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London Spotlight: August 2009

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Penny Downie and Paul McGann star in Helen
(© Keith Pattison)
The usually moderate summer weather in this town infrequently begs the phrase "dog days of August," but that description comes close to summing up what's happening -- or, more to the point, not happening -- this month. Nevertheless, there are a few items of genuine interest, and a couple of them are taking place at the Globe, which adds two new plays to its William Shakespeare mix that aren't from the Bard's canon. The first is Frank McGuinness' new translation of Euripides' Helen (August 2-23), in which Penny Downie plays the fabled beauty, and Paul McGann is her estranged and supposedly cuckolded husband, Menelaus. The other new one is Trevor Griffith's A New World -- The Life of Thomas Paine (August 29-October 9), directed by the company's artistic director Dominic Dromgoole. It's a sprawling and boisterous look at pre-Revolutionary America with 20 actors and lots of music.

The only musical opening of note this month is at the Fringe's Finborough Theatre, and it's a doozy -- the Oscar Hammerstein II-Richard Rodgers State Fair (August 4-29). The libretto adapted from the 1945 movie is by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli. Incidentally, this is billed as the European premiere. Otherwise, musical lovers might want to know that over at Oliver and the Drury Lane, Omid Djalili has taken over the role of Fagin from Rowan Atkinson. At Hairspray and the Shaftesbury, Brian Conley and Chloe Hart have replaced Michael Ball and Leanne Jones as, respectively, Edna and Tracy Turnblad.

Something eye-catching will unfold at the always intriguing Soho. What's described as a "series of tragi-comic new tales of young lives at the end of a body-conscious decade" is structured in three parts -- or "Six Pack at the Soho" -- Tits/Teeth (August 14-September 12), by Michael Wynne; Foot/Mouth (August 18-September 10) by John Nicholson and Steven Canny; and Eye/Balls (August 20-September 8) by Sarah Solemani. They're all a product of the National Youth Theatre, an increasingly important outfit. Another significant outpost, this one up in Kilburn, is the Tricycle, where Pornography by Simon Stephens bows. It's about the summer of 2007 where all sorts of unexpected events took place in England, including the London bus and subway bombings. It's produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company and Traverse Theatre Company.

An out-of-town trip worth taking is the one to the Bath and the Theatre Royal there, where Peter Hall settles his company every summer. This month, Michael Frayn's 1978 Balmoral (August 5-22) will be directed by Alan Stachan and feature Rik Mayall and Jeremy Child. The comedy wonders what might have gone on had the 1917 Russian Revolution not happened in Russia but in England, making it the English Revolution. Also, Hall has long-time associate Peter Gill direct his own new play, Another Door Closed in the smaller Ustinov space (August 4-29). In it, sisters look back over their lives.

Families with kids might want to venture to Greenwich for The Gruffalo (August 6-8), where they'll see an adaptation by Toby Michell and Oliva Jacobs of the Julia Donaldson-Alex Schleffer book. And/or they can step lively to the Hackney Empire for Scooby-Doo and the Pirate Ghost (August 28-30) and see a light-hearted mystery featuring the favorite character. Families with adolescents can hop the District line to the New Wimbledon for High School Musical 2 Live on Stage! (August 22-September 9), based on the Disney telefilm.

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