Mike and I occasionally (OK - frequently) bunk off and see plays on our own, and sometimes I sit and think, "Oh, this is so good, I wish we'd taken the Group!". And so we're going to try to review some of the plays, etc. that we see on our own or with friends, with an explanation about why we didn't or couldn't or might book them for the Group, and what we think the Group reaction would be. Although individuals in our Group would have different opinions, our judgement of Group opinion refers to general taste and reaction, and the pleasure a production would give to most of those choosing to see it.
Do you think you might have booked for any of these shows? Or have you seen something on your own? Do let us know by email. Your comments may help us when deciding on future bookings. Fredo
Twelfth Night: A Musical Adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare,
Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub,
Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub; at the Young Vic Theatre
What's it about? It’s about falling in love with the wrong people and how it can all go right. It’s about having fun, and joy and laughter!
What did it have going for it? It’s one of the first productions by the new Artistic Director of the Young Vic. This musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy was successful in New York. And here it’s been relocated to Notting Hill (or thereabouts) and a carnival spirit pervades. We’d heard good things…
Did we enjoy it? We were guests of the Young Vic, but that didn’t influence us at all. In fact, I always have to overcome a slight resistance to musical Shakespeare, as there’s a certain look-how-clever-we-are self-consciousness about a lot of them. In this case, my misgivings evaporated instantly: how could one resist “If music be the food of love, play on” turned into a song'n'dance number? The show was colourful, funny and tuneful with the stage opened up to form a street with road running through the centre of the auditorium. Gabrielle Brooks was an irresistible Viola, and Natalie Dew melted effectively as Olivia fell in love. In lesser company, Gerard Carey’s Malvolio would easily have stolen the show with his top-hat and cane number, and he did indeed get most applause at the end. The dancers worked hard, and it was a pleasure to watch. Shakespeare, despite his play being reduced to 90 minutes straight through, would have been pleased.
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? If I’d known it was this good, I’d have offered it to them.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Without a doubt.
Group Appeal: 4/5
The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen,
in a new version created by Robert Icke, at the Almeida Theatre
What's it about? A callow idealist delves into the secrets and deceptions in the lives of his own family, and that of his friend. In doing so, he destroys everybody.
What did it have going for it? It’s one of Ibsen’s great plays, and the Almeida usually does a good job in exploring masterpieces of world drama. The director Robert Icke has an individual style that doesn’t please everybody, though he did a good job on The Oresteia and Hamlet; sadly, his production of Mary Stuart didn’t survive some cast changes and the journey from Islington to the West End.
Did we enjoy it? I was nervous of the words “new version” but I was quickly drawn in by the style of the production - actors confronting the audience, a bare stage slowly becoming more naturalistic. The actors tell the story, as well as act it out, and interleave a critical commentary at certain moments as well (Jennifer tells me I have to use the word meta here!). When they step outside acting the play, they speak into a microphone – yes, I know it sounds ghastly, but it worked for Mike and me.
Or at least it did in the first half of the play. By the time we got to the second and climactic section of the play, there were moments that I thought were misjudged: a scenic surprise; Gina’s confessional aside that she had slept with her seducer more than three times, and the indictment against Ibsen for having abandoned his illegitimate child twenty years before he wrote this play (was this the judgement of Icke, or of the character in the play?) struck me as giving too many indications to the audience on how to react. A further device that Icke favours is the interpolation of a sentimental song towards the end of the play (cf Mary Stuart, Hamlet) – is this a distancing technique, or a nudge to get a reaction? Someone please tell him to stop!
Nevertheless, the play stood up to all these interpolations, and Icke didn’t betray the play’s tough message: mendacity is destructive, but so is unvarnished truth. Ibsen doesn’t compromise, and neither did this group of actors. None of them played for sympathy: all the men are deeply flawed and to an extent unlikeable, and the women have their failings as well. All credit to Kevin Harvey, Edward Hogg and Lyndsey Marshal for their forensic examination of their characters’ shortcomings.
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? Ibsen has been popular with our group, but they may not have known the actors – and familiarity sells.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Some of the meta-moments might have got in the way.
Group Appeal: 3/5
War Requiem by Benjamin Britten, at the LondonColiseum
What's it about? A lament for the dead of all wars, but specifically the First and Second World Wars, based on the liturgy of the Latin Mass and its prayers for the repose of the souls of the deceased, interspersed with poems by Wilfred Owen. It was commissioned for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral (the original was destroyed by bombing in World war ll) from pacifist Benjamin Britten.
What did it have going for it? This was a dress rehearsal of a new staging from the English National Opera’s Artistic Director Daniel Kramer, with designs by German artist Wolfgang Tillmans. performed by the combined forces of an 80-strong chorus, a children’s choir of 40 from Finchley Children's Music Group, the full ENO Orchestra, a chamber orchestra, and three soloists: Emma Bell, David Butt Phillip and Roderick Williams.
Did we enjoy it? Inevitably, it’s a sober, if not sombre, piece. The keynote could be Owen’s poem Futilitywhich is set in the Lacrimosa section of the Dies Irae. This sums up Britten’s feelings as a pacifist about war, eventually distilled into the agony of Strange Meeting. The singing was exultant, and the staging constantly starkly beautiful., with a few directorial flourishes along the way. It was an appropriate commemoration in the month that marks the centenary of the war that didn’t end all wars.
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? I’m not sure how many Britten fans we’ve got in our group.
Would the group have enjoyed it? I’m sure it would have gained respect.
Group Appeal: 3/5
Switzerland by Joanna Murray-Smith, at the Ambassadors Theatre
What's it about? A young publisher visits Patricia Highsmith in her Swiss hideaway to persuade her to write another Ripley novel
What did it have going for it? A thriller in the West End – that's unusual these days. So too is seeing Phyllis Logan back on stage after Downton Abbey.
Did we enjoy it? Was this to be something political, or even geographical? (How many plays can you name with a country in the title?) No, this was about the author of the famous Ripley novels which I have not read, though of course I saw the film of The Talented Mr Ripley. Fredo had told me Highsmith was a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, aggressive lesbian, so it was no surprise to see Phyllis Logan being all of those things, plus irritable and irritating too. The surprise was discovering this was a thriller with a two-hander touch of Sleuth and of course a touch of Ripley as well. The young publisher, played impressively by Calum Finlay, sparred well with the unrecognisable Ms Logan and soon the play strayed into territory which....I must not spoil for those yet to see it. This was a studio production from Bath now relocated to the West End and looking a little lightweight, but certainly filling an audience need for the sort of entertainment that keeps you guessing. It won't have the staying power of Sleuth but I can see it being revived regularly out-of-town.
Our Rating: 3/5
Would the Group have booked? Phyllis Logan's name would help the box-office
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, in moderation, especially by Highsmith fans.
Group Appeal: 3/5
Pinter Four: Moonlight and Night School by Harold Pinter
at the Harold Pinter Theatre
What's it about? In Moonlight Andy is dying. Moments of lucidity are mingled with flashes of memory. In Night School Wally returns home from a spell in prison and finds that his aunts have let his room to a young woman who says she attends classes at night school – but what is she really up to?
What did it have going for it? This is the 4th programme in the season of Pinter plays presented by Jamie Lloyd, and the 3rd that we have seen. Don’t worry - we intend to collect the set. All the plays are luxuriously cast; this one boasts Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Brid Brennan, Peter Polycarpou and Al Weaver, all seizing the chance to strut their stuff in two very different plays.
Did we enjoy it? This is the third production I have seen of Moonlight (1993), and though Lynsey Turner had directed it to bring out as much humour as possible from this play, I still found that it doesn’t easily give up whatever secrets it may have. It dates from a time when directors, actors and audiences were most indulgent to Pinter, and he was given licence to exercise his mannerisms of disjointed scenes and non-sequiturs. Would it have hurt to give the audience a bit more to lean on? Is it really profound, or am I expected to admire the emperor’s new clothes?
Night School (1960) was written for television, and is a more engaging piece. It was performed with aplomb by the actors clearly having a good time (and who knew that Janie Dee and Brid Brennan could play Cockney?). It was very funny, with the humour emerging both from the characters and the dialogue – there was a surreal logic in the non-sequiturs here that reminded me of Joe Orton. The director was Ed Stambollouian, new to me, and a name to look out for.
Our Rating: Moonlight- 3/5 Night School- 4/5
Would the Group have booked? The cast might have attracted them – but they didn’t book Pinter 1 and 3 in any number. (Mike adds - I suppose Pinter isn't Tina but there was a good audience in the theatre.)
Would the group have enjoyed it? I suspect it would have been an evening of two halves.
Group Appeal: 3/5
Seussical – The Musical Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Music by Stephen Flaherty,
based on stories and characters by Dr Seuss, at Southwark Playhouse
What's it about? The Cat in the Hat tells a tale or two about Horton the Elephant hearing a Who; he's tricked into hatching the egg of Maisie LaBird, while Gertrude McFuzz grows a tail that's absurd! Yes, really. It rhymes throughout and, oh, it’s about 75 minutes long, without an interval – this makes me suspect that this is not the full show as seen on Broadway in 2000, but the junior scaled-down version which is very popular as a schools production.
What did it have going for it? Lots of volume and verve, from an agile cast with nerve! The Cat in the Hat captivated the audience of mostly 6 and 7 year-olds from the start (we weren’t the only old people there, but we were outnumbered) and the colourful costumes and lighting and frenetic dancing kept them entranced (except for one little boy who protested so vehemently that he had to be taken out).
Did we enjoy it? Mike and I had suggested to friends that this would be a suitable Christmas treat for their grand-children, but they booked a more expensive West End show instead. They should have taken our advice. The kids loved it. I struggled to follow the plot (see above) but did that really matter? It was the picture-book nature of the piece that counted. Southwark Playhouse produces amazing work on very limited budgets, and it was good to see children enjoying their afternoon out of school so much. We were very taken with a babe in arms (can’t have been more than 6 months) sitting opposite us whose eyes followed the dancers and made no criticism whatsoever. Thanks to our friend Jan for giving us the tickets.
Our Rating: 3/5
Would the Group have booked? It’s a children’s show, and very short, so I wouldn’t have offered it to the group, but even so…
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, I think they would!
Group Appeal: 3/5
PLEASE EMAIL US WITH YOUR COMMENTS OR SUGGESTIONS
This is a list below with ratings of everything we see in 2018, with and without the Group.
Our own theatre visits without the Group are shown in bold and the dates marked >.
The list will be updated occasionally.
*assessed from the comments on the Opinions page and feedback on the coach