You are currently viewing REVIEW: Opening Night, Gielgud Theatre (2024) Closing Early May 18th 2024
Sheridan Smith as Myrtle, Joe Slovick as Gus and Shira Haas as Nancy. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

REVIEW: Opening Night, Gielgud Theatre (2024) Closing Early May 18th 2024

Shattering: Star's Mid Life Crisis

“You’ve gotta make magic out of tragic.”

Myrtle in the song “Magic”

“Game of Moths to a Flame”

 David Samuels

Sheridan Smith as Myrtle. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)
Sheridan Smith as Myrtle. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

The audience has to work at productions directed by Ivo Van Hove.  He is known for his deconstructionist approach to classical works.  Opening Night is a modern musical about The Second Woman, a play opening at the Orpheum Theatre on Broadway which is being filmed in the previews by a documentary film crew.

This musical has music by Rufus Wainwright and is based on a 1977 film written, directed and starred in by John Cassavetes also called Opening Night.  The title was decided long before anyone thought about the likely success of googling “Opening Night” and finding this work! Just searching my email box is a nightmare.

This production is a metaphorical onion, full of layers. The star is Myrtle Gordon (Sheridan Smith) whose co-star is her ex-husband Maurice Aarons (Benjamin Walker).  She is also attracted to her director Manny Victor (Hadley Fraser) whose form of encouragement to her is to tell Myrtle he loves her.  Manny’s wife Dorothy (Amy Lennox) isn’t too happy overhearing conversations between her husband and Myrtle.

Benjamin Walker as Maurice and Sheridan Smith as Myrtle. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)
Benjamin Walker as Maurice and Sheridan Smith as Myrtle. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

The play is written by Sarah Goode (Nicola Hughes) focussing on Virginia, played by Myrtle, a menopausal woman who is conscious of aging.  Sarah is slightly older than Myrtle and Myrtle has difficulty seeing herself as that old. The play is being produced by David Samuels (John Marquez) who is himself a bit in love with Myrtle. 

Early on Myrtle meets a young female fan Nancy Stein (Shira Hass) who is besotted with her but who runs into the road and is killed by a car outside the theatre.  Myrtle continues to see and talk to Nancy in ghostly form. 

Ivo Van Hove’s production is full of metatheatricality with reminders that this is a drama and not reality.  The first distancing ideas come from the documentary camerawomen with small hand held cameras producing images on the huge screen behind. 

Hadley Fraser as Manny and cast (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)
Hadley Fraser as Manny and cast (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

This means we are watching the melding of a live stage play and a film with close ups.  Some of the time I was trying to see where the camera operators were filming from so I knew I wasn’t thinking about what was happening onstage. Sometimes I was comparing the colours of the costumes onstage and those on the screen.

This is not a traditional musical in as far as the musical numbers advance the plot but there is fine singing with several solos from Sheridan Smith, “Magic”, “Meet Me at the Start” and “Ready for Battle”.  Shira Hass, in her West End debut, too has stand out solo numbers “I Forgive You” and “There’s Something to be Said For Being Young”, and, with the Company, “This Isn’t a Game Anymore”.  Four women sing the title song “The Second Woman” each feeling in second place. 

Shira Haas as Nancy. Sheridan Smith as Myrtle and Nicola Hughes as Sarah. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)
Shira Haas as Nancy. Sheridan Smith as Myrtle and Nicola Hughes as Sarah. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

The core of the play is Myrtle having a breakdown so that at one of the late previews she ignores Sarah’s script and speaks her own words much to the confusion of the prompt Leo (Ian McLarnon), the other actors and the fury of Sarah Goode. One has to hope that no critics were asked in to review at this preview! The whole production reflects this shattering of Myrtle’s well being.

This tousled musical will confuse and disorientate the audience.  Not everyone will cope with its unconventionality and dealing with mental health, it will make them feel uncomfortable and negative. But if you value Sheridan Smith’s talent as a singer and an actress, you will want to see Opening Night. It is no accident that, at the time of writing, she has been nominated for an Olivier for her solo part in Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine.

Cast. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)
Cast. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

Musical Numbers

Act One


One Shot


One Shot (Reprise)

Talk to Me

Humming Chorus One

Trojan women

Humming Chorus Two

A Change of Life

I Forgive you

Met Me at the Start

Life is Thin


Act Two

Trying To

Makes One Wonder

Moths to a Flame


Humming Chorus Three

This Isn’t A Game Anymore

The Pantomime

The Second Woman

There Is Something to Be

Said For Being Young

Ready For Battle

Magic (Reprise)


Production Notes

Opening Night

Book by Ivo Van Hove

Music and Lyrics by Rufus Wainwright

Directed and conceived by Ivo Van Hove



Sheridan Smith

Hadley Fraser

Shira Haas

Nicola Hughes

Amy Lennox

John Marquez

Benjamin Walker

Ian McLarnon

Cilla Silvia

Jos Slovick

Rebecca Thornhill

Robert Finlayson

Daniel Forrester

Jennifer Hepburn

Issy Khogali

Chrissie Perkins


Director: Ivo Van Hove

Set, Lighting and

Video Designer: Jan Versweyveld

Orchestrations and Musical

Arrangements:  Rufus Wainwright

Movement and Choreographer: Polly Bennett

Musical Supervisor: Nigel Lilley

Sound Designer:

Tom Gibbons and Alex Twiselton

Costume Design: An D’Huys


Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval

Closing Early

Booking until 18th May 2024



Gielgud Theatre

Shaftesbury Avenue

London W1D 6AR

Tube : Piccadilly Circus

Telephone: 0844 482 5151 (7p per minute +)

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge 

at the Gielgud Theatre at the evening


on 23rd March 2024