Based on the 1977 John Cassavetes psychological drama, Opening Night breaks down the walls between audience and actors as it looks to explore the world of theatre within… well, theatre itself.

Sheridan Smith takes to the stage as the headstrong Myrtle, an actress struggling with the picture of womanhood she has been asked to play. A striking exploration of age and femininity, the production captures every angle with its use of live on-stage videography, adding an extra perspective for viewers and simultaneously making some more intimate moments more accessible to those in the furthest seats.

Sheridan Smith (Myrtle), John Marquez (David) and Company in Opening Night

Source: Jan Versweyveld

The company have a tough job to execute the play-within-a-play concept.

The audience is left feeling uncomfortably close to the actors as they grapple with life behind the scenes of a new show set to open on Broadway, and with Myrtle’s psyche unraveling on the stage - as well as the screen - it is hard to look away.

The ‘play-within-a-play’ format is a tricky one to execute well, but the production becomes quite the display of theatrical innovation with the addition of the fake ‘documentary crew’, who are filming the behind-the-scenes action leading up to the opening night of the performance that the cast are working towards.

Benjamin Walker as Maurice and Sheridan Smith as Myrtle in Opening Night

Source: Jan Versweyveld

The show includes plenty of intense encounters.

Particularly notable are the characters of Manny (Hadley Fraser) and Sarah (Nicola Hughes), a demanding director and a tired playwright respectively, both played as self-important caricatures of theatre stereotypes. Fraser and Hughes’ performances see them dominating the stage during their scenes - it is clear to see the two are masters at work.

 Rufus Wainwright’s soundtrack is brimming with suspense, keeping the audience on their toes and throwing songs at them when they least expect it. Makes One Wonder, a gritty duet between Myrtle and Sarah, showcases the vocal talents of the pair as they push aside their conflicting views of the play and explore their similarities as women with differing levels of maturity.

Sheridan Smith (Myrtle) and Shira Haas (Nancy) and Nicola Hughes (Sarah) in Opening Night

Source: Jan Versweyveld

The staging works well, helping audiences follow along.

 The addition of a banjo to the soundtrack is admittedly a bit of a left-field choice, but it gives the music an intriguing texture - made all the better by being able to see the band as you hear them. The set is a simple ‘backstage’ scene, but the spaces either side of the main floor give way to the live band on the left and a reading table to the right, which serves as a clever way to get ‘actors’ off the fake set while still enabling them to stay in character.

 Opening Night is for lovers of experimental theatre, and any fans of Sheridan Smith will surely be blown away by her portrayal of Myrtle, a role that seems to resonate with her in a way that is almost palpable from the audience.

We saw Opening Night on Saturday 23rd March at the Gielgud Theatre, where it is booking until 27th July 2024. Groups of ten or more receive discounted tickets, with more information available at