History of a somewhat older sort comes under politics-minded Howard Brenton's magnifying glass with the new play, In Extremis at the South Bank's Globe (August 27-October 7, in repertory). Only last year, Brenton had plenty to say -- much of it scatological -- about Saint Paul's conversion on the Damascus road and how Jesus (who'd married Mary Magdalene in the plot) was involved. This year, Brenton is thinking about 12th-century long-distance lovers Abelard and Eloise and how their love, letters, and love letters raised some fiery questions about religion and philosophy.
Tanika Gupta has written what sounds like an intriguing piece for the Royal Court, where the 50th anniversary is still being celebrated with much ado. Sugar Mummies concerns "female sex tourism in Jamaica, where everyone is in search of something." Meanwhile, the National Youth Theater has gathered six playwrights to pen one play each to cover the decade we're now enjoying, as well as the previous five. The program is called Sextet -- and all the plays can be seen in one day on August 12 and September 2; otherwise check for date and times.
Over at the Tricycle, four actors, including film star Catherine MacCormack, play 150 or so roles in an adaptation of John Buchan's famous and fabulous thriller The 39 Steps. Patrick Barlow has cobbled the script together from an idea by Nobby Dimon and Simon Corbie. Directing this intrepid undertaking is high-style actor Maria Aitken. Curiosity has to get the better of you on this one.
At the National, Harley Granville Barker's The Voysey Inheritance, a hit earlier in the season, is making a brief return (August 10-September 30), with Dominic West and Julian Glover returning to the Peter Gill production. The Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park is presenting Sandy Wilson's still-adorable The Boy Friend (through September 9), the 1950's spoof of the 1920's that started the trend toward musical spoofery that continues to this day with jolly items like Broadway's newly-minted Drowsy Chaperone.
As for more musicals or plays with music, the theatrical version of MGM's great 1954 song-and-dancer Seven Brides for Seven Brothers opens at the Haymarket (August 10, open-ended). The songs are by Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul and are as refreshing as the morning dew on this city's Parliament Hill. Dave Willetts and Shona Lindsay replace filmdom's Howard Keel and Jane Powell for this go-round. Maurice Lane is the director, but plenty relies on choreographer Adrian Allsopp. This isn't the first time London has seen the treatment, you understand, but it ought still to be a treat.
In the year 2000, a teleplay called Last of the Blonde Bombshells appeared with Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Cleo Laine, Olympia Dukakis and some other hotties of a certain age decorating it. Alan Plater, the scenarist, has now adapted the story of a WWII all-ladies band for the stage under the title Blonde Bombshells of 1943 (through August 12). The performers will be new to you, but the music -- associated with Glenn Miller, The Andrews Sisters, Fats Waller -- should be mighty familiar.
In search of a grand night for another kind of singing? For one performance and one performance only on August 31, Michael Ball, will be raising a glass to another great British star, Anthony Newley. Songs from shows that earned the cocky Newley a reputation and a fortune include "Once in a Lifetime," "Gonna Build a Mountain," "Feeling Good," "Who Can I Turn To?" and, maybe the biggest royalty snare, "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Not that big a fool, if the income from them is any measure.