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
Pippin Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz,
at the Southwark Playhouse
What's it about? Pippin, son of Charlemagne, searches for fulfillment in war, sex and politics, and finally discovers happiness in true love.
What did it have going for it? This was once the hottest ticket on Broadway where it ran for nearly 2,000 performances under the direction of Bob Fosse. Based on a novella by John Steinbeck and with words and music by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) and performed at the ambitious Southwark Playhouse, it all looked very promising. We were guests of our friend Jan.
Did we enjoy it? At the interval, it was Jan who delivered the deadly verdict: “Derivative.” It certainly comes across as Candide-lite, and that’s just the start of the problems. The score is sub-Jerry Herman, though less migraine-inducing than Wicked, and the vaudeville presentation encourages the performers to go over the top. What the show needs is charm; what it got was relentless, ingratiating hyperactivity. If only they’d taken it down a notch (or ten).
Our Rating: 2/5
Would the Group have booked? Possibly. We’ve done well at Southwark in the past and tickets are cheap.
Would the group have enjoyed it? In fairness, the audience was enthusiastic, and another friend, Paul, said he would give it 4 stars.
Group Appeal: 3/5
Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig,
in a new version by Jose Rivera and Allan Baker,
at the Menier Chocolate Factory. This was a preview performance.
What's it about? Molina and Valentin share a Buenos Aires prison cell, one accused of indecency and the other a political prisoner. They 'escape' from their incarceration by imagining the glamorous escapist plots of old movies.
What did it have going for it? More famous for the Kander and Ebb musical, this is a new version of the original play, well cast with Samuel Barnett (many NT roles) and Declan Bennett (Once, EastEnders, etc.), and worth checking if the original twists and emotions stand the test of time, now song-less.
Did we enjoy it? The Menier has been transformed yet again, somehow with an even larger acting space with just as many seats for the packed audience. A prison corridor surrounds us with a prison soundscape providing atmosphere, the central space being the tiny cell interior. Small is large in this set-up, with plenty of surrounding space for projected movie imaginings while the horrors of imprisonment are kept claustrophobically central. It's a hard task for the actors to hold our attention with so much to draw our eyes and ears away from their lonesome suffering (beatings, hallucinations, diarrhoea) but they do, and their close relationship gradually builds our emotional concern. Exotic movie plots with femmes fatales distract us, then grim reality brings us back to the central friendship-in-adversity. There has to be escape, real or imagined or unexpected, and eventually it comes with a satisfying flourish. Running straight through in 105 minutes, the play still feels a little overlong but this was a preview and it will be tightened. The songs are not missed, the intimacy is increased, the power survives.
A further note - An implausible role of a female guard has been added to this version of the play. She is poorly cast and weakly played as some sort of kindly nurse. She seems to exist purely to employ a female actor. Is this why we have 'a new version' of the play? Women deserve better.
Our Rating: 3.5/5
Would the Group have booked? The casting as well as memories of the musical might sell tickets.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Possibly a mixed response given the subject and some intimate scenes, but the humanity of the characters wins us over.
Group Appeal: 3/5
The York Realist by Peter Gill,
the Donmar production at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
What's it about? The developing relationship between a Yorkshire farmer and a visiting assistant theatre director from London. Can two men from contrasting backgrounds find a kind of loving that will hold them together?
What did it have going for it? We had seen this production twice at the Donmar; we had taken the Group to see it; but now we wanted to see how a local Yorkshire audience would respond to it.
Did we enjoy it? We liked this so much at the Donmar that I can think of nothing that would lessen our appreciation unless it just did not work in the much larger Crucible Theatre. We need not have worried. The set had been brought forward on the thrust stage, the back 6 or so rows of the stadium-type auditorium were not being sold, and two extra rows had been placed at the front, making it once again an intimate experience. We already knew every detail, but seeing the play a third time made it more intense, more heart-breaking, and made us appreciate the detailed and perfectly nuanced performances which, if possible, had settled into an even more natural truth. The audience loved it, laughed at the affectionate humour, fell silent at the erotic tension and I think truly understood the characters and their situation. The large crowd (possibly three or four times bigger than a full-house Donmar audience) applauded with a huge affection and many stood to cheer. A play about a very local gay love from the not so distant past, had hit the mark with total acceptance. The run of this spot-on production finished on 7 April, no doubt with great regret from the perfect team that gave it to us. It would be nice to hope the production will be revived again somewhere but that seems unlikely. We sincerely hope the especially impressive Ben Batt will move on to greater prominence and acclaim, as well as director Rob Hastie. It has to have been the most affecting and talked about play of the year.
Our Rating: 5/5
Would the Group have booked? You did!
Would the group have enjoyed it? You did!
Group Appeal: 5/5
Pressure by David Haig, at the Park Theatre
What’s it about? The D-day landings in June 1944 and the influence of the weather, and the forecasting thereof, in the run up to the big day. A window of a few dates in early June had been decided to coincide with a full moon and optimum tides but the weather would affect visibility for the Air Force and sea conditions for the Navy in support of landing the troops and the resultant action on the ground.
What did it have going for it? First performed in 2014 in Edinburgh and Chichester, this revival has been touring and getting very positive reviews. A West End transfer, to the Ambassadors Theatre for a run from 6 June to 1 September, has already been announced. The always reliable David Haig wrote the play and takes the leading role
Did we enjoy it? A suitably atmospheric set, purporting to be a room at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, Portsmouth, saw a lot of action as the tension mounted. David Haig played Group Captain James Stagg, the chief meteorological officer for Operation Overlord, and his principal co-stars were Malcolm Sinclair as General Dwight Eisenhower and Laura Rogers as Lt Kay Summersby. These and the other members of the cast portrayed mostly real-life characters and made this beautifully constructed play about the vagaries of the British weather wonderfully gripping, all the more commendable as we already knew the outcome but not the tense preparation.
Our rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? Most probably. David Haig seldom disappoints and the reviews would add to the appeal.
Would the Group have enjoyed it? Perhaps the Group will find out!
Group Appeal: 4/5
The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez, at the Young Vic
What's it about? In a plot inspired by and loosely based on Howard’s End by E M Forster, a group of gay men try to come to terms with their ambitions and desires in post-AIDS New York.
What did it have going for it? It’s an epic: a play in two parts lasting in total more than 7 hours. And it’s directed by Stephen Daldry, and has a rare stage appearance by Vanessa Redgrave.
Did we enjoy it? This is what “bravura” means. The structure of the play, and every line of dialogue, indicates that Matthew Lopez is a dramatist in total command of his craft. His imagination ranges across three interweaving stories, cleverly manipulated narrative techniques, and a probing and challenging investigation into received ideas on sexuality, morals, politics and ethics. No, don’t switch off! It’s engaging, entertaining, full of humour, and you’d have a heart of stone not to wipe away a tear at certain points in the story.
Set on two raised platforms, one within the other, with few props, the cast come and go, interact with fluidity and conviction, talk us through their epic saga stretching from pre-AIDS days in their youth, right through their highs and lows, their hook-ups and break-ups, to their very affecting destinies. It doesn't flinch from telling and showing the specific facts of these varied lives, and there's a climatic coup-de-theatre of such emotional magnitude you can hardly believe the apparent ease with which it grips your heart.
The cast is flawless, but particular praise has to go to Kyle Soller in the long and demanding leading role; to Andrew Burnap who brings wit and charisma to a potentially unsympathetic character; and to Samuel H Levene, in two similar but opposed characterisations. There's excellent support from Broadway star John Benjamin Hickey, and Paul Hilton does extraordinary work as well.
This is orchestrated by Stephen Daldry, whose fingerprints are all over the performance. The immaculate staging, the grouping of the actors, their delivery of the dialogue can all be traced back to his directoral control of the material. It’s a triumph.
Our Rating: 5/5
Would the Group have booked? At more than 7 hours, it ould take some persuasion.
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, more than they might expect to. The audience gave it a total standing ovation, and we were glad to join in.
Group Appeal: 3/5
PLEASE EMAIL US WITH YOUR COMMENTS OR SUGGESTIONS
This is a list below with ratings of everything we see in 2017, 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