LONDON — At 8:30 p.m. on Monday, two friends were huddling outside St. Martin’s Theater in London’s West End doing something no one has for 14 months: arguing during the intermission over who was the murderer in “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s long-running whodunit.
“I’m convinced it’s the posh woman who runs the hotel,” said Lockie Chapman, 40, a singer, before immediately changing his mind.
“Actually, it’s the major!” he said. “Or how about that shifty Italian dude?” he added.
“The shifty Italian dude?” replied Rah Petherbridge, 37. “But he could be a red herring!”
Such debates have rung out outside the “The Mousetrap” ever since it debuted in 1952, but those accompanying the show’s 28,200th performance on Monday were significant. They marked the reopening of the West End.
Six,” the hit musical about the wives of Henry VIII, but they managed only a handful of performances before they were shut once more. Theaters had to perform to online audiences if they wanted to keep working.
Monday’s comeback felt like it was actually permanent, 15 audience members said in interviews, many highlighting Britain’s speedy vaccination campaign as the reason for their optimism. (Over 55 percent of the British population has received at least one dose, a higher proportion than in the United States.) A small but worrying surge in coronavirus cases in Britain, linked to a variant first identified in India, did not dampen their mood.
La Clemenza di Tito.” “I feel confident this time it’s for good,” said Katie Connor, 40, as several huge Rolls Royces pulled up with glamorous operagoers.
“I’m just so happy to be back,” she added. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to ugly-cry for the whole two hours and 25 minutes of the show.”
England’s theaters are not immediately allowed to return to their prepandemic state. For now, shows can open only at 50 percent capacity, and audience members must wear face masks throughout performances.
Social-distancing rules are supposed to be removed June 21, allowing full capacity, but on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the date might be pushed back because of the recent rise in cases.
“I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.
since at least the 1970s, lacking the technical bells and whistles one would expect of a modern production. But Spiegel said that it was the best play to reopen the West End, as it had become a symbol of the city.
“It’s been through all the ups and downs of British life of the last 70 years: terrorism, economic recessions, this,” he said. “There’s not a scientific answer to why it should be first. It just feels right.”
Nick Payne’s relationship drama “Constellations” at the Donmar Warehouse. He hired four two-person casts — including famous names like Zoë Wanamaker — to try to ensure that the show wouldn’t suffer any coronavirus-induced closures, he said. “It’s such a complicated balancing act for every production,” he added.
Other theaters across England are similarly focused on small shows with lower coronavirus risks for now. The Theater Royal in Bath in southwestern England, for instance, is reopening May 25 not with a play, but with Ralph Fiennes performing T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” The performance will then travel around England.
protesting a lack of support for arts workers.
In Berlin, theaters are also allowed to reopen on Wednesday, but only outdoors.
In the West End, most theater owners and producers seem happy to accept restrictions, including the potential use of coronavirus passports to guarantee entry. “Whatever is necessary to restart people’s ability to enjoy theater I’m OK with,” Spiegel, of “The Mousetrap,” said.
Many in the industry realize that it will be a long time before theaters are back to their old selves, employing thousands of freelancers. Some job losses are only just emerging. In April, The Stage, Britain’s theater newspaper, reported that “The Phantom of the Opera” would reopen July 27 but only with its touring orchestration, cutting the number of musicians almost in half, to 14, from 27.
“It sets a bad precedent for the whole sector,” Dan West, a trombonist who played in the show before the pandemic, said in a telephone interview. “Every small producer will say, ‘If they don’t need brass, I don’t,’” he added.
During “The Mousetrap” on Monday, any worries seemed far from people’s minds. Many audience members took off their masks to sip drinks during the show, then left them off as the tension ramped up onstage, with Detective Sergeant Trotter (Paul Hilliar) quizzing eight potential murderers.
Eventually, the perpetrator was revealed, and several audience members gasped. “See, I told you!” one shouted, being shushed by those around him.
“The Mousetrap” ended just had it had for every one of its previous 28,199 performances. “Thank you so much for your unbelievably warm reception this evening,” Hilliar said, after a standing ovation from the half-full theater.
“Now, you are our partners in crime,” he added, “and we ask you to keep the secret of whodunit locked in your hearts.”
Tensions rose even higher when the stagehands learned that the Met had outsourced some of its set construction to nonunion shops elsewhere in this country and overseas. (In a letter to the union last year, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, wrote that the average full-time stagehand cost the Met $260,000 in 2019, including benefits; the union disputes that number, saying that when the steady extra stagehands who work at the Met regularly, and sometimes full-time, are factored in, the average pay is far lower.)
The stagehand lockout has not been absolute. Claffey said that at the Met’s request, he has allowed several Local One members to work at the Met under the terms of the previous contract, particularly to help the union wardrobe staff who are on duty.
But although the Met has now reached a deal with the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents its chorus, it has yet to reach one with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra. Both groups were furloughed without pay for nearly a year after the opera house closed before they were brought back to the bargaining table with the promise of partial pay of up to $1,543 per week.
Adam Krauthamer, the president of Local 802, pointed out that because of the Met’s labor divisions, other performing arts institutions were ahead of the Met in reopening.
“Broadway is selling tickets; the Philharmonic is doing performances; they’re building stages right before our eyes,” Krauthamer said in a speech at the rally. “The Met is the only place that continues to try to destroy its workers’ contracts.”
The rally had the backing of several local politicians who spoke, including Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and the New York State Senators Jessica Ramos and Brad Hoylman, who had a message for the Met’s general manager: “Mr. Gelb, could you leave the drama on the stage, please?”
LONDON — At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Maureen Lyon will be murdered at St. Martin’s Theater in London, her screams piercing the air.
Her death is a moment many in London’s theater industry will welcome for one simple reason: It’s the opening of “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s long-running whodunit, and it will signal that the West End is finally back.
For the last 427 days, the coronavirus pandemic has effectively shut London’s theaters. Some tried to reopen in the fall, only for England to plunge into a new lockdown before they even got to rehearsals.
They tried again in December, and several musicals, including “Six,” about the wives of Henry VIII, reopened to ecstatic audiences. But just days later, the shows were forced closed once more.
said theaters can reopen with social distancing on Monday and without it on June 21, provided coronavirus cases stay low, thanks to the country’s rapid vaccination drive. Vaccine passports might be required by then — a measure many major theater owners back.
A host of shows are scheduled to reopen this month, with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new “Cinderella” musical coming June 25 and a deluge of others soon after. “Hamilton” reopens in August. What happens to these shows will likely be a bellwether for Broadway’s reopening in September.
But what’s it actually like for the theatermakers who are starting work again after 15 months? Has the pandemic shaped the way they think about theater? We visited four to find out.
“Work that engages with who we are now.”
palo santo — a wood shamans use to cleanse evil spirits — and burned it in front of his cast. He’d only performed a ritual like that once before, he said, as he’d been afraid of “feeling like an idiot.”
But the actors also wanted to mark the occasion. “Every day now they’re saying, ‘Can we burn some more?’” Rickson said.
One of Britain’s most in-demand directors, Rickson’s Broadway triumphs include “Jerusalem” and the 2008 revival of “The Seagull.” (“The finest and most fully involving production of Chekhov that I have ever known,” wrote Ben Brantley in The New York Times.)
The night the shutdown hit, he was in a dress rehearsal for the play “All of Us” at the National Theater, while his revival of “Uncle Vanya” was attracting sellout crowds in the West End. Suddenly, he was without work or a sense of purpose. During lockdown last spring, he walked round the West End and cried while looking at all the shut theaters.
He kept himself busy by filming “Uncle Vanya,” but said he spent most of the time reflecting on what he wanted theater to be when it returned. His answer: “New work, work that engages with who we are now, courageous work.”
“Walden,” by the largely unknown American playwright Amy Berryman, is the first example of that. He came across the play — about two sisters with contrasting views on how humanity should deal with climate change — last summer, while searching for scripts with the producer Sonia Friedman.
“It’s kind of dazzling in its imaginative scope,” Rickson said. “It’s like a play by a writer who’s written 20 plays, not a debut.”
Britain’s vaccine rollout was “fast by any measure,” she said. “Of course, “if we weren’t selling any tickets, I wouldn’t feel so jolly.”
Burns, the chief executive of Nimax Theaters, is one of the unsung heroes of the West End’s comeback. Over the past year, many figures in Britain’s theaterland have grabbed headlines for trying to support workers during the pandemic.
Lloyd Webber continually harangued the British government to let theaters reopen, even hosting a government-sanctioned experiment in July to prove it could happen safely. The “Fleabag” star Phoebe Waller-Bridge set up a fund to support freelance theatermakers, as did the director Sam Mendes.
But Burns did something else: She tried, repeatedly, to open her six theaters with social distancing and mask mandates.
In October, she managed to open the Apollo for 14 performances by Adam Kay, a comedian and former doctor, before England went into a second lockdown. In December, she opened several more for just over a weekend, before England went into lockdown again.
said when naming her its producer of the year. “In the face of overwhelming odds this year, she has consistently tried to make it happen, when some other established commercial producers didn’t.”
Now, she’s planning to open them all once more. “Six,” the musical about the wives of Henry VIII, will play at the Lyric. “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” a musical about a boy dreaming of being a drag queen, will be right next door at the Apollo.
announced a Rising Stars festival, letting 23 young producers host shows in her venues this summer. The shows include “Cruise,” a one-man tale of gay life in London, as well as an evening of magic acts.
be built down the road from the Palace.
It doesn’t have a name yet, she said. How about the Burns Theater? “No, no, no, no, no,” she replied. She’s naming a bar inside after herself. “That’s enough,” she said.
Lead Actor, ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’
“I’ve learned that I don’t need to change to please anyone”
a hit musical about a gay teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen.
His dressing room was adorned with art from fans, and months after dropping out of drama school to take the role, he had become used to seeing his face plastered on London’s buses. Then the pandemic forced his theater shut, and he found himself at home with his mum, dad and sister.
tweeted a picture of a full airplane, alongside one of an empty theater. “It just made me think, ‘Why’s that one OK, and the other isn’t?’” he said. “Every other industry was talking about getting back to work, and we were all sitting at home.”
During lockdown, he read a host of scripts and learned to cook pasta dishes and curries (“I’m going to be the meal-prep queen when we go back”). And he spent a lot of time reflecting on who he wanted to be as an actor.
“I see the world through a different gaze now,” he said. “I’ve learned that I don’t need to change to please anyone.”
Thomas said he thought that attitude would help when the musical returns May 20. Jamie “is so unapologetically himself, and he’s calling for the world to adapt to him and his fabulousness and his queerness,” Thomas said. “He’s not changing.”
The show, which has a cast of 26 and a nine-person band, is the largest to reopen next month, thanks to a government grant. Thomas said he knows what to expect in terms of coronavirus precautions, as his show was one of the few to briefly reopen in December.
“It was weird,” he said, “but the rules and the mitigations and masks are such a small sacrifice in order to be able to do our jobs.”
The Mousetrap,” was trying to do a costume fitting for the actor Sarah Moss — without touching her.
It started well. Inside a cramped room at the St. Martin’s Theater, Hudson-Holt handed Moss a heavy black wool coat, then stood back to admire the fit. But within seconds, she had leapt forward, grabbed the rumpled collar and adjusted it.
“Sorry!” she said, realizing she’d broken the rules. “It’s just instinct.”
“The Mousetrap,” which has been running in the West End since 1952 is scheduled to reopen on May 17, the first play here to do so.
“We’ve been going so long,” Hudson-Holt said. “If we can survive this, others can,” she added.
Hudson-Holt, who’s been with the show for almost 20 years, had spent most of the past year at home. “We were lucky, as the very good management kept us furloughed,” she said, meaning the government paid a chunk of her salary. “But for a lot of freelancers — costume makers, propmakers, actors — it’s been just devastating.”
To lessen coronavirus risks, two casts will now alternate in the eight roles. The show’s website makes that move sound like a canny piece of marketing, encouraging audiences to see both sets of actors. In reality, it’s in case illness strikes; if one cast has to isolate, the other can step in.
all its stores have closed.
Her daily routine changed in other ways. Rather than taking measurements in person, she called the actors, politely inquiring if they’d gained weight or muscle in lockdown and would be needing a bigger size.
“I was having to ask people, ‘Oh, have you been doing any sport lately? Or maybe some baking?’” she said.
Despite the no-touching rule, the fittings went according to plan. Hudson-Holt had found a hat for Moss, new to the role of Miss Casewell, one of many potential murderers stuck in an English guesthouse after a snowstorm.
Only a lime green silk scarf caused problems. Hudson-Holt tried showing Moss how to fold, then tie it, but Moss was flummoxed. “Can you slow down a bit and show me again?” she said.
“Today’s a fun test for everyone,” Hudson-Holt said.
Once the fitting was over, Hudson-Holt put Moss’s outfit aside. It would be steamed later to kill any potential viruses. “I know it seems hyper vigilant,” she said, “but who wants to be the one that mucks this up?”
JOHANNESBURG — One of South Africa’s top film producers squinted at a monitor as a hush settled over the crew. Cameras zoomed in on an actress playing a dealer of fine art — chicly dressed in a pencil skirt made from bold African textiles — who offered a coy smile as an old flame stepped into her gallery.
It’s the opening scene of a new Netflix movie about high-powered Black women, wealth and modern city life in Johannesburg — one in a flood of productions from a new generation of South African filmmakers. They are bent on telling their own stories on their own terms, eager to widen the aperture on a country after a generation of films defined by apartheid, poverty and struggle.
“We call it the legacy exhaustion, the apartheid cinema, people are exhausted with it,” Bongiwe Selane, the producer, said a few days later in the editing studio. “The generation now didn’t live it, they don’t really relate to it. They want to see stories about their experiences now.”
one of the most unequal in the world, where wealth is still concentrated mostly in the hands of whites and a small Black elite.
But in recent years, the country has also undergone major demographic and economic shifts. The first South Africans who grew up after apartheid are now adults, asserting their voices on social media and in professional workplaces. And a growing Black middle class has been eager to see itself reflected onscreen — and showing it with their wallets.
box office expectations for locally made romantic comedies.
A year later, “Happiness is a Four Letter Word” — the prequel to Ms. Selane’s latest film that opens with the art gallery scene — outperformed several Hollywood releases in South African movie theaters on its opening weekend.
The movie revolves around three bold women navigating a new South Africa. There is Princess, a serial dater and owner of a trendy art gallery; Zaza, a glamorous housewife having an illicit love affair; and Nandi, a high-powered lawyer who gets cold feet on the cusp of her wedding.
“Audiences would come up to me to tell me how they also had a guy who broke their heart and they want to see that, to watch something where apartheid is not in the foreground,” said Renate Stuurman, who plays Princess. “It can be in the background, surely, it’s what brought us here, but people were happy to be distracted.”
according to Digital TV Research, an industry forecaster. For Netflix, the investment is part of a larger push to acquire a generation of Black content.
Nollywood. Nigerian filmmakers have churned out thousands of movies — many produced with just a few thousand dollars and one digital camera — since the late 1990s.
Nollywood films won fans across English-speaking Africa, but South Africa is chipping away at its dominance, industry leaders say.
For the past two decades, South Africa has hosted major Hollywood studios drawn to its highly skilled workers and government-issued rebate on all production costs spent in the country.
Cape Town’s streets were transformed into Islamabad for the fourth season of Homeland; studios constructed models of Robben Island for “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom;” and crews flew helicopters, crashed cars and set off massive explosions in downtown Johannesburg for “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Of the roughly 400 films made in South Africa between 2008 and 2014, nearly 40 percent were foreign productions, according to the National Film and Video Foundation, a government agency.
“Blood Psalms,” a series for Showmax, employs massive sets reminiscent of “Game of Thrones,” green screens to concoct magical powers, and elaborate costumes of armor and golden crowns.
Inside an editing suite in Johannesburg one recent morning, Mr. Qubeka chatted with an editor slicing together shots for the show, about a queen battling a world-ending prophecy — a plot drawn from African mythology.
“The true revolution,” Mr. Qubeka said, “is that we as South Africans are being sought out for our perspective and our ideas.”