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
The Writer by Ella Hickson at the Almeida Theatre
What's it about? Writing a play, creativity, the feminist agenda, the misuse of power, the patriarchy of Theatre, the place of women in culture/society/the family, etc. etc.
What did it have going for it? Romola Garai and Sam West in the cast; controversy (1 and 2 star reviews v. 4 and 5 star reviews); and a respected female playwright having her new work produced at the Almeida. Take a deep breath and see what the fuss is about....
Did we enjoy it? It begins with the house lights on as a feminist student rants at a play's director about the treatment of women in Theatre – he contrasts her explosive anger with a calm and conciliatory response and an offer to talk further. There follows a staged Q&A with a writer (female), a director (male) and an actor (female), much like the Q&As we have experienced after a Donmar performance except this one is a scripted part of the play. The fictional playwright is reticent and cowed by the bullying director as the actor tries to agree with both of them. Gender is important here as we then see the writer/wife and her husband at home, arguing about her writing problems, their sex life, their earning capacity, and the male/female divide. Both sides of the arguments are well represented and the tension created is edge-of-seat stuff. I suspect we are not meant to be on the man's side.The dividing line between reality and theatre is constantly blurred and we are even taken into The Writer's thought processes and fantasies. Ultimately the focus on a straight relationship is replaced by a lesbian one which reveals very similar differences between partners (the same grunting sexual moves, the same aggressive/passive responses and refusal to compromise) whether straight or gay. This is less of a play to 'enjoy' than a theatre event to nourish discussion, flout theatre conventions, provoke us, and take us to the brink of our prejudices and tolerance. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the play's concentration on the gender divide, responses to it have been both positive and negative from both genders. We were highly impressed, perhaps not persuaded to join the writer's feminist agenda but thankful that her themes were presented in such a stimulating and boundary-breaking theatrical way, guaranteed to encourage discussion..
Our Rating: Unexpectedly 4.5/5
Would the Group have booked? The cast may pull in a crowd but the presentation could irritate many.
Would the group have enjoyed it? That would be asking a lot of a general audience.
Group Appeal: 2/5
Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph at the Hampstead Theatre
What’s it about? Using a number of real-life characters and actual events, some fictional elements are added to the mix to present a dramatised examination of what is truth and how it can be supressed, distorted or exposed. The Russian KGB, and its predecessor NKVD, pursue one agenda with a writer (Isaac Babel) and a journalist on the opposite path. The drama covers the period 1920-2010, with scenes from those dates and some in between, hopping back and forth. For those scenes we are in Warsaw, Dresden, Moscow and Smolensk. A Russian NKVD/KGB officer, Vova, appears in most of the later action and is a thinly-veiled Vladimir Putin.
What did it have going for it? First performed in Houston, USA, in 2017 the timing of the staging of the production here fits alarmingly well with recent events and shining a light on the role that Russia plays in world affairs must be worthwhile.
Did we enjoy it? It was ambitious in its scale and at nearly 3 hours long a certain endurance and patience was required. There were good performances and a great set but it never really came together or got anywhere. The piecemeal approach gave it the feel of scenes often interjected into a docudrama where a worthy academic takes the lead. If only. The subject matter was relevant but this play didn’t engage the heart and not an awful lot of brain either.
Our rating: 2/5
Would the Group have booked? It might have appealed to those who enjoy a bit of old-style, or perhaps current, cold-war drama and it being staged at the usually-reliable Hampstead could have been an attraction.
Would the Group have enjoyed it? Unlikely
Group Appeal: 2/5
Mood Music by Joe Penhall, at the Old Vic
What's it about? A young singer/songwriter battles an older producer for the rights to her song. They both confide in their therapists and are advised by their lawyers.
What did it have going for it? Joe Penhall’s plays are always stimulating, and the Old Vic is generally reliable in choosing its plays. Ben Chaplin (replacing Rhys Ifans) makes a rare stage appearance, and the direction is in the safe hands of Roger Michell.
Did we enjoy it? Very much. The dialogue is incisive, and it provides an absorbing insight into the music industry. I liked the style of the performance, on a thrust stage: the actors prowled around each other like predators, with one conversation cutting across another, scenes overlapping and desolving into each other. Ben Chaplin, Seana Kerslake, Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter – all excellent - were ably supported by Kurt Egyiawan and William Findley. The beastliness of Chaplin’s character - arrogant, aggressive, rude, selfish, overbearing, cynical, and yet with a certain charisma - provoked a seething commentary from the women around me! I’m glad we went.
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? It was a bit of an unknown quantity.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Some might have found it difficult to sympathise with either of the leading characters.
Group Appeal: 3/5
Cosi Fan Tutte Music by Mozart, at the open air Opera Holland Park
Rehearsal Photos by © Ali Wright for Opera Holland Park.
What's it about? The love of two sisters for their lovers is tested in a cynical plot by an older man. Complications ensue…
What did it have going for it? We were given tickets for this dress rehearsal by our friend Catherine. And it’s one of Mozart’s most highly-regarded operas (and therefore one of the most popular in the repertoire)
Did we enjoy it? What the opera is really about is Mozart’s command of building solo arias, duets, trios, quartets, quintets and sextets into a dazzling (and somewhat lengthy) score. The perfection can become a bit relentless, but it was presented beautifully by conductor Dane Lam. The singers sang out very strongly. The lighting was erratic on this evening, but that’s what rehearsals are for.
Our Rating: 3.5/5
Would the Group have booked? We don’t book HollandPark, as it is expensive, and a bit far away.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, especially if you like Mozart.
Group Appeal: 4/5
Mike adds - This was a rehearsal with added interest. Mozart's music was given unexpected extra bass by the low notes of a background rumble. It was first heard at stage-right, faint but continual, and getting louder. Yes, a storm was approaching. The volume increased and then it hit us - thunder overhead and torrential rain on the canvas roofing of the marquee type theatre. The noise was deafening, nearly drowning out the brave orchestra and singers, but they battled on. And then the storm moved away to stage-left leaving Mozart commanding the performance again. We were just glad we were not at the Globe or Regents Park where there is no protection from the elements.
Monogamy by Torben Betts at the Park Theatre
What’s it about? TV Chef, Caroline Mortimer, has a very trying few hours, partly of her own making. The action takes place in her beautiful kitchen, from where her TV show is broadcast, and she is joined at various times by her assistant, her husband and son plus, her carpenter and his wife. There are revelations a plenty that provoke strong reactions, often to intended comic effect but not without some more serious moments.
What did it have going for it? This production has been touring since early May and an interesting premise, together with the very watchable Janie Dee, provided sufficient enticement for a Saturday matinee.
Did we enjoy it? It’s a very busy play with lots of props, including the preparation and cooking of a meal, and the action and dialogue is pretty non-stop. It was also crammed with themes – fidelity, alcohol and drug use, sexual orientation, mental health, parenthood and more. If this were one of Caroline’s meals it would be 10 courses all served on one plate. As a result, it feels like there was a tick list of things to cover and ends up being rather formulaic and, to continue the theme, not easily digestible. Nevertheless, the cast, including Charlie Brooks and Patrick Ryecart, gave it their all and added to the general enjoyment of the play which builds to a crescendo of disaster.
Our rating: 3/5
Would the Group have booked? Possibly. The cast might have been an attraction.
Would the Group have enjoyed it? There were elements to be enjoyed but, as we felt, the play itself would probably have been found to be lacking.
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