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2 London theatre recommendations

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Just saw two terrific shows in London. They’re both about women of a Certain Age, both feature outstanding and memorable performances by great actors … and have utterly nothing else in common.

Sunset Boulevard is a revival of a so-so Lloyd Webber musical, and the shining star is Glenn Close, who was in the original Broadway production of the show about 20 years ago (and won a Tony for it). This current production is all about Close -- she’s now in her 60s, so the story about an aging movie star has more than a bit of strikes-close-to-homeness about it -- and her performance absolutely brought down the house. Never camp (once or twice on the brink of it, maybe), just first-rate. Superb performances by the other main actors, especially the guy playing Max (sorry, they don’t give away Playbills here and I don’t feel like looking up his name) round out the show. The audience is also something of a worthy sideshow; people-watching at intermission/interval is a treat.

If Sunset Boulevard is mostly mindless entertainment, Elegy is a play that gives you plenty to think about. It’s about a married couple, one of whom has had a serious brain-related disease (maybe Alzheimer’s, or something similar). And, this being in the not so distant future, science has developed a method to replace the diseased part of the brain with a “prosthetic.” Only problem is, the prosthetic would recreate all of the brain functions, but would not recreate the memory from the period that covers the couple’s courtship/marriage. It’s a fascinating concept, with all sorts of questions about relationships, attraction, medical ethics, plus an enormous dose of irony (and I’m a sucker for irony). And it’s carried out perfectly by the actors Zoë Wanamaker and Barbara Flynn. Wanamaker is particularly terrific (if you’re a fan of the old Prime Suspect series, Wanamaker was unforgettable in the very first episode as Moyra Henson, girlfriend of a sadistic serial killer).

Both these shows have very limited engagements -- if you’re in London soon and looking for a show, either one would be a great choice.

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