Guest Blog: Tom Littler on Jermyn Street Theatre's Scandal Season
For our first autumn as a producing venue, Jermyn Street Theatre created an Escape Season. The plays circled around themes of escaping entrapment of different kinds. In spring 2018, we are presenting the Scandal Season. These productions are about people who break the rules, outraging their contemporaries and blazing their own trail.
We open the Scandal Season with the UK premiere of Woman Before a Glass. Lanie Robertson's play is about Peggy Guggenheim, the remarkable art collector and patron who did more than anyone else to shape the history of 20th-century painting and sculpture. Anyone who saw Robertson's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, about Billie Holiday, will know his gift for uncovering the vulnerable truth behind a legendary persona.
Judy Rosenblatt, a veteran of the Off-Broadway scene, plays Guggenheim. This production - set in Venice - is directed by one of New York's great directors, Austin Pendleton, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize. It's incredibly exciting to be able to provide a London home to American artists of this calibre. And the play is a knockout: funny, sad, and definitely scandalous.
Accompanying Woman Before a Glass on Sunday, 28 January is a charity fundraiser celebrating the rich cultural life of Venice.
Previewing in February we have the world premiere of Mad as Hell, by Cassie McFarlane and Adrian Hope. Thanks to the National Theatre's adaptation of Network, lots of people have heard that iconic line: "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take this anymore!"
This play is about the marriage between the womanising film star Peter Finch (eventually the star of Network) and Jamaican woman Eletha Barrett. It was a mixed-race relationship that scandalised Hollywood. McFarlane, who also directs, is Jamaican, and heard these stories when she was growing up on the island. I found the play very entertaining and very moving, and knew nothing about the world it conjures up.
Maureen Duffy is a veteran hero of the LGBTQ+ movement, revered for decades as a social historian, academic, activist, novelist, poet and playwright. I know her slightly, so when she told me that she'd written a new play I was eager to read it.
Actually, it was two plays: The Choice is the world premiere of her play about Hilda of Whitby - an incredible woman, ahead of her time, and a most unsaintly saint - and A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square is a radical reworking of a previous play about Virginia Woolf.
Natasha Rickman, our Artistic Associate, was excited to direct the project, which we've since titled Hilda and Virginia. It previews from 27 February, and stars Sarah Crowden. Accompanying it, I'm directing an all-day reading of Virginia Woolf's masterpiece The Waves on Sunday, 18 February.
Previewing from 27 February, The Dog Beneath the Skin is a real rediscovery. W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood wrote it in 1935, as Europe was succumbing to the advance of fascism. It's a wildly theatrical, bold and fantastical adventure story, following the journey of a man and his dog across Europe as they go in search of the missing Francis Crewe.
I have loved this play for years, and I was delighted when Jimmy Walters and his vibrant company Proud Haddock took up the challenge of staging it. I cannot wait to see what they do with it!
Accompanying The Dog Beneath the Skin, our Deputy Director, Stella Powell-Jones, is curating an evening celebrating the literary and musical collaborations between Auden and Isherwood, on Sunday, 25 March.
Photo credit: Ron Lasso, Visual Things