Opening Night
Rating: ★
Venue: Gielgud Theatre, London
Cast: Sheridan Smith, Hadley Fraser, Shira Haas. Nicola Hughes, Amy Lennox, John Marquez and Benjamin Walker

Based on John Cassavetes' legendary film, Opening Night follows a theatre company's preparations to stage a new play on Broadway. But drama ignites backstage when their leading lady is rocked by tragedy, and her personal turmoil forces everyone to deliver the performance of their lives.

Opening Night premieres at London's Gielgud Theatre for a strictly limited run from 6 March 2024.

"Not even its star-studded cast led by Sheridan Smith could save Ivo Van Hove’s latest project from being one of the worst pieces of theatre to open on the West End."

Adapted from John Cassavetes' 1977 film of the same name, Opening Night is a confused, shallow testament to how far mediocrity can get when there’s big names behind it, sometimes even to the most prominent stage in the world: London’s West End.

The plot revolves around celebrated actress Myrtle and the theatre company she’s working with as they prepare for the opening night of a new show. Everything starts spiralling when Myrtle’s own anxieties about clinging to her youth and inner turmoil following a tragedy grow stronger and puts the whole production at risk.

Ivo Van Hove’s take was to frame this show as a documentary being made about the final days before opening night, employing cameras and screens a la Sunset Blvd., but executed with much less success than Lloyd did.

I had the privilege to attend a rehearsal event for it last February, where the cast performed two songs (written and composed by Rufus Wainwright) and we had the opportunity to interview the cast. After this event I was really looking forward to seeing the finished product, but left feeling terribly disappointed. Part of what makes this show such a let-down is the unbelievable talent it had at its disposal, primed and ready to make magic (pun intended), and how it was utterly wasted.

Olivier and BAFTA award-winning Sheridan Smith did what she could with a confused, shallow role coated in faux-depth. In truth, Myrtle’s character felt like what you’d get if you fed 90s magazines articles about the anxiety of aging into an AI, underlined by Nicola Hughes’ Sarah, the writer of the show, and her obsession with Myrtle’s age. Amy Lennox as Dorothee receives a heartbreakingly short time on stage, which was a shame since her voice is truly a gift.

When it comes to the male characters, the panorama is not much better. In my opinion, Hadley Fraser is one of the strongest vocalists currently on the West End, but in this show his prowess was overshadowed by his character’s baseless mercurial temper and awkward dialogue. The line “she’s not even a housewife!” proclaimed by Fraser as Manny will haunt me always.

John Marquez, despite his proven talent (Pygmalion) was barely there as producer David, and when the spotlight shone on him, it was so he could deliver one of the unintentionally funniest moments of the show, with a song that directly spoke about bringing critics in to give their opinions, and how daunting that would be. The character was stuck in constant flux between seeming to be cross at Myrtle and besotted by her when he wasn’t declaring how in all his years in theatre, he had never seen something as terrible as this. Oh, David, I thought, me either.

Speaking of funny, this was not supposed to be a funny show, and yet at several moments of its excessive run time you could hear smothered laughter all throughout the auditorium.

No one can deny Rufus Wainwright’s genius as a writer and composer, but there is a few hundred steps from writing baroque-pop to writing a musical, and it showed. The placement of the (bland, forgettable songs) was a perfect example of what people who hate musicals often criticise: it was cheesy and didn’t mesh with what was actually happening in the show.

Last year we saw one of the best pieces of theatre we have seen in recent times open at the Savoy, and because of the common themes and creative decisions it’s not difficult to draw parallels —much to the detriment of Opening Night. What Van Hove tried to do with cameras  and screens, Lloyd did better; what Opening Night attempted to say (if anything at all), Sunset expressed with eloquence and far more effectively.

From the unchallenged misogyny in the text as well as weaved through the subtext (one must wonder whether Van Hove has ever met a woman), to the presumptuous dialogue that ended up making the audience laugh, an alternative name for the show could be Men Writing Women: The Musical.

In conclusion, this whole production felt like an emperor’s new clothes situation, where no one thought of contradicting the Genius™ even though clearly - and unfortunately - this show had failings by the dozen.

You can book tickets to see Opening Night at the Gielgud Theatre, here.

Review by Luma

**photography by Jan Versweyveld**

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