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
Stories by Nina Raine at the National: Dorfman Theatre
What's it about? When you're a woman, 39, single, and feeling maternal, what are your options for having a baby?
What did it have going for it? A new play by Nina Raine (author of Consent- National and West End) with the wonderful Claudie Blakely in the lead.
Did we enjoy it? Tick tock, tick tock goes the biological clock – time is running out for becoming a mum and there's no man to oblige. Buy sperm on the internet, ask a friend, or advertise for a willing partner, and if so will the baby have the right genes? Or just give up that wish because life as a singleton can be so fancy free? It's not a laughing matter and yet Nina Raine has the knack of giving us much laughter while being able to turn in an instant to a heartfelt emotional situation. With Claudie Blakley in the lead, anguishing over her problem and her options, she is the perfect actor with warmth and charm to win us over (yes, even us men!) and make her problems ours too. As an outsider, it's an involving, educational (!) and entertaining pathway to tread, and we meet a variety of possible donors along the way. They are all played by the exceptional Sam Troughton, switching through earnest artist, raving popster, precious actor, ex-boyfriend, and gay would-be father,with amusing ease. Margot Leicester and Stephen Boxer are the older generation. It's a spare traverse staging with multifunctional cubes sliding on and off, slick and effective. You'll find plenty to engage and think about after, without feeling got at at all. And I mean that in a positive way even though others may think the subject warrants a more earnest approach – I disagree. This one's a must for anyone who ever did or didn't want offspring – and I mean you!
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? Possibly more women than men would anticipate (wrongly) that it's a play only for them whereas it has wide appeal. Certainly I recommend it.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Totally...but it's only playing to the end of November. Let's hope for a well deserved transfer, but with seats aplenty still available this seems doubtful.
Group Appeal: 4/5
Wise Children adapted by Emma Rice from the novel by Angela Carter, at the Old Vic
What's it about? Twin sisters celebrate their 75th birthday by looking back on their theatrical lives.
What did it have going for it? I'd watched a television documentary on Angela Carter recently, and made up my mind that she was obnoxious, opinionated and rude, but I read Wise Children anyway, and thought it was a real tour de force. We’d seen a video clip of a rehearsal of this production, which looked like fun. What could go wrong?
Did we enjoy it? A resounding No! It was an unfunny mess. The story was impossible to follow. So much had been left out that the whole exercise seemed pointless, and we were left with a group of fairly charmless performers mugging their way through the songs. The songs were the best bit, but even they became tiresome. Where was the narrative dexterity, the wit, the verbal invention of the book? Mike said it made him angry; I was so bored I could barely summon up indifference.
Our Rating: 2/5 because I’m feeling generous.
Would the Group have booked? I think probably not. No-one enquired about it.
Would the group have enjoyed it? I doubt it, though I have to admit that the audience responded well: there was laughter and applause and at the end, the four young women in front of us happily sang along to Girls Just Want To Have Fun.
Group Appeal: 2/5
Mike adds: While I'm still angry I feel I should add my own tuppenceworth. It's the style that's the killer and whereas Emma Rice got the tone right for Brief Encounter, here she's just indulging her obsessions with class, gender, and vaudeville. This is panto for ten year olds, but added to the mix is end-of-pier smut, swearing and sentimentality for the Mrs Brown's Boys audience. Why is the male romantic lead played by a small woman with a stick-on moustache? Why the on-stage caravan, never referred to? Why are we supposed to find a foul-mouthed virago endearing? Despite perfunctory song'n'dance, cod Shakespeare plotlines, mime, puppets and drag, this tortuous biographical yarn rambles on far too long. My anger is for a lost opportunity and the cast's wasted talents. Girls may just want to have fun, but this guy was not amused.
Peter Pan – a musical adventure, score by Stiles and Drewe; an amateur production
by the Southend Operatic and Dramatic Society, at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff.
(This was the First Performance)
What's it about? Oh you know that already, don't you? Unless, like Peter, you have not yet grown-up and still believe in fairies. As I do.
What did it have going for it? A rarely produced musical based on J M Barrie's1904 play, and an am-dram society with an enthusiastic local following.
Did we enjoy it? This is a story for kids, of course, always was and always will be. I even remember being taken to a stage production of the play when very young with I think Margaret Lockwood in tights as PP, then later to see the Disney animated film to which every later version is compared. This musical version adds a large number of tuneful songs to keep the grown-ups awake, while the production encouraged a certain wonder in the kids and exercised their imaginations. They reacted with laughter in all the right places at the broad goings-on, bless-em, and certainly we adults were entertained by Andrew Walters' lively orchestra and some particularly good voices from the lead performers and chorus. 'Peter Pan' himself had youthful male charm as well as the right confidence – no traditional gender-swap there although some of the pirates were transitioning! The role of 'Father/Captain Hook' was especially well played with aplomb, and in Act Two 'Smee' proved himself a comedian able to pull off a jaunty song with ease. I know am-dram societies have casting problems but it was not a good idea to cast and direct Tinkerbell as a lolloping oversized doll, who almost made me disbelieve in fairies. 'Tiger Lily' was lively, but her two listless handmaidens were not so handy. The Narrator/Older Wendy always hooked us with her gravitas and the clarity of her story-telling, and brought a welcome moist-eye of sentiment to the flash-forward ending, which we cynical grown-ups do not always remember. Once the theatre had been hired, I assume little budget was left for the cut-out production, but it was adventurous to use limited projections and I wished they could have been used more – background clouds for the grounded flying sequence could have been good. This was the first performance/preview but with few signs of nerves and some enthusiastic dancing, the audience of well-wishers gave it an appreciative reception. A few more performances and Peter Pan may have flown higher. You can still see the show's trailer on the SODS Facebook page and I commend the professionalism of how the trailer really does 'sell' the animated cast.
Our Rating: 3/5 (on the Am-Dram scale)
Would the Group have booked? Some of you did!
Would the group have enjoyed it? It's always good to see familiar local faces in the cast.
Group Appeal: 3/5 (on the Am-Dram scale) but ask the kids who never lie.
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
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