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
Fiddler on the Roof (music Jerry Bock, lyrics Sheldon Harnick, book Joseph Stein),
at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street Theatre,
What's it about? Tevye, an impoverished Jewish milkman in Tsarist Russia, has to accept that while some things never change for his people the strength of tradition can be dented by the love matches of his daughters.
What did it have going for it? Fiddler has proved to be a strong survivor among musicals (1964). Its hummable melodies and witty lyrics stick in the mind. Its unchallenging endearing story line can (maybe) bring a tear to the eye. The GSMD’s fine record and excellent theatrical facilities are strong recommendations in themselves.
Did we enjoy it? This production was hugely enjoyable. All aspects were admirable: a visually captivating and adaptable set; a mellifluous band under Steven Edis, at home with punchy and silky big band numbers and with characterful klezmer; and a large enthusiastic student cast whose ensemble moments were outstanding - how one’s creaky knees envied such flexible dancing!
The show requires a powerful leading man and Alex James-Cox as Tevye absolutely dominated, fully inhabiting his role in wry delivery, in voice, and in gesture. The book rules and so, unavoidably perhaps, other roles, though very well handled, were less rounded in character and less impactful. There were some moments of tonal uncertainty in individual voices (assisted or not by technology). Of course, we are not talking Wagner here, though some surprising parallels struck me. Just as at Bayreuth, the Silk Street Theatre conceals its Orchestra from audience view in a deep pit. Into Tevye’s world comes Perchik (Toheeb Jimoh), a mysterious young radical who in the style of Lohengrin brings change to the traditions of the community – and then disappears to remote Kiev. And finally, rather like the Gods in Rhinegold retreating to Valhalla, Tevye and his neighbours disperse in the face of Tsarist threats and brutality to other places and inevitably to fresh uncertainties.
One could imagine a production that yielded starker contrasts of mood, given the plot line, but here, director Martin Connor kept things on the bright(er) side and Joanna Godwin’s energetic choreography reinforced that. Overall, the charm and commitment of the cast made for a terrific evening’s entertainment.
Our Rating: 4/5
Would the Group have booked? Probably two visits would be necessary.
Would the Group have enjoyed it? They would lap it up like chicken soup with barley.
Tartuffe by Moliére, adapted by Christopher Hampton
at the Theatre Royal Haymarket
What’s it about? The central character is Orgon who falls under the influence of the messianic figure of Tartuffe, inviting him into his home. There are repercussions that affect Orgon, his wife Elmire and other members of his family and other acquaintances. The original 1664 version was set in Paris but here we are transported to modern-day Los Angeles. For some reason, never explained within the context of the play, the dialogue is delivered partly in French and partly in English, with surtitles to translate each into the other language.
What did it have going for it? Christopher Hampton has an extensive and impressive list of plays, translations and adaptations to his name. The cast includes Audrey Fleurot (Spiral) as Elmire, George Blagdon (Versailles) as the son Damis and Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders) as Tartuffe. The role of Orgon was played by Sebastian Roché. Although the reviews had done little to encourage a booking, a price reduction from £75 to £25 for good stalls seats for its final few weeks was enough to get us there to judge for ourselves.
Did we enjoy it? The contemporary setting wasn’t an issue and the ultra-sparse set, comprising mainly a glass box that moved backward and forward, was odd but it had its place. The main issue was the alternating dialogue which severely affected the delivery of the text, especially any comic lines. By the time you had read the surtitle the action had moved on and it all made it harder work to get involved in the story. The cast gave strong and moving performances, with many switching between French and English (in the same scene sometimes) although not every actor came across as being entirely comfortable or convincing in their non-native language.
This version had Tartuffe as a white-robed evangelical Christian who held sway over Orgon to seize power and wealth. Just as he thinks he has won, the tables are turned and the US Government official delivering news-used phrases and referenced actions that were very thinly-disguised Trump-like. On the very afternoon that Mr Trump came to town, that played very well with the audience!
Our rating: Mostly the play warranted 2.5/5 but with that final scene we raise it to 3/5
Would the Group have enjoyed it? Those familiar with the play might have been interested to see an updated version and, in Christopher Hampton’s hands, it had its moments. But, overall, probably not. For those fortunate to be bi-lingual it would probably be a much richer and enjoyable experience.
Group Appeal: 2.5/5
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
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