Opening Night

This psychological drama of an actress who is battling her inner demons while rehearsing for the latest Broadway opening show ‘The Second Woman’, is a play within a play which promises to be memorable, but is it for the right reasons?

Based on the 1977 John Cassavetes film of the same name, this story is one that turns theatre in on itself and takes a look behind the scenes. Using the format of a documentary team following a cast through their rehearsals and preview performances, we follow Myrtle (Sheridan Smith) as she struggles her way through finding the character within her. After a traumatic event outside the theatre, she begins to spiral and loses her grip on reality. Her cast mates struggle to help her keep it together and the whole piece descends into madness.

The writing from Ivo Van Hove is confusing and full of basic stereotypes; a misogynistic leading man, a sleazy director, a bitter female writer who is post-menopausal and therefore angry at the world, and a leading actress who is struggling with a mental breakdown and yet is being forced to go on with the show. It feels archaic and lazily written. The songs by Rufus Wainwright only add to this feeling, the tone does not fit with the rest of the show in that there’s too many light hearted numbers in what feels is trying to be a dark impactful piece.

In 2023 we saw ground-breaking use of video in Sunset Boulevard, and although I do not like to make comparisons, it is hard not to here as the video design of ‘Opening Night’ has so clearly been inspired by Sunset. With up close shots of the actors faces, arty shots from above (though sadly out of time with the happenings on stage) and even taking the action out of the theatre in the street with Sheridan portraying a drunken scene amongst passers by. They have tried to hit the success Sunset had but have hugely missed the mark.

The piece takes many twists and turns over the course of 2 hours, each one making less sense than the last. By the end the audience are left in a state of confusion. There is one saving grace for this show which is the cast, who have made the best they can of what has been presented to them. Hadley Fraser and Nicola Hughes are stand outs with their impressive vocal skills. Sheridan Smith is doing her absolute hardest to make the role of Myrtle a success, and she is given the opportunity to show off her spectacular singing voice but sadly the writing is letting her down in the scenes and she is unable to shine to her full potential.

This show was reviewed on the 23rd March 2024 at the Gielgud Theatre, London where it runs until the 27th July 2024.  Tickets available here: Opening Night at Gielgud Theatre (

Review written by Rosie Browne


Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld

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