I’ve seen a lot of great theater on the other side of the pond this summer—including the National Theatre’s production of Andrea Levy’s epic novel Small Island; a hysterically funny immersive Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge, directed by Nicholas Hytner; the incomparable Hot Priest, Andrew Scott, in Present Laughter at the Old Vic; and The Doctor, a riveting take on Arthur Schnitzler’s Professor Bernhardi by Robert Icke, starring a mesmerizing Juliet Stevenson, currently at the Almeida—but I’ve been also reminded about how much great theater comes down to casting and chemistry.
Think about some of the great pairings of the last several years: Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in Wicked; Leslie Odom Jr. and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton; Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub in The Band’s Visit; Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad in Book of Mormon. What would they be without each other? Good, yes, but maybe not as good.
It’s always fun to discover talent you haven’t seen before, and London is a great place to do that. Some of my favorite performances this summer came in twos. Here are some of the best duos currently treading the boards in the West End and its environs.
I didn’t think I could glean anything new from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970s rock opera. That is, until I saw Jamie Lloyd’s new production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. (He’s directing the Tom Hiddleston revival of Betrayal, currently on Broadway, too, which I now can’t wait to check out.) But this saucy Evita feels fresh, funny, and almost—dare I say it?—fosse. That’s greatly due to its stars: Samantha Pauly as Eva Perón and Trent Saunders as our musical tour guide Che, who ends up covered in blue paint by the end of the show. They’re virtually unknown—neither, it seems, even has a Broadway credit—but not for long. At intermission, I was already figuring out when I could make a return visit. (Through September 21)
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Does Andrew Lloyd Webber have a moment every theater season, or is it just this particular one? Besides Evita and a just-closed Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican, he also has a smash-hit revival of this biblical musical, his first, also written with Tim Rice. (We’ve all been forewarned: The Cats movie is ready to pounce, too.) Joseph has turned into an impossible ticket, thanks to the interplay between the British sitcom star Sheridan Smith—who brings lots of comic business to her track-suited, cell-phone-carrying Narrator—and Jac Yarrow, a 21-year-old baby-faced and dulcet-toned Welsh actor making his West End debut, as Joseph. Something I never do: I bought a tote bag; it says “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” on it. (Through September 8)
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
Set in a mental hospital called the Verona Institute, this new dance piece at Sadler’s Wells Theatre from choreographer Matthew Bourne (who brought us that all-male Swan Lake, which returns to the New York City Center in January) may not quite be William Shakespeare’s. But Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite, the star-crossed lovers here, reminded me a lot of Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s version: full of exuberance and angst. Their pas de deux can be bloody—the narrative still begins and ends like Romeo and Juliet—but they are also bloody exciting. This is the best Bourne in years. (Through August 31)
I never thought I needed to see this 1973 Peter Shaffer play again. The last time I saw it, in 2008 in New York, with Daniel Radcliffe and the late Richard Griffiths, it struck me as dated and kind of obvious. But I’d heard good things about this Stratford East production currently at Trafalgar Studios. Thanks to magical and inventive direction by Ned Bennett and the intensely stirring duo of Ethan Kai (as the disturbed, unambiguously named Alan Strang) and Zubin Varla (as his in-too-deep psychiatrist), this Equus is as much a thrilling procedural mystery as it is a kind of eerie and strange love story between a doctor and his patient. (Through September 7)
Originally Appeared on Vogue