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
Pity by Rory Mullarkey, at the Royal Court Downstairs
What's it about? It’s a state–of-Britain play: we start with the Fulham Brass Band playing in a town square with an ice-cream stand and a tombola – all very idyllic, but it’s downhill from there into anarchy and bloodshed.
What did it have going for it? I was given a ticket by our friend Jan, but I wanted to see it anyway, as I was intrigued by the writer’s earlier plays (eg. Saint George and the Dragon, at the National).
Did I enjoy it? It starts inventively, and then it sags a bit when it seems to be straining to hold our interest, and then suddenly it picks up again when Mullarkey concentrates on his theme .Throughout, our leading characters reassure each other that they’re all right, but things only get worse. Initially, it looks a bit clunky, but as the play develops, I was impressed with the design and stagecraft that had gone into the production. I was glad I stayed for the full 100 minutes (without interval); several of the audience didn’t. Noticeably, the younger members of the audience were the most enthusiastic. I commented to a friend who works at the theatre that I thought the cast was a bit uneven, and she suggested that that was how the director had wanted them to play it. I’m not convinced: some of them catch the broad comic-strip style, while others don’t come to terms with the shamateurism imposed on them. Personally, I’d have preferred more Mull and less Larkey.
My Rating: 3/5
Would the Group have booked? No
Would the group have enjoyed it? No
Group Appeal: 1/5
Exit the King, by Eugene Ionesco
at the National: Olivier Theatre
What's it about? The king is dying, or to be more precise, he will die "at the end of the play in 68 minutes", we are told. What can be done?
What did it have going for it? A rarely seen play from the days of the Theatre of the Absurd – certainly collectible. With just six characters and the Olivier to fill, can the National pull it off? The reviews said No, we heard of people leaving even with no interval to encourage them, but we wanted to see it for ourselves.
Did we enjoy it? Hmmm, interesting. It has a great cast, dedicated to the task in hand. Indira Varma plays Queen Marguerite with a commanding presence and genius timing for the comedy; Amy Morgan flirts and cajoles with flair as Queen Marie; Adrian Scarborough, palace fixer and fool, takes a step nearer to his inevitable National Treasure crown; there's also Derek Griffiths (where have you been?) and Debra Gillet fulfilling palace duties; and then there's Rhys Ifans, (not a favourite of mine) entering through the auditorium (we are all asked to stand) to be told these are the last minutes of his 400 year reign. No time to lose as his kingdom is vanishing, as indeed does the set, impressively, in the final dying moments of the play. This is absurdist humour with serious intent, comical, tragical, moving, but (I have to admit) irritatingly relentless in its panto-like fashion until melancholy takes a hold. Rhys Ifans at that point proves his perfect casting, crumbling into panic and dementia, making us feel not just for him but for all us aged and infirm as we hang on in our palaces, with those around us just waiting to step into our shoes and take our reign. And so the play proves to be about mortality, no laughing matter at all, and definitely worth the 100 minute count-down to death.
Would the Group have booked? I doubt it, especially after so many two-star reviews.
Would the group have enjoyed it? This really does depend on one's theatrical patience, though our matinee audience was enthusiastic in its response.
Group Appeal: 1/5
Hymn to Love, devised by Annie Castledine, Steve Trafford and Elizabeth Mansfield
at Jermyn Street Theatre
What's it about? It’s a programme of Edith Piaf songs, held together by a fragment of biography centring on her tragic relationship with boxer Marcel Cerdan.
What did it have going for it? Elizabeth Mansfield is an expert at one-woman shows, and she’s a terrific singer. We like Edith Piaf’s songs – and our friend David was in charge of the technical aspects of the show.
Did we enjoy it? It’s a small scale show in a tiny theatre, and that increases the intimacy of the performance. Using few props (and perhaps overusing a phone) it tells us just enough about Piaf’s life, and concentrates on the songs. I thought I knew them all, but there was a lot of material that I hadn’t heard before. Patrick Bridgman provided excellent piano accompaniment to Ms Mansfield’s interpretations of the songs, saving the most well-known ones till last (and guess which was the final song!) You need to like this music, and I do, so yes, I enjoyed it very much.
Our Rating: 3/5
Would the Group have booked? This theatre isn’t suitable for a group.
Would the group have enjoyed it? If you’re an Edith Piaf fan, this is the show for you.
Group Appeal: 3/5
Home, I'm Darling by Laura Wade,
at the National: Dorfman Theatre
What's it About? The gradual falling to pieces of a marriage where appearances and style have become obsessive.
What did have going for it? This was a joint production between Theatre Clwyd in N.Wales and the National. It featured 3 of our favourite actors (Sian Thomas, Katherine Parkinson and Richard Harrington), it's by Laura ("Posh") Wade, and friends who had seen it at Clwyd recommended it. On the other hand, we know of some who hated it, so this added a controversial lure.
Did we enjoy It? Yes we did. We are confronted with the cross-section of a middle class two-storey provincial home - it's an immaculate 1950s interior with period detail throughout. Enter Judy (Parkinson) tripping merrily about the set in flouncy skirt, tight bodice and immaculate hair and make-up. She's preparing breakfast to the accompaniment of Mr Sandman (think of the lyrics), her one aim being to provide Hollywood wifely perfection for husband Johnny (Harrington), an upcoming estate agent hoping soon for a promotion. Can domesticity be more idyllic? But things are not quite as they seem.
Perfection starts to crack with a testing visit from Judy's mother Sylvia (the wonderful Sian Thomas); Johnny returns from work (not saying "I'm home, darling"); his lively female boss brings work tensions into play; and the intrusive neighbours add extra topical pressures to this fifties ideal home.
Scene changes are accompanied by little period dance numbers by the neighbours and there is a constant fifties soundtrack though I wished they had included Wives and Lovers the lyrics perfectly conveying what the play is largely about.
Although a vast range of sociological and psychological subjects are dealt with (rather too many in fact) the play is a comedy and pretty funny, with surprisingly an optimistic ending.
Our Rating 4/5
Would the Group have booked? Not possible as this was in the Dorfman which sells out as soon as shows are announced. If it transfers to the West End, there may be a chance to offer it to our Group.
Would the Group have enjoyed it? I think so since a memory of the Fifties would definitely enhance enjoyment.
Group rating: 4/5
Dance Nation by Clare Barron at the Almeida Theatre
What's it about? A troupe of teenagers in Philadelphia (Fx5; Mx1) work their way through dance cpmpetitions...and a wide teenage learning curve, mainly of female sexuality.
What did it have going for it? Google the title and you will find classes with this name, tv and radio programmes, productions of the play...worldwide. Who knew they were such a phenomenon, both dance competitions and this play. Surely worth a look?
Did we enjoy it? From the start this is tongue-in-cheek (I hope), seeking broad laughs, is full of energy...and sex. The teenagers (13 - 17 maybe) are played by adults of various ages (20 – 60 perhaps) so we have to give them credit for stamina as limbs are flung around in the dance routines and tongues wag about menstruation, masturbation, puberty, pussies, penises and the finer points of getting one over on the dance competitors, usually with bitchy verbal dexterity. Having raised eyebrows with its language and back-stories of the kids, there are not a lot of other places for the show to go. The production, all mirrors and lights, dazzles appropriately. It's a dirty-mouthed mix of A Chorus Line / Stepping Out / Strictly Come Dancing, with insights into the facts and foibles of growing up a 'girl' (the one 'boy' doesn't have much say) so it has plenty of feminist credentials to entertain us with. This 'boy' gives it a grade 3+ for trying.
Our Rating: 3.5/5
Would the Group have booked? The subject has its attractions but the treatment perhaps not.
Would the group have enjoyed it? It's short and not-so-sweet but has entertainment value.
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