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At a time when jukebox musicals dominate London’s West End, some of theatreland’s stars argue the success of original shows is proof “audiences are ready to take a risk”.

From Motown to Michael Jackon, Tina Turner to the Jersey Boys, the past two decades have seen an exponential rise in offerings based around songs most of us will already know the words to.

Back in 1999, the runaway success of staging Mamma Mia! – based on ABBA’s extensive back catalogue – proved to be a game-changer.

It resulted in several investors believing they’d stumbled across a magic formula – the combination of chart hits with nostalgia being an easier sell to a guaranteed audience who like to know what they are getting.

While there’s no escaping their popularity or dominance, they’re not the shows that critics are getting really excited about.

The cast of Operation Mincemeat in action. Pic: Matt Crockett
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The cast of Operation Mincemeat in action in stage. Pic: Matt Crockett

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) is an original offering with brand new music that most people won’t have heard of, yet the millennial rom-com is losing count of the five-star reviews it has picked up within a matter of weeks.

Sam Tutty – who plays Dougal in the two-hander – says writers had to “fight tooth and nail” to bring it into the West End.

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The actor, who previously won an Olivier for playing the lead in Dear Evan Hansen, explained: “To be at the place it is now is because they were allowed a foot in the door somewhere along the way.”

Dujonna Gift stars alongside him as Robin in a story that follows how two twentysomething strangers meet ahead of a wedding.

 Sam Tutty, Dougal in Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)

-          (Women)    Dujonna Gift, Robin in Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)
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Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift, who star in Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)

“Fringe theatre is kind of where it’s at right now,” she explains, “and supporting and championing these writers to believe that there is space in the market for their work will do great things.”

Gift, who’s previously starred in Hamilton and Motown: The Musical, says: “As someone who has done jukebox musicals before there’s always a market for that but right now… it’s really important that we create the spaces for these new writers.”

The success of Operation Mincemeat is proof of how word of mouth can get just as many punters through the door as casting a pop star.

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The musical, which is based on the true story of the secret mission that won Britain World War Two, has extended its run eight times to keep up with demand.

While it recently won Best New Musical at the Oliviers, before writing the hit its creators – sketch troupe SpitLip – had come close to quitting theatre for good.

The cast of Operation Mincemeat. Pic: Matt Crockett
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The cast of Operation Mincemeat. Pic: Matt Crockett

“When we first started making theatre you could get grants,” actor and writer Natasha Hodgson tells Sky News.

“It’s just really hard to be a creator without an enormous pot of cash in your bank right now.

“The whole theatre ecosystem is very aware of how difficult it is for theatre makers to get work off the ground, and everyone’s doing everything they can in terms of supporting new work and trying to get commissions over the line, but it is difficult, we have to keep banging the drum of how the arts is in our blood in this country.

“I do think that this show and others like this are proving that actually audiences are ready to take a risk, they’re ready to come and support new stuff.”

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While harnessing the power of well-known musical property is more widely considered a safe bet for producers, Two Strangers producer Tim Johanson says it has meant truly original offerings are a harder sell.

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York). Pic: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
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Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift, on stage in Two Strangers, say it is important for new writers to be supported. Pic: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

“Surprising familiarity is a phrase I’ve heard a lot,” he explains.

“You need to have heard of X, or it’s a stage version of this artist’s work, or it’s this book or film, and all of those can make really great shows.”

But, rather than bring fans of existing musicians into the theatre, Johanson says they appear to be amassing an army of their own.

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) Brinkhoff/Moegenburg From Jayson Mansaray
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A scene from Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York). Pic: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

“People have seen the show 15, 16, 17 times already, they’re the ones who are talking about it online and driving other people to come and see it, driving the millions of music streams that we’re heading towards.”

So, while jukebox musicals might be everywhere, Johanson isn’t too worried.

“Operation Mincemeat, Six, those are the two that blazed the trail and genuinely, in my career, this feels like the best time to write new British musicals.”

Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) is at the Criterion Theatre until 31 August. Operation Mincemeat is at the Fortune Theatre, London until 16 November.

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Dide: Masked rapper who claims to be a Premier League footballer announces first live gig

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Dide: Masked rapper who claims to be a Premier League footballer announces first live gig

Dide, the anonymous masked rapper who claims to be a Premier League footballer, has announced his first live gig.

The music star, who rose to prominence on social media last year and wears a studded black rose mask to conceal his identity, will perform in London in June.

Known only as Dide, the incognito rapper has sparked frenzied speculation about his identity, with Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka and Reiss Nelson, Chelsea’s Noni Madueke, Fulham’s Alex Iwobi and West Ham’s Michail Antonio among the names thrown into the mix.

“The main thing for me is the music rather than the football player,” he told Sky News exclusively Iast year, in his first on-camera interview. “I guess fans and the public ran with all these different opinions, which is cool.”

Who is Dide? Sky News meets the mystery rapper

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October 2023: Dide speaks to Sky News

Announcing his first live show, he said: “Finally, my first live show! My first live public performance.

“I know you all have been getting on to me about doing one. You can’t miss this!”

The show will take place at The Lower Third on Denmark Street in Soho, central London, on 20 June.

Interestingly, England take on Denmark for their second group-stage match of Euro 2024 in Germany that afternoon. Could this be a reason behind his choice of venue, or coincidence?

Either way, presumably he won’t be at the match – ruling out Saka, who is in the England squad – but hopefully he’ll get to watch before he goes on stage.

However, there’s no mention of the England game in his announcement.

“Thank you for your support,” Dide added. “See you at the show.”

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Ahead of the gig announcement, Dide shared a video on social media announcing Energy, which could be a new track, to be released on Thursday.

“Time to peel back the layers,” he wrote alongside the clip. “Mask off.”

During our interview last year, he told Sky News his identity would be revealed in the future.

Fans will no doubt be watching to see if and when that happens.

Pre-sale tickets are available from 23 May, with general tickets on sale from 28 May.

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The gigs, sports events and festivals that clash with the 4 July general election

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The gigs, sports events and festivals that clash with the 4 July general election

Some sports fans and music lovers who want to vote are set to be double booked on polling day after Rishi Sunak called a general election on 4 July.

The prime minister announced in the pouring rain this afternoon that “now is the moment for Britain to choose its future“.

But those set to see The Killers at the O2 Arena or Megan Thee Stallion at Glasgow’s OVO Hydro who also want to vote may face a challenge to their plans.

Other gigs clashing with the general election include Morgan Wallen’s biggest-ever UK show at Hyde Park, and Paloma Faith’s stadium show at the Utilita Arena in Cardiff.

Comedian James Acaster – who backed Labour’s Rosie Wrighting to be elected MP in Kettering – is also performing at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town on the same day as the election.

Usually, polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm on polling day and require attendance in-person with an acceptable form of ID.

The Electoral Commission says they can get busy, however, particularly before most people start work or towards the end of the day, which might make it harder for people to attend events and vote on the same day.

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But it is possible to vote by post, or by proxy, the commission says, if you have applied to do so within the deadline.

The crowd for Fred Again at Glastonbury
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The thousands at Glastonbury will be back from the festival in time to vote on 4 July

A number of other music festivals are either starting on Wednesday 3 July or Thursday 4th, and others are starting the day after, including BST at Hyde Park with Kings Of Leon, Kylie, Robbie Williams and Andrea Bocelli, among others.

Glastonbury attendees will be relieved however as election day comes the week after the four-day festival, held from the 26 to 30 June.

Just after hours after announcing the election, Sunak rolled out the Conservative’s vision for another five years at the ExCel centre in east London.

But the prime minister might pause campaigning in four days’ time to watch Southampton play Leeds in the Championship playoff final. He was spotted at St Mary’s Stadium to watch the Saints see off West Bromwich Albion on Friday.

What about the Euros?

Sticking with football, both England and Scotland will look to win Euro 2024 in Germany this summer, while Sunak and Keir Starmer campaign at home.

The Three Lions will play Serbia on 16 June, Denmark on 20 June and Slovenia on 25 June.

Meanwhile, Scotland will kick off the tournament against Germany on 14 June, before playing Switzerland on 19 June and Hungary on 23 June.

There’s also a chance either side could play the day after the general election: If England finish second in their group and win their round of 16 game, they will play on 5 July at the MHPArena in Stuttgart.

Scotland will play this day if they top their group and win the first knockout game.

If England finish first in their group, or if Scotland finish second, and either side win their round of 16 game, they will play on Saturday 6 July instead.

England Team
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England will play the day after the general election if they finish second in their group and win their round of 16 game

Any other clashes?

For some private schools, 4 July is the end of term, which could mean some intend to start their holidays on that day.

For those watching the tennis, Wimbledon will take place from 1 July to 14 July – often a full day trip for many who attend.

On the day of the election, the tournament will see the second round of the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Singles, as well as the first round of the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Doubles.

The Henley Royal Regatta will be in full swing on 4 July, having started two days before, while the British Grand Prix is due to get under way the day after on 5 July.

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But those perhaps most likely to be annoyed by the election date will be in Scotland, with the six-week state school summer holiday starting from 28 June, with many jetting off as soon as the children break up.

Pete Wishart, SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, expressed his discontent on X just after Sunak spoke, saying: “A Scottish school summer holiday election is the final insult this Tory Government can impose on Scotland.”

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Matthew Perry: Police investigate source of ketamine which killed Friends star

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Matthew Perry: Police investigate source of ketamine which killed Friends star

Police are investigating the source of the ketamine which killed actor Matthew Perry, it has emerged.

Perry, who was best known for playing wise-cracking Chandler Bing in Friends, died at his LA home last October after being found unresponsive in a swimming pool.

A post-mortem found his death was an accident from “the acute effects of ketamine”.

Ketamine is a sedative that can be used as a recreational drug, as well as to treat depression.

Read more: Matthew Perry – A life in pictures

Los Angeles Police Department says it is working with the Drug Enforcement Agency as part of an investigation into why Perry, 54, had so much ketamine in his system at the time of his death.

People close to Perry told investigators that he was undergoing ketamine infusion therapy – an experimental treatment – according to his autopsy.

The medical examiner wrote however that Perry’s last treatment was one and a half weeks before his death and would not explain the levels of ketamine in his blood.

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From October: Remembering Matthew Perry

Perry, who was 54, had also drowned in “the heated end of his pool” in what the medical examiner described as a secondary factor in his death.

They added he had “reportedly been clean for 19 months”. Perry regularly spoke about his battle with addiction – including a near-death experience in 2019 after his colon burst as a result of opioid use.

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Perry recalled one instance when fellow Friends star Jennifer Aniston confronted him about being inebriated while filming.

“I know you’re drinking,” he remembered her telling him.

“We can smell it,” she said in what Perry called a “kind of weird but loving way” – adding: “The plural ‘we’ hit me like a sledgehammer.”

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Speaking to NBC’s Today presenter Hoda Kotb on her Making Spaces podcast in March, Perry’s stepfather said the star “felt like he was beating” his battles with addiction.

Keith Morrison, an award-winning correspondent for Dateline NBC, said his stepson “didn’t get to have his third act, and that’s not fair”.

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