Rufus Wainwright blames Brexit for early closure of Sheridan Smith musical Opening Night

Rufus Wainwright has blamed Brexit for the negative response to his West End musical Opening Night, which is closing two months early after bad reviews.

The play, which opened in March, stars Sheridan Smith as an anxious, alcoholic actor, whose mental health declines after she witnesses a death.

Though it was scheduled to run at London’s Gielgud Theatre until 27 July, Opening Night will close on Saturday 18 May.

In a new interview with The Guardian, singer-songwriter Wainwright, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show, reflected on the early closure.

The 50-year-old Canadian-American musician believes that Brexit is partly to blame. He said that, since the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, England has become “more narrow” in its approach to creativity.

“I do feel that since Brexit, England has entered into a darker corridor where it is a little more narrow in its outlook and the vitriol because we put ‘English rose Sheridan Smith through this ordeal of European theatre’ felt a little bit suspect to me,” Wainwright explained. “I was a little surprised by that.”

Opening Night utilises avant-garde techniques to add to the story, including a scene where Smith’s eccentric star actor stumbles out into the street outside, while a live camera captures her as it is projected into the theatre.

“There’s a lack of imagination and curiosity about change,” Wainwright added, before acknowledging that the show should not be immune from criticism.

Rufus Wainwright and Sheridan Smith (Getty)
Rufus Wainwright and Sheridan Smith (Getty)

“All of the reviews from Europe were incredible for this piece; the staging and the rhythm is more European and there was a vitriolic reaction against that.

“I don’t think it was perfect and that I don’t deserve criticism, but this thing of shutting it down if it’s not exactly what you want is not really the theatrical lane that I want to live in.”

In The Independent’s three-star review, Alice Saville had a lukewarm take on the use of a live camera feed on stage.

She writes: “[Director Ivo van Hove] introduces a documentary crew who are filming the rehearsal process, presumably to make sense of the now-familiar device of live camera feeds magnifying the casts’ faces on big screens. But they’re quickly, inexplicably dropped.”

Sheridan Smith as Myrtle in ‘Opening Night' (Jan Versweyveld)
Sheridan Smith as Myrtle in ‘Opening Night' (Jan Versweyveld)

Last week, two-time Olivier Award-winner Smith spoke out about the show’s premature end for the first time, sharing her worry that she’d disappointed the production team.

“I was just heartbroken for the company. I felt that I’d let them down in a way, that I couldn’t sell it,” Smith told The Times through tears.

However, the Cleaning Up star has no regrets about taking on a new and unfamiliar challenge. “I feel bad for the team and all the work they put in, but I’m at that age now where I want to be challenged. I want to do new things, I don’t want to do that same old boring stuff,” she said.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat, so I have no regrets.”

Opening Night‘s final performance will take place on Saturday 18 May.