This is a milestone year for Hampstead Theatre, which celebrated its 60th Birthday in September. As many readers will know, the theatre has recently welcomed a new Artistic Director, replacing Edward Hall who was at the helm from 2010. Roxana Silbert has joined from the Birmingham Rep and continues the theatre’s tradition of staging significant new plays and new writers.
The current season got off to a memorable start with The King of Hell’s Palace which ran in September and October. The play, written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and directed by Michael Boyd (former Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company), was inspired by the real life of Dr Shuping Wang, who exposed the spread of hepatitis and HIV infection through contaminated blood and plasma in China two decades ago. The imaginative set, which jutted out into the audience, made the dialogue, singing, dancing and soundscape very engrossing.
At the curtain call on the opening night of Hell’s Palace, the actress playing the role inspired by Shuping’s whistleblowing, invited Shuping onto the stage to take a bow. She received a standing ovation, which was, in retrospect, particularly poignant as she was to pass away 10 days later.
The Christmas production, Ravens: Spassky vs. Fischer, opening on 29 November, promises to be a gripping, psychological thriller. Taking as its subject the famous chess match that became a signature event of the Cold War, this is a world premiere from Tom Morton-Smith, the writer of Oppenheimer. It is directed by Annabelle Comyn, who has worked in leading theatres in Ireland where she is based.
Roxana Silbert makes her own directing debut as Artistic Director in early 2020. The play is The Haystack, another world premiere, and is an intriguing story about GCHQ, data, electronic intrusion and the world of intelligence operations.
Many residents will remember the Hampstead Theatre Club, as it then was, in its much-loved re-purposed scout hut. Today the theatre’s welcoming space houses two auditoria: the recently refurbished Main House, with 370 seats and the exciting studio space, Hampstead Downstairs. The downstairs studio (of which our Newsletter Editor is a particular devotee) has hosted many innovative and interesting productions, in an informal atmosphere.