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Fredo's Theatre Group 
Welcome to our Theatre Group website - we hope you will find all the information you need. This is a not-for-profit UK theatre-going group for our friends and colleagues (see foot of page).  
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Updated 19/03/20 -   
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(A collection of Theatre Thoughts to pass the time while the Stalls are out of bounds) 
Latest addition at top of column.
Stage shows, musicals and opera you can watch online 
Click HERE to see the latest update from
7 April 
Margaret writes - 
Company at the Donmar Warehouse, 1996 
  Sometime in the early 1990’s, conversation turned one day to musical theatre and I said that I wasn’t fond of the idea of musicals and had never seen one live. My comment was met with polite surprise and I thought little more about it.  What I hadn’t anticipated was that Mike and Fredo were now on a mission to educate and enlighten me.   
  Before long I was invited to join them and Roger, sadly now deceased, and Roger’s daughter Emma as we sped northward to Leicester and to Derby for my first Sondheim experiences.  I had vaguely heard of this Sondheim person but had no idea who or what he did. Well, I was about to learn that musicals were not just rom coms with cheesy grins and hummable tunes as I’d seen in Hollywood films. I was taken  aback by this new world of complex plots, realistic characters and inspired musical arrangements. Overnight I caught the Sondheim bug and realised that it is almost a cult, with devotees seeing anything and everything with his name on it.     
  A particularly memorable show for me was in Spring 1996, when I went with Fredo and Mike to see “Company” at the Donmar Warehouse.
   I cried during Adrian Lester’s “Being Alive” and was spellbound by Sophie Thompson’s scatty and poignant performance as the “ever-loving Amy”. I found myself then, and sometimes now, humming the melody of “Barcelona” as my favourite song and I was disturbed and maybe repelled by the vision of “The Ladies who Lunch”. (Mind you, there was never any fear that I would fall into that category as I don’t have the wardrobe!)  
  Undoubtedly the intimate size of the venue, up close to the actors, added to the magic.The main event for me, however, came after the show. I was bowled over by the fact that Fredo and Mike got access to the actors to give them a fabulous cake, iced white and gold with the ring motif featured on the show’s poster.
 In the bar I found myself actually standing next to a smiling, chatting Adrian Lester and I thought I was in heaven.  I’m not sure which impressed me more: meeting a star or realising my friends had the influence to set this up. It was an evening of absolute joy, etched clearly in my memory, and one I often think of with gratitude to Fredo and Mike and a sense of how lucky I have been to have had so much pleasure from Sondheim’s genius. 
Click HERE (Side By Side) and HERE (Barcelona) for two video recordings of songs from the Donmar's Company
Mike adds - 
Ah Yes, I remember it well. Those visits to Leicester for Follies in 1994  and to Derby for Assassins in 1995 were  followed by Company at the Donmar in 1996. I have framed posters for these shows on my walls at home, and the poster for Company is rather special as I was able to have it signed by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth when we attended the same performance as them. In those days the Donmar posters were in a large format and printed on thick beige paper very liable to fade, so my copy is displayed high on a wall, unbleached, where the sun don't shine. But a spotlight makes the golden ring glow. 
Geoff writes - 
   I grew up in Stockport, which was a dull, grimy place in the 1950s and early 1960s.  There was the Garrick Theatre, which featured am. dram., but nobody in my family had ever set foot in there.  My only exposure to theatre was Brian Rix farces on television and the time when a travelling theatre company came to my primary school and performed Rumpelstiltskin in the school hall.  I wasn't particularly impressed, although I remember fancying the long-haired (obviously!) woman who played the lead (I was probably about nine).  Instead, we went to the cinema and saw Norman Wisdom films when I was young and later more challenging fare --
I still remember vividly my delight and bamboozlement at seeing 2001 (still my favourite film).  
   I discovered loud music and had the good fortune to see Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and lots of other great bands.  Then I went to university, saw lots more great bands, and met Margaret.  She hadn't been to a theatre either but suggested we go to see Waiting For Godot at The Dukes theatre in Lancaster (See picture below).  We did, and I enjoyed it immensely.  It appealed to my sense of the absurd (perhaps not surprisingly); I had never seen anything like it before but it made sense to me, made me realise that a story doesn't have to be logical or achieve resolution.  The other feature that I recall was that the set consisted of a simple round plateau in the middle of the stage.
   The next play we saw was Jarry's Ubu Roi, which again didn't make much logical sense but powerfully inhabited its own world and was good fun.  It, also, had a simple round plateau as the only set, which made me develop the notion that perhaps that was a set requirement for modern theatre, or something.  The next few plays we saw, which I can't recall, broke that rule, so made me realise the "round set rule" didn't exist. 
   We saw numerous plays and I mostly enjoyed them, but I preferred loud music concerts.  
< The Dukes theatre
   Later, in the 1970s, we lived in Leicester and saw a number of adventurous plays at the Haymarket Studio, a small in-the-round space.  This being the 1970s, there was lots of experimentation, nudity and enforced audience participation.  Thankfully, the nudity didn't extend to the audience participation.  This last common feature made us ensure that we always sat in the middle of a row near the back, to prevent us being dragged on stage.  One night, we went to see a forgettable performance of Genet's The Balcony, except for two features: a naked actor eating a raw kipper (fancy having to do that every night), and a naked female actor sitting on my lap and delivering a speech from there.  We had arrived late and the only seats left were in the front row.  We made sure never to arrive late again. 
  We have seen lots of plays since, and we are lucky to have the Bath Ustinov as our local, which has an adventurous schedule. As I approach my 70's, I still prefer loud music concerts, the louder the better.  
Mike adds - 
 The Dukes, as the theatre calls itself, was originally a church, and was converted to a theatre in 1971. Margaret and Geoff must have seen one of the first productions there.  They saw Waiting for Godot, which was revived again there in 2017. Back in 1955, at the time of the first London production, Lady Dorothy Howitt complained to the Lord Chamberlain "One of the many themes running through the play is the desire of two old tramps continually to relieve themselves. Such a dramatisation of lavatory necessities is offensive and against all sense of British decency."  But the play nevertheless won an Olivier Award for "The Most Controversial Play of the Year". In 1990, in a poll conducted by the National Theatre, it was voted  "The most significant English language play of the 20th century". We took our Theatre Group most recently to see it starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at the Haymarket Theatre in 2009. Was that anyone's first experience of Beckett or indeed Theatre? What was your reaction to this play? 
  Here (<left) is a signed reproduction of a poster design by the artist James McMullan for the Lincoln Center production in 1988. It hangs on my sitting room wall. 
1 April 
Donald writes - 
A  few Theatre Thoughts  that  jumped  to  mind - 
   In OPERA  I  have  seen  two  performances   that  thrilled  me  to  the  marrow.  Janet  Baker  as Dido  in  Berlioz's  THE TROJANS   at  ROH   -  not  a  favourite  opera  but    I  was  convinced  I  was  seeing    and  hearing  something  truly  remarkable   -   so   much  so   that  I  HAD  to  return  for  a  second  hearing.    It  sounded  even  more  thrilling. 
Whilst  mentioning  her   -  the   RFH   celebrated  its  25th  birthday  in  1976  with some  specials  -  one  was a recital   we  attended   by  Dame   Janet   that  included  Schubert's   DIE  GOTTER GRIECHENLANDS  -  a  short  song   but she  did  it  perfectly   -  one  of those  moments  when time  stands  still   -   and  I  still  feel  the  moment  even  now. 
Janet Baker 
Josephine Barstow 
Maria Callas
  The  other  opera  performance  I  remember   just   as   vividly  is  Jo  Barstow  as  Violetta   in ENO's TRAVIATA.  I  had  seen the  piece  before   but  this was  the  first time  I was,  dare  I  admit, moved  to  tears.     I   was  so  caught  up  in  it  that  I  had to  force  myself  to  go  back  for  the  third act,  when  Alfredo  turns  on  her  and throws  money  at  her.  And   in  the last  act  when  she  is dying,  and  she says  she  is  amongst friends,  I  crumpled.   It  was  the  same  at  the  second and third  viewings. 
  An  opera  special  was on  July 5th   1965  -  TOSCA  at  ROH  - I actually  had tickets  for  Maria Callas!    Maybe   the  voice  was then  not  what  it had  been  -    but   I   still   can hear  her  off stage calls  of  "Mario  Mario"  and  the  excitement  of  her  entrance in,  if I  remember  correctly,  an apricot coloured  dress.   She  was  a born   stage   performer    -  remarkable  to  be seeing her   - and  although  we  did  not  know  it  at the time,  that  was  the  last  time she appeared  anywhere in a  complete  opera  -  truly,  the end  of  an era! 
  Such  is  the  power  of  music and   talented  performers. 
David Warner 
Eric Porter 
Vanessa Redgrave
  As  to  other  memories  -  David Warner  in  Peter  Hall's  RSC  HAMLET still  stands  strong. It was the  first  time  I  had seen the play  complete  (best  part  of  four  hours  perhaps)  -   amarvellous production  -   thought  provoking,   moving  and  exciting    and  dominated  by  a  Hamlet  I  have  not seen equalled. 
  I remember  Eric  Porter giving  a  long  speech in A  WINTER'S TALE - and at  the  end  of  it  an  elderly  lady   near  me  called  out  'Bee-oootifully spoken' (which  it  undoubtedly  was) and  this  caused  the  audience  to  give  him  a  round of applause. 
  Vanessa  Redgrave's   Rosalind   is  still  fresh  in  my  mind  - tall,  slender,  elegant  and  fun   and  I  cannot  omit  her  radiant  and  much  missed  daughter  Natasha's  ANNA CHRISTIE 
Vanessa Redgrave, Rosalind Knight 
and Ian Bannen in As you Like It
Natasha Richardson and 
John Woodvine in Anna Christie
   My late partner Bob was a  great fan  of  Alec  McCowan -  he  first saw  him in  THE  MATCHMAKER  - possibly  Edinburg  Festival production    -  and  I  think  Ruth Gordon   was  Dolly.  I seem  to recollect  him as  Kipling  -  possibly at  the  Mermaid   -  memory  gets hazy.  I  remember  he  was  an admirer  of  Max Miller   -  and  a blurred  memory of him doing  an  impersonation.
Click on pages (left) to enlarge these autographed programme 
  There  was  a  wonderfully  funny  production  of   THE  COMEDY  OF  ERRORS  at  Stratford (directed by Clifford  Williams)  in  which  Alec  and  Ian Richardson  were  the  twins, with  possibly  Michael  Williams as  one  of the  other  twins  -  I  was  very  taken   with  a striking looking  young woman  playing   A Courtesan - Diana  Rigg!   In THE  MERRY WIVES when Ian Richardson  was Ford, he  gave  his  jealousy  speech  at  a  breathtaking  lick,  every word still  clearly  audible, much  like  a  Rossini  patter  song,  and  the  audience  rose  to  him too. 
Ian Richardson / Alec McCowan 
Michael Williams / Diana Rigg
Ian Richardson and Alec McCowan 
as twins in The Comedy of Errors
Angela Lansbury as Mrs Lovett    
  In  musical  theatre  standing  out  full  and strong  is  Angela  Lansbury's  Mrs  Lovett in Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD - seen and  wondered  at twice  in  one  week  - we  sat  amazed  at  her 'Worst Pies in London'  -  an actress  at the top of her game faultlessly  singing  a  song  that  would  scare the wits  out  of  most  performers.  
  We  were fortunate  to   experience   ('see' and  'enjoy' are  words  too weak) SWEENEY   twice  in the  too  vast  Uris Theatre in New York. So very impressed  were  we  that we  went to the offices  of  RCA  to  enquire  about  a recording  -  the  girl on  the  desk  had  no idea  what  we  were  talking  about   so  I pointed  to  the  Sweeny  poster  that  was  in front  of  her  -  nil  response!  
   Golly,  I am well  down  memory  lane . . . . . .my  head  is  full  of such trivia,   my  life  in  other  people's achievements! 
Fredo adds - 
The production of The Matchmaker that Bob enjoyed had a notable cast.  It included Sam Levene, soon to be the original Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Arthur Hill who went on to create the role of George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, future Broadway star Eileen Herlie, and comedy legends Peter Bayliss, Peter Sallis and the great Prunella Scales.  
  But it was another name in the cast that sprang out at me: 
Patrick McAlinney.
  Never a star, but a busy character actor on stage and television (and appearing years later with Alec McCowan again, in Hadrian the Seventh) “Paddy McAlinney” was often pointed out to me on screen by my father – they had been friends in their youth. In fact, Mr McAlinney's sister Mrs Finnegan still lived in Enniskillen and was a prominent member of the community in the 1960s . 
  When I was 20, and spending the summer working in London, I recognised Patrick McAlinney catching the same Piccadilly Line train at Northfields station. Shyly, I approached him, and introduced myself as Vincent Donnelly's son. He placed me instantly, spoke of my father's death, and was very pleasant and kind on our shared journey to Piccadilly Circus. 
It was ashort acquaintance, but one that I remember with great affection. 
30 March 
Mike Writes - 
Hampstead Theatre have just announced that you can watch three of their recent productions at home, FREE of charge. This service is provided in conjunction with the Guardian, and takes place over the next three weeks beginning this week with Mike Bartlett's Wild. We took the Group to see this back in 2016 and remember it being one of the highlights of that year.
If you missed it then or want to see it again, click HERE (or search for Hampstead Theatre) where you can find all the details on the Hampstead Theatre website. 
04/03/20 - At the time of writing everyone is aware of what precautionary measures we have to take to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. No definite instructions regarding travel, etc have been given by the government as yet, which could affect our plans, only possible future scenarios.  
 We intend to continue with our Group theatre visits as long as possible. If you have any cough/cold symptoms you may prefer not to join us, in which case please let us know as far in advance as you can.  
If we are given specific advice regarding large gatherings, theatre closures or older people, we shall of course heed that advice.  
 We must emphasise that NO REFUNDS can be given unless a theatre performance is cancelled and the theatre makes a refund to us. If a theatre remains open but we are unable to take a coach to London, we can provide you with your ticket details on request so you can make your own way there.  
 Any update on these arrangements will be announced here on our website.  In the meantime, keep washing your hands and KEEP CHECKING HERE. 
 Fredo and Mike 
17/03/20 - In line with the government's recommendations, all West End theatres have closed until further notice. Click HERE for the statement from the Society of London Theatre. 
  It appears that we shalll get a refund on our tickets for cancelled performances, and when we receive the money, we shall refund all our customers. Please be patient; it will take some weeks for the theatres, and for me, to sort, this out.  
  Initially, I will deal with bookings for shows scheduled in the near future and people who booked for these have been notified separately. Thank you for all the kind messages we received in response. I will deal with later shows when there is more guidance.Theatres may not make refunds for later shows until they are certain the performances cannot take place. 
  If you wish to contact us, please do NOT phone or leave a message - please send an email or text. 
  In the meantime, this seems like a good opportunity to thank you all for your support, and to wish you well in the next weeks and months. Keep safe and well. 
  Best wishes 
  Fredo & Mike 
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