Duchess Theatre Archive

Current Show: The comedy The Play That Goes Wrong.

The first new show of 2004 at the Duchess Theatre was Hershey Felder's one-man show about the composer George Gershwin called George Gershwin Alone which opened in February 2004. Devised and performed by Hershey Felder, this was the first portrayal that the Gershwin Estates has allowed and it came to London's West End via a 12 week season at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway in 2001. In London it managed a slightly shorter run of nine weeks before closing in April to be replaced a week later by a transfer from the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre of the European Premiere of Bruce Graham's play Coyote on a Fence. The play, which was set on death row in a Southern US State and starred Ben Cross and Alex Ferns, closed early after a run of just four weeks. This left the Duchess Theatre 'dark' until October, part from six shows from the Irish stand-up comedian Jimeoin in late May and five performances of Elections and Erections from the South African comedian Pieter-Dirk Uys in early June. Opening in October 2004 for a 14 week Christmas season was Andrew Loudon's production of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves. Presented by Novel Theatre, the production - aimed at families looking for a holiday show to see - had previously enjoyed two sell-out season at Sadler's Wells.

The first two productions in 2005 where both revivals. First, in February 2005 was Maria Aitken's revival of Terence Rattigan's 1963 play Man and Boy starring David Suchet which enjoyed a ten week season. The second, in April 2005, was Lindsay Posner's revival of Harold Pinter's classic play The Birthday Party which starred Eileen Atkins and Henry Goodman. Opening in August 2005 was John Robinson's new musical Behind The Iron Mask which starred Sheila Ferguson. Unfortunately it opened to poor notices from the press with Charles Spencer writing in the Daily Telegraph explaining that "there are those who relish a truly dreadful musical. They turn up, like rubber-neckers at a gory car crash, and spend an enjoyable evening hooting with derision. It's a phenomenon that drives the plot of that genuinely great show, Mel Brooks's The Producers. Unfortunately, Behind The Iron Mask doesn't even fall into the cherished 'so bad it's good' category. It's so bad that it is merely unendurable. There's no insane flourish to its mediocrity, no sublimity to its awfulness. It is just relentlessly, agonisingly third-rate." The musical closed after just three weeks.

Fortunately the next show, Peter Quilter's new comedy Glorious!, fared better with both the critics and audiences. The comedy starred Maureen Lipman as the 1940s American soprano Florence Foster Jenkins, a high society character whose pitch was, unfortunately, far from perfect. Running for just under four months, the comedy was effectively a 'star vehicle' for Maureen Lipman who's performance was hailed by the Sunday Times as "a virtuoso performance, glittering, hilarious and technically breath-taking: this is comedy with a heart by an actress with a heart. She never mocks Florence: she admires her guts and her almost unshakable confidence." On a more serious note, in May 2006 the Royal Shakespeare Company transferred Anthony Sher's production of Fraser Grace's Breakfast with Mugabe here for a limited three week season following runs both at their base in in Stratford and at the Soho Theatre in London. Comedy returned the following month with Douglas Hodge's revival of Philip King's farce See How They Run. Starring Tim Piggot-Smith and Nancy Carroll, the production enjoyed a four month run before making way for the return to London's West End, for one month only, of Tom McElhinney's production of Marie Jones' two-hander comedy Stones in his Pockets.

The next show, and the first new production in 2007 at the Duchess Theatre was the British Premiere of Glen Berger's one-man play Underneath the Lintel about a librarian who trys to unpick the mystery of a library book returned after 113 years. It was performed by Emmy Award-winning actor Richard Schiff, probably best known for appearing in the TV series The West Wing. The play opened in February 2007 and run for seven weeks. Following a successful short regional the comedy trio Peepolykus brought their show The Hound of the Baskervilles here in April 2007 where it played a ten week season. Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's novel it featured Jason Thorpe, John Nicholson and Javier Marzan playing all the roles! August 2007 then saw the return of the 'the world's most successful rock'n'roll musical' to London's West End in the form of Buddy the Musical. Based around the short life of Buddy Holly and featuring many of his songs, the production had originally enjoyed a run of over 5,000 performances in the West End between 1989 and 2002. Back now in the West End it played for just under two years. While it was playing in the evenings, the children's stage show The Gruffalo based on the picture book Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler played daytime performances for two months over Christmas and New Year from November 2008.

In February 2009 Michael Feast starred as 'John Gieldgud' in the 'docu-play' Plague Over England. Written by the critic for the London Evening Standard turned playwright, Nicholas De Jongh, the play was set in 1953 and examined the episode the life of the actor John Gielgud when he was arrested in a public lavatory. In the first part of May 2009 Notes from New York presented two short one week seasons of two contemporary American musicals: Jason Robert Brown's Last Five Years and Jonathan Larson's tick, tick... BOOM. Following this two Ronald Harwood plays set around Nazism in Germany transferred to the Duchess Theatre following successful runs at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Playing in repertory together, the first was a revival of Taking Sides that dealt with the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler and the second, a new play, was Collaboration that dealt with the relationship between the composer Richard Strauss and writer Stephan Zweig. During the run of 'The Harwoods', as they were collectively known, a stage adaptation of Michael Rosen's children's bookWe're Going on a Bear Hunt was presented over the summer school holidays.

In October 2009 Simon McBurney staged a revival of Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Originally due to star Adrian Scarborough as 'Clov' and the 75 year old Richard Briers as 'Hamm' in what he said would have been his final stage performance: "I've had enough of acting on stage after 52 years. I'll stick to telly, adverts or whatever I can get. I don't think I'll be doing that discipline of seven or eight shows a week." Unfortunately Adrian Scarborough withdrew from the production due to other work commitments after which Richard Briers said: "After much soul searching, I have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from Endgame. It was a long held promise to play the role opposite Adrian. When that was no longer possible, I felt I had to leave the production although it meant losing the possibility of working with a great director and old friend, Simon McBurney." It was the show's director Simon McBurney who took over the role of 'Clov' opposite Mark Rylance as 'Hamm'. To allow for the change in cast the show was delayed by two weeks meaning it run for eight weeks rather than ten. Coming in to the Duchess Theatre for a six week season over the Christmas and New Year holidays was a transfer from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of Tim Whitnall's one-man show Morecambe featuring Bob Golding as 'Eric Morecambe'. The play was a fictional account inspired by Eric Morecambe's life and was a theatrical celebration of his life in commemoration of 25 years since his death in 1984 aged 58.

2010 saw five productions play here. Firstly it was Iain Glen's revival of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts starring Lesley Sharp as 'Mrs Alving' and Iain Glen as 'Pastor Manders' which played for a shorter than expected five week season, leaving the theatre dark until June when a revival of the musical The Fantasticks arrived. Unfortunately - despite a strong cast that included David Burt, Clive Rowe, Hadley Fraser, Edward Petherbridge and Lorna Want - the revival opened to poor notices and soon closed three weeks later. Replacing it, at short notice, and coming in to London following a regional tour, was Robin Herford's revival of Jeremy Paul's thriller The Secret Of Sherlock Holmes starring Peter Egan as 'Sherlock Holmes' and Robert Daws as 'Dr Watson'. Playing for eight weeks up to September 2010, it was then quickly replaced by Michael Colgan's revival of Samuel Beckett's monologue play Krapp's Last Tape starring Michael Gambon which transferred from the Gate Theatre in Dublin for a two month season here at the Duchess Theatre. The last production opening here in 2010 was another transfer, this time from the Chichester Festival Theatre of Rachel Kavanaugh's staging of Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark's new musical Love Story adapted from the novel by Erich Segal. Staged as a 'chamber-style' musical, the transfer was co-produced by Michael Ball and the cast featured Emma Williams as 'Jenny Cavilleri' and Michael Xavier as 'Oliver Barrett IV'.

Tim Firth's new comedy Sign of the Times starring Matthew Kelly and Gerard Kearns opened in March 2011 but closed two months early. This allowed Mike Leigh's critically acclaimed revival of his own play, Ecstasy, to transfer to the Duchess Theatre for s limited 50 performance season following a run at the Hampstead Theatre in North London. The next play was Dominic West took the title role in the next play, Lindsay Posner's revival of Simon Gray's Butley, which opened in June 2011 and enjoyed a run of just under three months. Following two successful season at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Ruby Wax then brought her show Losing It, about mental illness, to the Duchess Theatre. The performance, which enjoyed a five week season in September 2011, was part-comedy, part-serious and was interspersed with songs written and performed by Judith Owen followed by a question and answer section. The final production of 2011 was the return to London of Lee Hall's play Pitmen Painters. Originally seen at Newcastle's Live Theatre, then at the National Theatre, a three month season on Broadway, and a major UK tour, the production arrived at the Duchess Theatre in October 2011 where it played for a three month season.

The Royal Shakespeare Company transferred David Edgar's play Written On The Heart here in April 2012. Originally staged at the Swan Theatre in Stratford, the play dealt with William Tyndale's desire to translate the Bible into English, unfortunately its three month London season was cut short by two months and it closed in May 2012. Burlesque performer Polly Rae then returned to London's West End in July 2012 with The Hurly Burly Show for a six week season. This was a revised version of the contemporary styled all-singing, all-dancing burlesque style show that had been seen the previous year at the Garrick Theatre. Next at the Duchess Theatre in October 2012 was a revival of Jonathan Lewis' play Our Boys. Set in the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital during the spring of 1984 where five young soldiers are recovering from injuries incurred in the line of duty, it starred Matthew Lewis, Laurence Fox and Arthur Darvill and played for a twelve week season. Over the Christmas and New Year holiday season The Boy With Tape on His Face - AKA Sam Wills - took up a three week residence while during the daytime TV host Richard Cadell along with Sooty, Sweep and Soo entertained the young and not-so-young in the new puppet show Sooty in Space.

The first new show of 2013 was a transfer in April from the National Theatre of Alan Bennett's 'autobiographical recollections' Untold Stories. A double bill of two short one act pieces both starring Alex Jennings as 'Alan Bennett', the first was called Hymn, and the second was titled Cocktail Sticks which was, in part, based on Alan Bennett's memoir A Life Like Other People's. This was then followed in June 2013 with the first West End revival of August Wilson's classic play Fences starring Lenny Henry as 'Troy Maxson', the once gifted athlete who was denied his shot at the big time and now struggles through daily life in Pittsburgh. The original 1990 production had run for just six weeks, but this revival managed to double that with a 13 weeks run. In September 2013 the Chichester Festival Theatre's 2012 revival of Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui transferred here in an accclaimed production that was directed by Jonathan Church and starred Henry Goodman who reprised the title role in the West End.

In December 2013, the Royal Opera House's production of Will Tuckett's dance version of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In the Willows transferred here for an eight week Christmas season featuring Tony Robinson as the narrator. Having been staged at the Opera House's Linbury Studio a number of times over the previous 11 years, this production marked the Royal Opera's first ever commercial West End theatre transfer. The first new production here in 2014 was the transfer from the Royal Court Theatre of three solo pieces by Samuel Beckett - Not I, Footfalls, Rockaby - performed under the title Beckett Trilogy to both critical and audience acclaimed by Lisa Dwan and directed by Walter Asmus which run for a limited two week season. Next here was another transfer, this time from the St James Theatre in London's Victoria of a three week run of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black's one-woman song-cycle Tell Me On A Sunday which was performed by Marti Webb who famously originated the role back in 1980. In April the 'cult musical' Cool Rider Live - adpated for the stage from the 1982 movie Grease 2 - was staged here for a limited one week run of concert-style performances. May 2014 saw the return of Kathleen Turner to the London West End stage in a new play by Stephen Sachs called Bakersfield Mist. This two-hander, which also starred Ian McDiarmid, centred around a true life story in America of a woman who thinks she may have found a genuine Jackson Pollack picture in a charity shop. This was followed by the current show - The Play That Goes Wrong which opened to much acclaim in September 2014.