Fredo's Theatre Group
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
Hamilton – an American musical. Book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda,
at the Victoria Palace Theatre
What's it about? The life, politics, and assassination of one of America's little-known founding fathers.
What did it have going for it? Success, awards, hype, word-of-mouth. Plus the high price of tickets and the difficulty buying them.
Did we enjoy it? Hamilton is really about the experience from booking to final standing ovation, not just the show. The news from Broadway was that this is a blockbuster hit (despite the highest theatre prices ever). We booked a record seventeen months in advance and then, just a week before 'the date', we discovered instead of the Saturday matinee we had tickets for the Thursday matinee, the same day as a group visit to Macbeth - red faces and a sudden rearrangement of plans necessary! No paper tickets had been issued so we had to show our credit-card and photo ID to prove we were the legal ticket holders – slightly irritating but it stops touts and profiteering. We arrived at the theatre to find a queue around the block with high security checks in operation including a sniffer dog on patrol. Crazy, or what? But the checks were smoothly and speedily carried out, my card zapped, and we were given small paper tickets showing our seat numbers. The theatre had been splendidly refurbished prior to the show's opening although scaffolding still remained outside. Inside, the stage was set with brick walls, timber balconies, steps and ropes, and there was a buzz of excitement from the entering crowds. Our seats in the Upper Circle's front row (£59.50) were not ideal with little legroom and only a clear view if we sat up straight, but at last I was HERE at the HOTTEST SHOW in town. And the most expensive.
Yes, it's a worthy winner of awards, but some are more worthy than others given the West End competition. Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton's assassin, is given an impressive performance of striking clarity by Giles Terera (Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical) and Michael Jibson makes a bigger impression as the comical King George than the small size of his role deserves (Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical). The sung-through rapping rhymes did not come easy to my ears but the plotting, a lesson in how to make history accessible to reluctant pupils, was easy enough to follow and the rhythms beguiled us with at least four big numbers surely destined to be everlasting favourites. That open set with its surrounding balconies was brilliantly used, with the movement of the cast covering every part of the stage in ever shifting patterns (a well deserved Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreography). The famously racially mixed cast inhabited their figures from history with pride and understanding, adding a welcome and appealing diversity to what could have been some faceless figures from the history books. Colour and vitality carried the show, the music charmed us all, and one of the the most unlikely subjects for musical theatre (along with Evita and Pacific Overtures) was worth the high price of the seats. But let's overlook the £200 premium ones in the Stalls, for desperate late-bookers only, I assume.
Our Rating: 4.5/5
Would the Group have booked? Oh yes, if they could. But it will be impossible to book at a group discount for several years I suspect.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Hard to believe such a subject could be such a hit, but YES they would be thrilled.
Group Appeal: 4/5
Instructions for Correct Assembly by Thomas Eccleshare
at the Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood downstairs.
What’s it about? A couple, Harry and Max, love tackling self-assembly projects and buy a pack from which they build a robot. The robot is of a young man, Jan, whose actions and thoughts they can control and correct to their liking. The scenes with him, and their neighbours with a high-achieving daughter, are interspersed with flashbacks to earlier times when their son, Nick, was not so malleable and with tragic consequences. The same actor, Brian Vernal, plays both roles.
What did it have going for it? The Royal Court is generally reliable in its play selection and whilst described variously as a ‘sci-fi /dystopian /satire’ the playwright has tackled the themes of loss and guilt in a novel way. Mark Bonnar and Jane Horrocks take the lead roles.
Did we enjoy it? It was an uneven affair and carried the robotic theme to the extreme in both the inter-scenes treatment and the set design and choreography. The cast did their best, and the dialogue was well-written and delivered, but it could have done with less of the conveyor-belt set-changing and more focus on the characters. Some of the brief illusions (eg a 'living' robot's head and hand) were cleverly realised. An oddity that jarred was the beautiful rear wall, seemingly comprising lush and exotic plants, but its presence wasn’t needed or explained. Overall, it entertained without being completely engrossing.
Our Rating: 3/5
Would the Group have booked? There were no particular hooks in the cast, playwright or subject matter but the more adventurous might have given it a go.
Would the Group have enjoyed it? They may be fascinated more by the presentation than plot.
Group Appeal: 2.5/5
Red by John Logan, at Wyndham’s Theatre
What's it about? Mark Rothko, the great American abstract artist, has been commissioned to provide a series of paintings to decorate the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram’s Building in New York. He employs an assistant, Ken. As they strive to complete the work, the meaning of art in their lives is examined.
What did it have going for it? I was a guest of Delfont Mackintosh. This play was first produced at the Donmar in 2009, and Alfred Molina played Rothko then, as he does now. Michael Grandage directs once again, reminding us that there is no better director for providing detail and pace. It’s an assured performance by the writer, and I was interested to see how it stands up.
Did we enjoy it? Very much. It’s an interesting perspective on art, and on the difficult character of Mark Rothko. John Logan’s writing is spare, but we get to know the characters by their subtle interactions. Alfred Molina is as commanding as ever, and Alfred Enoch is a good foil. I felt he was just a little too assertive in this subservient role, but that made this production distinct from the original.
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? Unfortunately, the group offer is very ungenerous, and I’m afraid this might discourage people from booking.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Our group enjoyed it very much at the Donmar in 2009.
Group Appeal: 4/5
The Prudes by Anthony Nielson, at the Royal Court Upstairs
What's it about? Jimmy and Jess haven’t had sex for over a year – but tonight’s the night! As they prepare to end their celibate habit, they use the audience as a sounding-board and therapist.
What did it have going for it? Anthony Nielson is a dramatist to watch. And you have to book early to get into the small Theatre Upstairs – so we did!
Did we enjoy it? I’d had misgivings when I read about the play, and I wasn’t reassured to find the theatre festooned with pink nylon sheets. However, as soon as Jonjo O’Neill and Sophie Russell came on stage, I knew we were going to enjoy it. The conversation with each other and the audience covered extraordinary intimacies, the ins and outs and ups and downs of a supposed sexual malfunction, to hilarious effect. Jonjo O’Neill played shamelessly to the crowd and was well partnered by Sophie Russell. Their natural warmth and apparent affection for each other relaxed the audience so we could laugh at a very funny play. In fact, it’s a long time since I’ve been at a comedy where the audience laughed so much – the young man sitting in front of us literally slapped his thigh to help control his mirth. Oh yes, there is a serious message in the play, and it’s done with the lightest of touches unlikely to offend other than the most determined of prudes.
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? It would be difficult to book a group into this small venue.
Would the group have enjoyed it? I’m sure they would.
Group Appeal: 3/5
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
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