Think that September is just the damp end of summer? Think again. It's still warm enough to enjoy some of outdoor London, pop-ups continue to provide food, booze and fun, and there are tons of great autumn events to enjoy.
There's also the month-long Totally Thames festival to dip into and the annual London Design Festival. Plus, anyone desperate to get indoors can check the excellent Open House London weekend, when over 800 London buildings are opened to the public.
Our September 2018 highlights
The Totally Thames festival, an annual celebration of the River Thames, usually graces the banks of our much-loved waterway in September. Dive into a month-long party full of arts festivals, community events, regattas, river races, foreshore archaeology and environmental activities.
At the end of this elegant Agatha Christie thriller, the newly uncovered homicidal maniac steps into a sinister spotlight and warns everyone never to reveal his or her identity. The production recently celebrated its 60th birthday and although Wikipedia and Stephen Fry have both blown the murderer's cover, there is a remarkable conspiracy of silence over 'The Moustrap'. The real mystery of the world's longest-running theatre show is not whodunit but, in its currently mediocre state, whydoit at all? 'The Mousetrap's ticket prices are the only element of this show that isn't stuck fast in the 1950s – although the actors' strained RP does make the odd break for the twenty-first century. Otherwise, this is a walking, talking piece of theatre history and – at £39 for a full-price stalls seat – the most expensive museum exhibit in London. Christie's neat puzzler of a plot is easier to defend. It has defied the inevitably mummifying process of more than 25,000 performances and still possesses an uncanny precision worthy of the mistress of murder's chilling geriatric creation, Miss Marple. In the 60 years since it premiered, its premise, in which six Cluedo-like middle-class stereotypes are imprisoned by snow in a country house while they try to fathom which of them is a raving murderer, has become a cliché, just as the authorities' response to adverse weather conditions (skiing coppers? In Berkshire?) have become a nostalgic memory. It's fascinating to glimpse the ghost of Peter
I’m not sure any show ‘deserves’ to be the most successful entertainment event of all time, but I’ll hand it current holder of that title, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – it still works hard for its audience. Sure, chunks of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opus have never left 1986. But whereas describing a musical as ‘stuck in the ’80s’ is usually shorthand for cheap, thin synth orchestration, nothing could be further from the truth here: the portentously swirling keyboards and crunch of hair metal guitar that powers ‘Phantom’s title song have a black hole-like immensity, sucking you in with sheer juggernaut bombast. Mostly, though, ‘Phantom…’ remains strong because its high production values haven’t been allowed to sag. The late Maria Björnson’s design is a heady barrage of ravishing costumes and lavish sets that change frequently, working in everything from pastoral jollity to an ancient Carthaginian theme on the way to the Phantom’s stunning underground lair. It’s totally OTT – in one scene the Phantom zaps at his nemesis Raul with a staff that fires actual fireballs – and anybody who describes the plot (homicidal lunatic grooms girl) as romantic should probably be put on some sort of register. But its blazingly earnest ridiculousness and campy Grand Guignol story are entirely thrilling when realised with the show’s enormous budget. And while Hal Prince’s production may have been hailed as rather gauche back in the day, in 2013 it all comes across as rather more tasteful than the a
Step inside the Lyric foyer and you'll be greeted by a gleaming Michael Jackson memorial. Enter the auditorium and you'll find another in 'Thriller', a shining homage to The King of Pop. This is a sparkling, singing and shimmying conveyor belt of more than 30 of Jackson's greatest hits. It's a bit like watching an extended episode of 'The X Factor' – except the performers are actually very good and they've all picked Jacko. What really hits home in this jubilant jukebox show, which recently celebrated its thousandth performance, is the range of repertoire available. 'Thriller' is a reminder of Michael Jackson's versatility and the unique gloss he lent to pop, rock, dance and even the ballad. 'Heal the World' is crooned by a throng of suitably seraphic kids, 'Beat It' is blasted into the gods and a silver-gloved groover glides majestically through 'Smooth Criminal'. The show, held together by the loosest of narratives, begins with a selection of Jackson 5 numbers. These earlier songs are among the best of the night: pure, funky, relatively simple and uniformly upbeat. Salient facts are flashed furiously across the screens (750 million records sold worldwide!) and the show segues into Jackson's solo career. Some of these later songs are terrifyingly idiosyncratic – made and moulded for the man himself – and the lead vocalists struggle with the quirkier numbers, such as 'Jam' and 'Dirty Diana'. But it is the dancing that dazzles, no more so than Michael Duke's confident and w
The film world continues its love affair with werewolves, vampires and all things 'Twilight'. But theatre types have always known witches are where it's at. After its 2006 opening at Apollo Victoria, Oz prequel 'Wicked' continues to fill this massive theatre with an international crowd of voracious consumers (glass of champagne and a choccy for £16 anyone?). But this stylish and bombastic musical still delivers, sailing over its patchy score thanks to a gravity-defying performance from its current leading lady Rachel Tucker, as the intense green-skinned undergrad who goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West. 'Wicked' is a spectacle that rises or falls around its central performance. In the midst of a gigantic production full of bangs, bells and whistles Tucker, with her small frame and searing vocal ability, simply flies off with the show. She's closely followed by Gina Beck, who plays good girl, Glinda. Glinda and Elphaba's relationship forms the heart of this story and, as the Good Witch, Beck is a consummate clown, playing up the silliness of her character at every turn. But she can raise a tear, too, and her final duet with Tucker, 'For Good', is genuinely heart-rending. The Tim Burton-inspired ensemble oscillate between the hypnotic and grotesque and a sweet but thin voiced Matt Willis charms as the rather superfluous Prince. As in classical ballet, this is all about the women and, even by previous lead Idina Menzel's standards, they are in soaring form here. T
It wasn’t all about Poirot’s little grey cells or Miss Marple solving murders at the vicarage. In her lifetime, crime writer extraordinaire Agatha Christie wrote 16 plays and a massive 73 novels. Apart from the immortal ‘Mousetrap’, ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ – which Christie adapted in 1953 from an earlier short story – is one of the most famous. Like most of Christie’s work, you can’t say much for fear of ruining the ending. Leonard Vole (a butter-wouldn’t-melt Jack McMullen) is on trial for murdering an older woman who has left everything to him in her will. He insists he’s innocent, but it all rests on the testimony of his wife, Romaine. What will she say on the stand? When Christie adapted her original story, she shifted the focus almost exclusively to the Old Bailey courtroom. Here, Lucy Bailey’s production has the gift of being in the main chamber of London County Hall. Big, austere and grand, it’s the perfect setting for the legal theatrics of Christie’s forensically precise plotting. Some audience members are even addressed as the jury. If the courtroom is a stage, this play is all about performance. Few are as good as Christie at leading us down the garden path, expectations-wise. She constructs her plot like Vole’s barrister, Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (a charismatic David Yelland), builds his case, before knocking over apparent ‘revelations’ like dominoes. Bailey plays up the melodrama beautifully, in some scenes lighting the judge’s bench like something fro
Judy Craymer's bold idea of turning the insanely catchy songs of ABBA into a musical has paid off splendidly, in every sense – box office figures for 'Mamma Mia!' are as eye-watering as its outfits. This is largely because Catherine Johnson had the sense to weave the 1970s into her script, and director Phyllida Lloyd to cast accordingly. Heroine Donna Sheridan lived the free love dream (if only because her boyfriend ran out on her), wound up pregnant and survived to see her daughter, Sophie, reject all her principles in favour of a white wedding and the kind of certainty that comes from knowing which of your mother's three consecutive lovers ought to be walking you down the aisle. If you wanted to, you could see this as a conversation about feminism. But you'll look pretty silly debating patriarchal oppression while on your feet clapping to 'Dancing Queen'. Some of the songs are oddly static, but when the choreography does get going – for instance, when Donna's friend Tanya stylishly quashes a libidinous local puppy in 'Does Your Mother Know?' – it's terrific, and makes great use of props: I wonder if the producers can assure us that no electric drills or hairdryers were harmed in the making of this musical? The current cast appear to have been chosen more for their singing voices than their serious acting ability. But who needs dramatic conviction when you have purest pop to do the convincing for you? Given the songs, a story just about solid enough to stay upright on its
It's been decades since this skillful adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 Gothic horror story first started setting West End audience a-shiver. 'The Woman in Black' remains perennially popular – particularly, it seems, with generally hard-to-please teenagers – which is testament to its rough-theatre appeal and the extraordinary and enduring potency, not of guts, gore or special effects, but of simple suggestion. Ageing Arthur Kipps is haunted by sinister events that befell him 30 years earlier. In an effort to exorcise his demons, he hires an actor to help him tell his story for an invited audience. As they rehearse, though, their staging itself becomes prey to supernatural visitations from the titular hatchet-faced, whip-thin, funereally garbed woman. Stephen Mallatratt's dramatisation and a deft production by Robin Herford exploit the peculiarly spooky atmosphere of an empty theatre, making us, as an audience, feel almost like spectral voyeurs. And the chills are irresistibly effective: swirling fog, a creaking rocking chair, a locked door, a pale visage looming out of the gloom. Only occasionally does the staging show its age. The projected image of the gaunt, sinister house of Kipps' tormented memory looks hopelessly cheap and crude, and a graveyard conjured with dust sheets struggles to convince, even within the low-tech aesthetic parameters of the piece. Yet the shrieks and gasps that greet the performance demonstrate that, even in the twenty-first century, this doughty
Eternal pessimists – and proud of it – the Feeling Gloomy crew spin a regular soundtrack of gloom-tinted (but still hugely enjoyable) pop. Think Blondie to Bowie, Abba to The Clash, The Smiths to the Scissor Sisters, Bonnie Tyler to Joy Division. Get ready to do some whistful sighing and then jump on the dancefloor when you realise no-one's watching you anyway. Such is the popularity of this brilliant night that it's even hopped across the pond to New York. Oh, and attracted a ton of alt royalty celebs over the years - Jarvis Cocker, Michael Fassbender, Adam Buxton, Olivia Coleman, Daniel Kitson... There are many, which should go some way to demonstrating how much fun you'll have here.
Tina Turner has gone from R&B singer to 'Mad Max' movie star to living legend, in an eclectic career that's spanned over half a century. Now, her life's being turned into a musical that's written by leading playwright Katori Hall ('The Mountaintop') and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who's worked on topnotch Shakespeare adaptations as well as international mega-hit 'Mamma Mia!'. And since Carole King musical 'Beautiful' left the West End, there's definitely room for a new female-fronted pop musical in town. 'Tina' should be a rather grittier affair, starting with Turner's beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee and following her through a miserable marriage to her triumphant '80s career comeback. Although since the lady herself is involved in its creation, 'Tina' won't exactly be a warts-and-all exposé. Broadway performer Adrienne Warren will play the lead.
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is getting a magical makeover, inspired by the fourth film ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. From Easter 2018 visitors will get to see the Goblet itself, which is returning to the Great Hall for the first time since filming wrapped eight years ago. There will be special effects demonstations, showing how parchments were expelled from the Goblet, as if by magic. Many new props and costumes from the Triward Tournament and beyond will also be on display, including the boot Porkey, the Prefects’ Bathroom and Tom Riddle’s grave. Entry is included in ticket price.