Curtain Up! Light the Lights!
Our Annual Report 2014
Variety is the Spice of Life, they say, and we certainly like to add a little spice to your theatre-going. We promise you a wide range of entertainment every year, and in 2014 we offered 54 different shows to choose from. This included 13 musicals, 7 ballets, 10 new plays and a concert, as well as many plays that we were interested to rediscover. We usually manage to book an assortment of West End shows for you at often greatly reduced prices. In addition, we have found interesting and at times provocative work at Hampstead, the Royal Court, the Almeida, Stratford East and Kilburn, all at very reasonable prices.
It’s not unusual for the smallest theatres to provide the most thrilling events. Was there a more exciting stage appearance this year than Adrian Lester in Red Velvet at the Tricycle, or a more terrifying performance than Mark Strong in A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic in a play than redefined the meaning of a 5-star show forever? We felt the full force of Imelda Staunton’s uncompromising protagonist in Good People at Hampstead, and was there ever a more joyous evening in the theatre than Sunny Afternoon at this same address?
At the Donmar, Josie Rourke played her strongest hand yet, with her visceral Coriolanus with a career-defining performance from Tom Hiddlestone. Urgent questions were asked in Privacy (and surprising answers provided!), and finally her production of City of Angels – her first musical – was stunning. Also at the Donmar, Peter Gill directed his own deeply moving play Versailles, Lynsey Turner directed Brian Friel’s heart-rending Fathers and Sons, and Rob Hastie’s impeccable My Night With Reg won a West End transfer. Phyllida Lloyd’s exploration of Henry IV, set in a women's prison with an all-female cast, was the most satisfying version of this play that I have seen.
It was a good year for musicals, though Do I Hear A Waltz? was sadly undernourished, and Tom Chambers and Aled Jones in White Christmas may have left some of us dreaming of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. The main event was the long-awaited return of the mega-hit Miss Saigon though there was just as much to enjoy with Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound in the laugh-out-loud Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the salty exuberance of Jessie Wallace in Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be. At the Menier Chocolate Factory, Candide was the best of all possible shows – at least until the Donmar’s noir City of Angels, perfect in black and white, and colour.
Among the revivals this year, Twelve Angry Men was so tense and absorbing that several members of the audience didn’t notice the continually revolving set. Martin Shaw, Jeff Fahey and Nick Moran did great work, only to have the show stolen by Robert Vaughan. None of us could help noticing the revolving set for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, but nevertheless Gillian Anderson always held our attention. While we were still reeling from the hammer-blow of A View from the Bridge, also at the Young Vic, the Old Vic across the road presented Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that was thrilling and chilling - we heard sobbing at the end and had trouble controlling emotions ourselves. At the St James, Accolade by Emlyn Williams was a revelation: an old-fashioned, well-made play that saved a surprising and still-shocking punch for the Act One curtain - there was a sudden intake of breath from the audience in unison.
Alexander Hansen - in both Accolade and Lloyd Webber's musical Stephen Ward - takes his place with the actors mentioned above as having given compelling and exciting performances this year. And we have to add to the list: Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan (Skylight), John Dalgleish and George Maguire (Sunny Afternoon), Lesley Sharp (A Taste of Honey), Nicola Walker (A View from the Bridge), Anna Madeley and Richard Armitage (The Crucible) and the entire casts of the Donmar's My Night with Reg and City of Angels.
No year is complete without its backstage dramas. This year, the drama critic on a national newspaper threatened to sue Mike for his posted comment on that newspaper's theatre review website (I suspect that this was Mike’s theatrical highlight of the year). Fortunately, the dispute was settled out of court by an 'apology' on our own website (which ironically served as a good ad for our visit to Great Britain, the show in question). We were genuinely sorry when the same critic lost his job (the two incidents were not related!), mainly because some newspapers are sacking their critics in the assumption that readers prefer opinions found in blogs on the Internet. We don't!
Shortly before our scheduled visit to Memphis, we discovered that Beverley Knight was moonlighting at Quaglino’s that very evening. This led to a strongly-worded communication with the production company, who did the right thing after some persuasion, and fixed us up with some tickets on an alternative date. Members of our group good-naturedly enjoyed the show with or without Ms Knight; anyway the real star was the barn-storming Killian Donnelly.
And we mustn't forget the mega-flop that was I Can't Sing! – The X-Factor Musical. We were invited to a preview, as we sometimes are, and thoroughly enjoyed this wild send-up of the tv hit, especially it's way-over-the-top, extravagant production reminiscent of a Las Vegas spectacular. The critics liked it too, providing mostly 4-star reviews. But the public stayed away, millions of £s were lost, and the show closed early before our Group had a chance to see it. We had to cope with refunding your money.
We now regularly tell you on the website about the productions we see OnOurOwn. These are usually shows we would not expect to sell sufficient tickets to fill a coach, are at out-of-bounds theatres, are invitations, or are just super hot tickets. But sometimes we nevertheless think “the Group would love this!” - that is what happened with Red Velvet, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Shakespeare in Love - so we subsequently made a booking for you. But there are others like David Tennant in Richard II or Kevin Spacey in Clarence Darrow when we couldn't make a group booking for love nor money. Sorry!
As usual, we had exceptional service from Cook’s Coaches throughout the year. Our helpful friends at Delfont Mackintosh, Ambassador’s Theatre Group, SEE Tickets and Nimax Theatres made life easier, and Hampstead's box-office staff plus Chris at the Donmar and Sophie at the Royal Opera House looked after our bookings with great care, always finding us the best available seats.
Our average ticket price this year was only £34.55 – actually £4 lower than last year. Top prices in the West End are now around £60, more for musicals, with Premium seats costing £85 and upwards, so our commitment to offering reduced, affordable prices has been achieved. And if you are a Donmar Friend, you could have saved considerably more when booking with us.
None of this would be worthwhile or enjoyable or indeed possible without the loyal participation of our members, and we are deeply grateful for your continued support.
It will be “Curtain up, Light the Lights” again in 2015, which began on a high note with you booking three dates to see Imelda Staunton in Gypsy. It looks like our first offer of the year will break records and the New Year has only just begun.
Happy theatre-going in 2015!
Fredo & Mike
PRODUCTIONS OF THE YEAR 2014
(You can also be reminded of them by clicking HERE)
The Light Princess
The Wind in the Willows
Rapture, Blister, Burn
Twelve Angry Men
Oh What a Lovely War!
The Full Monty
Do I Hear a Waltz?
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Let the Right One In
The Winter’s Tale
A Taste of Honey
King Charles lll
The Pajama Game
Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be
A View from the Bridge
Rock the Ballet
The Glass Supper
Bring Up The Bodies
Fathers and Sons
A Streetcar Named Desire
Anything Goes (concert)
Shakespeare in Love
My Night With Reg
The Wolf from the Door
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Ceremony of Innocence/The Age of Anxiety/ Aeternum
Made in Dagenham
City of Angels