Willy Russell Season

Stage Spy: The West End deserves a Willy Russell season!

In our infrequent series loosely called “Theatre Festivals You Didn’t Know You needed” we’d like to offer up our next suggestion: a Willy Russell Season.

Willy Russell is a playwright that we all love, is celebrating his 75th year on earth, and is well worthy of a West End tribute.

For this special Willy Russell West End Season, we’d ideally like to see his three biggest works performed in rep: Blood Brothers, Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. But obviously revivals of John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert, One for the Road, Stags & Hens, and Our Day Out would also be right up there.

There are currently UK tours of Blood Brothers and Educating Rita – so these could be anchor shows. Plus now that Bill Kenwright (longterm producer of Blood Brothers, plus other Russell shows) owns The Other Palace, we also have a venue!

Casting-wise there are SO MANY talented actresses who could take on the roles. Actually, what about one actress to play all three key female roles across the season? Someone fabulous. Three obvious names that come to mind are double-Olivier Award winner Sheridan Smith; Jodie Comer – who is about to star in one-woman play Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre; and Jodie Prenger, the latter having previously headlined a UK tour of Shirley Valentine. Some West End favourites who are equally strong musicals and plays include Jenna Russell and Gina Beck and if you wanted some left field casting Gemma Arterton‘s name did pop up.

Now obviously it’s not the first Willy Russell season to hit the West End. We’re reminded of the Menier Chocolate Factory’s 2010 Willy Russell Season with Meera Syal as Shirley Valentine, and Larry Lamb and Laura Dos-Santos in Educating Rita, which transferred to Trafalgar Studios; but we think it’s high time we had Russell’s three greatest works staged under one roof again, in slap bang in the West End.

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