Fredo's Theatre Group 
An archive of our reviews 2019 (Part Four) 
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Pinter 5: The Room, Victoria Station and Family Voices by Harold Pinter, 
at the Harold Pinter Theatre 
What's it about?  You expect me to answer that question! This is Pinter where abiguity and atmosphere is all. 
What did it have going for it? A Pinter trio of two major short plays and a playlet, plus a great cast including Rupert Graves, Jane Horrocks and Nicholas Woodeson  
Did we enjoy it? Like a ballet triple bill (and sometimes just as perplexing), there are one or two piecesin this trio guaranteed to please. Everyone would have their favourite(s) here. First was The Room (from 1957) which could not have been more Pinteresque - mundane chit-chat across a bleak breakfast table in a drab bedsit, unknown visitors, tension, menace, then sudden violence when least expected - just my cup of Pinter tea! Jane Horrocks was at her best ever as the downtrodden housewife. 
After the Intverval came Victoria Station (1982) with a dazed taxi-driver in his cab and the frustrated controller at his switchboard - unexpectedly hilarious and played with perfect timing by Rupert Graves, tousled and monosylabic, and Colin McFarlaine at his wits end. 
Finally we heard Family Voices (1981), monologues from mother, son and father, disillusioned and disjointed turns spoken to the audience, and certainly another disfunctional family. Jane Horrocks became the middle class mum with clipped vowels and Rupert Graves was the Brylcreemed father. But the stand-out performance came from Luke Thallon as the fragile son, isolated in another bedsit with troubling memories of his past and demons in his head. We had previously seen this young actor in The Inheritance at the Young Vic last year, and it's now good to see him come from the ensemble of one play to a stand-out role in another. 
Our Rating:  4/5 
Would the Group have booked?. The cast would attracted some and 'collectible Pinter' some more, so a group visit may have been viable if only prices and availability allowed it. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Mixed blessings. 
Group Appeal: 3.5/5 
Ramin Karimloo in Concert at Cadogan Hall 
What's it about? It was a concert performance, with the star attraction and  three support acts. We were guests of our friends Jan and Michael. 
What did it have going for it? It had Ramin Karimloo, who has played the Phantom and Jean Valjean in London and other parts of the world.  We had seen him in Love Never Dies, but this was the first time we’d seen him in concert. There were plenty of musical theatre students in the audience, to learn and appreciate. 
Did we enjoy it? The first 30 minutes were the support – or rather, 3 different acts with vocalist musicians of varying ability at the start of their careers. It was good experience for them, if not especially good for us. 
Ramin Karimloo was the main event, and worth the wait. What a performer! He has it all - the voice, the looks, the personality, the relaxed confidence and the good taste to choose the right material. He was backed by a 5-strong band, with a slight blue-grass accent, which made for some interesting and fresh arrangements. We had a song from The Bridges of Madison County, and then one from Love Never Dies, which brought the audience to their feet with cheers. His rendering of Music of the Night was sensational: he sensuously caressed every word of Charles Hart’s lyric, making the song new again. It wasn't all show tunes; he sang some new material, some that he'd written himself. Ninety minutes later, by the time he led the audience in a sing-along Do You Hear the People Sing?, they would have stormed the barricades if he’d told them to. 
Our Rating:  4/5 
Would the Group have booked? They still can: he’s at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 30 January. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Definitely 
Group Appeal:  4/5 
Pinter Six Party Time! + Celebration by Harold Pinter 
at the Harold Pinter Theatre 
What's it about? It's a pair of Pinters at the Pinter!  
What did it have going for it? The Pinter season has established a reputation for quality performances and this programme has a particularly distinguished cast with both plays directed by Jamie Lloyd; this was possibly the best reviewed of the Pinter season. 
Did we enjoy it?  Expectations were high – it's party time, time to celebrate, and we could not have been given a better matched pair of pure Pinter perfection. Or should that be confection – a recipe made to entertain, perplex, make us laugh but leave us with a chilling note at the end. The two short plays, Party Time and Celebration, have interchangeable titles, both have a line-up (literally) of party guests behaving badly, revealing more of their manners and mind-set than they should in mixed company. They are the nouveau riche, spending, boasting, verbally jousting, out to impress and, from our viewpoint, being embarrassingly hilarious. In the first, Party Time, black dresses and black suits are the uniform, keeping up with their peers is the aim. In the second play, Celebration, colourful party-wear, big hair and big spending rule the day, with alcohol flowing to loosen tongues. In both, aggressive and confrontational language is the style. But there's a sting in both tales, and it comes from Abraham Popoola, a huge black actor with a commanding stage presence – in one he appears bruised and bloodied, representing our repressive colonial past; in the other he brings an endearing simplicity and a sharp change of tone to the bawdy proceedings. An excellent cast (John Simm, Phil Davis,  Ron Cook, Celia Imrie, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Gary Kemp, Eleanor Matsuura, and particularly Katherine Kingsley) embody these crass horrors to perfection. 
Our Rating:  4.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? Pinter + Cast = Irresistable. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? It was a party! 
Group Appeal:  4/5 
The Cane by Mark Ravenhill at the Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre 
What’s it about? Anna, the daughter, goes to visit her parents, Edward and Maureen, whom she hasn’t seen for some years. Relations are strained and there’s disturbing activities going on outside the house. Her school-teacher father is due to retire in a few days after 45 years in the job but news of his role as the long-ago wielder of the cane has surfaced. Increasing numbers of children, and adults, are gathering outside the house to protest. Anna is herself involved in the education system and tries to defuse the situation. However, other  unresolved tensions are revealed between members of this small family.  
What did it have going for it? A usually reliable and interesting cast of Alun Armstrong, Maggie Steed and Nicola Walker, all directed by the theatre’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone.  
Did we enjoy it? From the outset, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be an easy ride. A sparse, distressed and deconstructed set is used throughout and although there is some humour, the dialogue is mainly confrontational and accusatory in nature. Despite Edward’s slight suggestion that he wasn’t always happy to use the cane, he clearly feels that it was his duty and, thus, the right thing to do. This look at actions that were accepted in the past but are now held to be so abhorrent is a thought-provoking exercise and, mostly, we found it worthwhile and well executed. (Fredo was not in agreement!)  
Our rating: 3.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? Possibly. The cast might have been an attraction. 
Would the Group have enjoyed it? The majority of reviews have also been positive but the style may not sit well with everyone.    
Group Appeal: 3/5 
The Cost of Living by Martyna Majok at the Hampstead Theatre 
What's it about? What this unusual, heartfelt and often amusing play is not about, perhaps surprisingly given its title, is supermarket prices and where our wages go. It focuses on the lifestyle and emotional price paid when living with a disability and caring for a person living with a disability. 
What did it have going for it? Adrian Lester in the cast, and Edward Hall directing his last play as Hampstead's Artistic Director. The playwright won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama  in 2018 for this play. 
Did we enjoy it?  Knowing of the play’s disability factor and knowing it had two disabled cast members, I was bracing myself for being got at, for being sent on a guilt trip. Shame on me - this was no plea, no sermon; this was an unblinkered facing of facts about how the disabled and their helpers cope with the physical and emotional pressures, not of being different but of being just as nice and nasty as the rest of us, with the same hope and desperation, the same capacity for love and disappointment. No blind eye was turned to the inherent difficulties of a wheelchair life, and with two disabled actors in the cast, we could not turn away. The play’s great achievement was that not for a moment did we want to turn away. The relationships, able with disabled, were moving and enlightening, and the players made us care and empathise with the conflicted characters. Such was our involvement that at one unexpected moment (or was it two?) the whole audience gasped in shock because we cared so much. This was quite a learning curve for theatre-goers who seldom concern ourselves with the physical and emotional challenges shown here. It would be unfair to single out any of the four equally impressive actors so I will mention all their names – Emily Barber, Jack Hunter, Adrian Lester and Katy Sullivan* - each one of them reached into our hearts. Recommended. 
* "Katy Sullivan is an American actress and Paralympic track and fielder and US record holder. She is an actress, producer, writer, athlete and bilateral above knee amputee" (Wikipedia) who took part in the London Paralympics in 2012. 
Our Rating: 4/5 
Would the Group have booked? Not an obvious choice. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? I'm sure they would be as involved and concerned as we were. 
Group Appeal:   4/5 
When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – 12 variations on Samuel Richardson's Pamela, 
by Martin Crimp, at the National's Dorfman Theatre 
What's it about? Referring back to those 12 variations, in 1740 it was about a landowner who exploits and abuses a maidservant who then marries him. Brought up to date by Martin Crimp, it's now about sex-games in a garage. 
What did it have going for it? Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane and, perhaps or perhaps not, director Katie Mitchell. 
Did we enjoy it?This was always going to be Marmite, loved or loathed, with a resented booking system that required entering a ballot to have even a chance of applying for tickets. And then mostly bad reviews followed. I was lucky in the ballot and then lucky again in buying tickets, but were we lucky in actually being in the presence of Blanchett and Dillane? They must certainly be admired for their devotion to the text. It required two uninterrupted hours of uninhibited chit-chat, explicit and mundane, plus much sexual writhing, humiliation, flexing of power, multiple changing of costumes and wigs, and both gender and master/servant role reversals. But no nudity. The realistic double garage set housed a real car (giving us a voyeuristic dogging vibe), a sound and light system, tools, laptops, a fridge, and four extra 'servants' to assist with the fantasy sex games. Of course sex fantasies are very much a personal taste, and other people's tastes are unlikely to be as tasty as one's own. And so we all watched, hoping to be gripped but mostly being bored (too strong a word?) or certainly uninvolved. The 12 variations - aggressive, submissive, instructive, defensive, then repeated (not so very surprisingly) - proceeded through to a mock-wedding climax. Somewhere towards the end some real feeling crept in – by then we had an understanding with this desperate pair and hoped for a resolution for them and for us, but so much sex'n'power talk and earnest application just ended limply in the levity of a strap-on device. The very mixed audience seemed appreciative of all the effort, and no-one fainted. Did we enjoy it? 'We woz there' is the best I can say.  
Our Rating:  1.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? Of course not. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? There is always one....they say. 
Group Appeal:  0/5 
Akhnaten by Philip Glass, at the London Colisseum  
What's it about? The life of the Pharaoh Akhnaten, from the first year of his reign to his death. 
What did it have going for it? This was a dress rehearsal at the ENO, and a revival of the stunning production that we had seen three years ago. Previously it had received rave reviews, and we were eager to see it again. 
Did we enjoy it? It was sublime. It’s one of those rare occasions where the direction (Phelim McDermott) perfectly complements the visual with the mesmerising music by Philip Glass -  the sets, lighting and costumes add to the impact of the unique sound. Despite the astonishing singing by counter-tenore Anthony Roth Costanzo, the show was almost stolen by the ceaseless activity of the Gandini Juggling group (honestly: you had to be there). It was a spectacle that filled the eyes and the ears. 
Our Rating: 5/5 
Would the Group have booked? It might have been a hard sell. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Anyone interested in opera and music would have been enthralled. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Ian McKellen on Stage at Hampstead Theatre  
What's it about?  The actor/national treasure is celebrating his 80th birthday by touring to 80 theatres in the UK, and raising money for them by presenting his one-man show. 
What did it have going for it?  It’s Ian McKellen, who has had a long and illustrious career, as an actor on stage and who has latterly had great fame and popularity on screen. He has worked in all sorts of drama – Shakespeare, classics, contemporary drama, pantomime, soap opera, sit-com and epics. And he seems to have worked with everybody so, as a noted raconteur, there would be lots of tales to tell. The tour has been selling out rapidly, and by accident (don’t ask) I booked what I thought were two cheap tickets at Hampstead. How much did I pay? Again, don’t ask; the money went to a good cause. 
Did we enjoy it?  It was a delight. Sir Ian was in fine, relaxed form, and made us feel as though we were guests in his living-room. He opened with Gandalf, and invited a young man on stage to wield the sword, and took a selfie and signed a programme. Then he launched into a retrospective of his career, his knighthood, coming out as gay to his much-loved step-mother, and recalling his short period at the National Theatre with Laurence Olivier. He recalled his contemporaries: Albert Finney, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Ronald Pickup, and got briefly lost in paying tribute to Finney, who had died two days previously. The second half was devoted to Shakespeare, again with anecdotes about the plays interspersed with speeches: it was a master-class. And worth every penny. 
Our Rating:   5/5 
Would the Group have booked?  They would. But would they have wanted to pay the price? 
Would the group have enjoyed it?   Without a doubt. 
Group Appeal:   5/5 
Pinter 7 (A Slight Ache & The Dumb Waiter) by Harold Pinter 
at the Harold Pinter Theatre 
What’s it about? 
A Slight Ache: A husband and wife live a seemingly idyllic life in the country with a grand house and swimming pool in the grounds. However, at the end of the garden, where the gate opens onto a small and little-used lane, there appears a match-seller. An odd character in an even odder location. He is eventually invited in to the house and there follows a number of one-sided conversations with each of the couple – the match-seller has no lines – and it gets increasingly intense. Originally performed as a radio play before being staged, it was presented to us as a radio play with the use of microphones and attendant sound effect tools. 
The Dumb Waiter: In a windowless basement room, two men are waiting for instructions and have already been there for some hours. They are hit-men who have worked together for many years and talk of football matches, strange headlines and mundane gossip. They nit-pick at some length and generally get on each other’s nerves. At the back of the room is a dumb waiter hatch and it springs to life with orders for food, and ultimately unexpected orders... 
What did it have going for it? Another day, another Pinter play in Jamie Lloyd’s season. Unlike some in the season, the house was full for this one which is testament to the quality of the cast and/or the appeal of the plays. John Heffernan and Gemma Whelan were our couple in the country with Martin Freeman and Danny Dyer hanging out in the basement. 
Did we enjoy it? Both were strong in subject matter and performance. The rather unconventional style of 
A Slight Ache was exposed on occasion when they moved outside the parameters of a radio play style of delivery, but overall it was well worth seeing. Possibly because the dialogue in the second play was particularly rich, or because they had a great chemistry, Martin Freeman and Danny Dyer gave us the most enjoyable experience. Evidently, The Dumb Waiter is one of Pinter’s most highly regarded plays and it was easy to see why, especially in the particularly capable hands of Jamie Lloyd and this cast. Soutra Gilmour’s set deserves an accolade too. 
Our rating:  A slightly uneven allocation between the two, but 4/5 overall. 
Would the Group have booked? Most probably, given a good group offer (which there wasn't!) 
Would the Group have enjoyed it?  Pinter isn’t to everyone’s liking but those who would have come would have enjoyed it. (it’s on until 23 February, so there’s still a chance) 
Group Appeal: 3.5/5 
Follies Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Goldman 
at the National: Olivier Theatre 
What's it about? It’s a reunion of Weismann girls from the Follies. They look back on their former selves, as two couples, Phyllis and Ben and Sally and Buddy examine their unhappy marriages to devastating effect. It’s about growing older and disillusioned and seeing all your dreams disappear. 
What did it have going for it? It’s my favourite show, because it has Stephen Sondheim’s most glorious music and wittiest lyrics, and the book is sharp and spare. It appeals to the dormant romantic in me, as I can identify with those heart-stopping moments when the characters glimpse their lost opportunities. 
Did we enjoy it? As this was a revival of Dominic Cooke’s brilliant production, we approached it with confidence; it surely couldn’t get any better. But oh yes, it could! Mike finds the opening of the show (in any production) a bit slow, but I’m in tears from the moment the first of the Beautiful Girls appears, and then I’m cheering (inwardly) at so many other moments: the Beautiful Girls descending the staircase, as the ghosts of their younger selves replicate their movements in Follies costumes; the chorus line celebrating Who’s That Woman? And the sheer terror on Stella’s (Dawn Hope) face as the song ends; Claire Moore punching home Hattie’s anthem Broadway Baby: Carlotta (Tracie Bennett) unleashing fury and yet triumphant as she declares I’m Still Here; Felicity Lott and Alison Langer duetting on the ecstatic One More Kiss. 
Jane Dee still brings out all the mordant wit and pain of Phyllis’s dialogue and songs, and Peter Forbes is even sadder as Buddy – and more manic in an improved staging of Buddy’s Blues. Alexander Hanson, new to the cast, brings his own effortless elegance and charm to Ben – and proves he has all the notes in the rapturous duet Too Many Mornings
From the moment Joanna Riding set foot on the vast Olivier stage, it was clear that she had command of the fragile, unstable Sally, and watching her gradual disintegration had us on the edge of our seats right up to and beyond her astounding interpretation of Losing My Mind. We know every note of this song, but Ms Riding took it in a perilous and successful new direction. This was a performance beyond expectation, and thrilling to observe. 
Our Rating: 5/5 
Would the Group have booked? We’d already done a visit in 2017, but I’m sure some would book again. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, of course! 
Group Appeal: 4/5