Some Enchanted Evenings
and a few Matinées in 2016
“Thanks for the best theatre year ever!” was the message from one of our very regular customers on her Christmas card. I’m not sure it was quite the best; looking back, there were particular highlights, many thrilling performances and a few disappointments. But, as another customer (of many years standing) told me, “I always enjoy it, even when I don’t enjoy it.” I know what she means.
It was a busy year – we offered you 53 shows, spread across 58 trips, and though prices in the West End soared, our average ticket price was only £38.36, almost exactly half the cost of the ticket for Le Corsaire, our most expensive show.
And it would have been an even busier year if the production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill hadn’t been cancelled completely because of star Audra McDonald’s pregnancy.
This was the year that we visited more of the smaller Off-West End theatres than big West End ones, where the theatrical equivalent of bed-blocking is going on - yes, I’m thinking of Thriller and there are more I could mention where some shows overstay their welcome. We were joined by royalty (Prince Charles and Camilla, no less, in the same row as us) to see Gemma Arterton as Nell Gwynn, and we joined in the ovation for theatrical royalty Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in No Man’s Land. We may not have seen the star Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl on two of our three visits to that show but we saw a star-in-the-making in Natasha J Barnes. At the Old, Vic Ralph Fiennes was electrifying as The Master Builder.
It was more obvious than ever that audiences need to look to venues such as the Donmar, Hampstead Theatre and the Menier Chocolate Factory for arresting performances and innovative drama. At the Donmar, Janet McTeer took no prisoners in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Stephen Dillane mesmerised in Faith Healer and Barbara Flynn was heart-breaking in Elegy.
At the Menier, Alexander Hanson gave the funniest performance I have ever seen in The Truth, which got a deserved transfer to Wyndham’s. The Menier’s revival of Travesties is also getting a transfer, giving audiences another chance to savour Tom Hollander and Freddie Fox.
For my money, the best new musical, in a very thin field, was easily Groundhog Day with Andy Karl effortlessly charming his way through the show. We had to search Southwark Playhouse and the Charing Cross Theatre for further musical delights – Grey Gardens, Allegro, Titanic and Ragtime, all directed by the prodigiously talented Thom Southerland.
Following two dismal concerts at the Royal Festival Hall in 2015, Some Enchanted Evening at Cadogan Hall was nothing short of rapturous.
The coup de théâtre of the year has to go to Hampstead Theatre for the closing moments of Wild. I saw it, and I still don’t believe my eyes. The stagecraft almost made us overlook the play.
It was a privilege to have the playwright Nick Payne join us for the discussion of Elegy with actors Barbara Flynn and Nina Sosanya, and to hear lyricist Lynn Ahrens discuss Ragtime. Sian Thomas and Sheila Hancock gave insights into working on respectively Welcome Home, Captain Fox and Grey Gardens. These little extras add a lot to everyone's appreciation of a production.
Andrew Lloyd Webber belatedly called for more racial diversity in the theatre. Ironically, this was the year that seemed to offer more diversity than ever in casting, with shows like Kinky Boots, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Les Blancs, Show Boat, The Bodyguard, The Tempest and One Night in Miami (perhaps our Play of The Year), and the year was crowned with the staggering performance of Lucien Msamati in Amadeus.
It became more difficult to book some shows. Group bookings were limited for No Man’s Land and are impossible for the Harry Potter double. Sometimes the prices are too high with no discounts, or there is a limited number of seats groups are permitted to book. With most West End theatres now charging Premium Prices, groups are only permitted discounts on the second so-called Top Price and this limits availability. Mike and I have had to take out subscriptions to a number of theatres to access advance booking privileges and beat the general rush for seats, and this has added to our costs. Unfortunately, we have to pass this on in the prices we charge.
We are therefore all the more grateful to our friends at individual box-offices, such as the Donmar, Hampstead, Southwark, Charing Cross and the Royal Opera House, as well as to agencies Delfont-Mackintosh and Ambassador’s Theatre Group. And where would we be without the expertise and helpfulness of the drivers from Cook’s Coaches?
I was disappointed that we didn’t sell more tickets for One Night in Miami and The Intelligent Homosexual etc (I won't try to remember its full long title), and I worried that perhaps, post-Brexit, your horizons were closing in. However, looking at the year overall, Mike and I had a great deal of support for a wide-ranging programme of entertainment, and we’re very grateful to our loyal patrons for their long-term and continued support.
The best year in the theatre ever? No, that’s 2017!
As advance booking becomes more of a necessity to get the good seats, already we have a record number of shows booked for the year ahead. And there are even more productions to get excited about in the pipeline. We just hope their producers will permit us to make group bookings and will be generous with their discounts. We much appreciate the Old Vic allowing us to make senior group matinee bookings with our priority membership. We keep saying that groups like us are the backbone of the Theatre business. Where would they be without regular theatregoers like all of us?
Happy theatre-going in 2017.
Afterthought: Was this the first year in living memory that there wasn’t a Noel Coward play in the West End?
Let us know what highlights you remember!
Here's a check-list to help -
My Personal Favourites:
Best Play -
Best Actress -
Best Actor -
Best Supporting Actress -
Best Supporting Actor -
Best Director -
Best Designer -
Best Musical -
Miscellaneous (something that really pleased you - a complete performance or a scene or just a moment) -
All our theatre visits in 2016>>>Click HERE