Rufus Wainwright blames Brexit for Sheridan Smith musical flop

Rufus Wainwright and Sheridan Smith attend the press night after party for "Opening Night"
Rufus Wainwright wrote the music and lyrics for the show, Opening Night - Dave Benett

Musician Rufus Wainwright has blamed Brexit for the failure of his Sheridan Smith musical Opening Night.

The West End show, described by the Telegraph as “a pretentious, convoluted mess”, was forced to close two months early and there were reports of audience walk-outs.

According to Wainwright, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show, British audiences have a narrower outlook post-Brexit and lack curiosity.

They were unreceptive to the avant garde production, an adaptation of a 1977 John Cassavetes film, whereas European audiences welcomed it, he said.

Wainwright, a Canadian-American who lives in Los Angeles, told the Guardian: “I do feel that, since Brexit, England has entered into a darker corridor where it is a little more narrow in its outlook.

“The vitriol because we put ‘English rose Sheridan Smith’ through this ordeal of European theatre felt a little bit suspect to me.”

He went on: “There’s a lack of imagination and curiosity about change. 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.”

Smith played Myrtle, a leading lady falling apart during previews for a Broadway play. The production included scenes in which Smith left the Gielgud theatre and collapsed outside the stage door.

‘Proud of the risk we took’

Directed by Belgian Ivo van Hove, the show opened in March but it was announced a month later that it would be closing early. The producers said they had braved “a challenging financial landscape” and “while the production may not have had the life we had hoped for, we feel immensely proud of the risk we took and of this extraordinary production.”

Wainwright, the son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, said he was “a little beaten up” by the experience but glad the production offered something different. “I think the West End has got pretty staid,” he said.

In an interview at the weekend, Smith, 42, said of the show’s closure: “I feel bad for the team and all the work they put in, but I’m at the 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.

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