UK Roundup - Edinburgh, Natalie Portman, Joseph Fiennes

August is a slow month for news – regional theatres are dark, productions are beginning to rehearse for Autumn openings and people head abroad, so even newspaper advertisements slowly diminish. But the Edinburgh Fringe Festival usurps all the theatre media's attention as critics, performers, producers, directors, etc, flood the Scottish capital. The best of the Festival's offerings transfer to London, with some using the Festival as an out-of-town tryout (such as The Riot Group's Switch Triptych, which transfers to the Soho Theatre or After the End, which transfers to the Bush Theatre). The winner of the prestigious Perrier Award for comedy gets a West End transfer, and the very best even transfer to New York for the Brits Off Broadway season. Stand-up comedians, of which there are hundreds in Edinburgh, tend to tour the country with their Edinburgh shows, before coming back next August and starting all over again!

Of the big theatre events in Scotland, the off-Broadway hit The Exonerated promises casts including Aidan Quinn and Robert Carradine, but when I saw the play's opening performance last week the role of Sunny Jacobs was taken by Sunny Jacobs herself, who was visibly moved by reading her own accounts. Unfortunately though the production is in an awful venue; bad acoustics and squeaky chairs, which means that the intensity of the play is completely lost. Britain does verbatim drama very well, and the staging of The Exonerated doesn't live up to some of our own home grown plays, but the critics raved anyway, so perhaps it may have a further London life – hopefully in a better venue. Other sell-outs in Edinburgh including The Odd Couple, which is good but not worthy of the praise received for the same team's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest last year, and East Coast Chicken Supper at the Traverse Theatre, which I suspect stands a good chance of going to the Brits Off Broadway event, it has an incredibly realistic set with some outstanding performances.

With no big high profile musicals to look forward to this winter – well, okay, we've had enough in the past ten months – it's time for some plays to surface in the next few months, and here are some of the highlights:

Popular American playwright Richard Greenberg, who wrote Take Me Out amongst others, is set to see The American Plan performed in the West End. Produced by Out of the Blue, who are experts in persuading Hollywood stars to perform in London (their previous catches include Julia Stiles, David Schwimmer, Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal), Natalie Portman's name is being mentioned for Lili, though it is expected that the role of her mother will be taken by an equally big star. The production is to be directed by David Grindley, who's had a busy year directing Some Girl(s), What the Butler Saw and National Anthems. No venue or official dates have been set, but a November opening is expected. Take Me Out was previously seen at the Donmar Warehouse, a subsidised theatre company, meaning The American Plan will be his commercial West End debut.

The versatile Conleth Hill, who won Olivier Awards for Stones in his Pockets and The Producers, is to star alongside popular TV actor James Nesbitt in the West End premiere of Shoot the Crow by Owen McCafferty. Originally seen at the Druid Theatre in 1997, Shoot the Crow is about a day in the life of four Irish tilers on a building site. It will open at the Trafalgar Studios on October 11th, directed by Robert Delemare, produced by Sonia Friedman. McCafferty received unanimous praise for his play Scenes from the Big Picture when it opened at The National Theatre two years ago, but his work has never been seen in the West End beforE. Nesbitt is best known for his role in the comic drama Cold Feet on television, but has many other credits to his name including Murphy's Law, the recent Danny Boyle film Millions and stage appearances at the Bush Theatre and Birmingham Rep.

Another high profile offering is Epitaph for George Dillon, a revival of the 1957 play by John Osbourne and Anthony Creighton. Originally staged in Oxford, it transferred to the Royal Court Theatre shortly after the success of Osbourne's Look Back in Anger before transferring to the West End and Broadway. Ironically, it will open again at the Comedy Theatre, this time with Joseph Fiennes in the title role, with Francesca Annis as Ruth Gray. It is directed by Peter Gill and opens for critics on September 27th. All of these plays in the West End sound interesting, with good casts and very different audiences to attract, but with tickets at £40 ($72) it seems producers haven't learnt from the rapid closure of so many plays recently at similar prices – almost all West End plays apart from Death of a Salesman are on the half price TKTS booth every single day, and discounts can be found everywhere.

And finally, I'm pleased to say that Glenn Meads is joining the team here at Glenn is set to cover the Manchester theatre scene, a northern city where many high-profile national tours begin, including the Cameron Mackintosh production of My Fair Lady, prior to its American tour. Glenn's first Broadwayworld feature is 'Manchester – Second to London'.


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From This Author Jake Brunger

Jake is currently studying at Bristol University and hopes to eventually pursue a career in the theatre industry as a writer/director. His favourite writers include (read more...)