one child's eerily normal and yet disturbed, and disturbing, middle-class urban lives, given an even more desolate and unsettling feel by producer Katie Mitchell. Hmm, not sure that's one for Dad, either...

Still, both theatres are maintaining substantive and changing programmes over the summer, with ticket prices which are generally more affordable than their Shaftesbury Avenue equivalents (no pre-booked coach parties here), so keep you eyes on their programmes. The Lyric also has a substantial output aimed at younger audiences, too.

Definitely not the West End: better.

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