One Season Following Another
Is it really a twelve months since I sat down to review our theatrical year? How quickly time passes! In the last year, Mike and I offered you a choice of 51 shows spread over 55 visits to London's theatres. And even if this was slightly fewer than in 2018, we still had a great variety of comedy, drama, dance, opera and music.
It was also the year where prices hit a new high, and our efforts to secure good group discounts became more important than ever. It was disappointing that certain shows didn’t offer a discount, while the price of premium seats (not available for groups) soared. Is this trend really going to encourage audiences to attend the theatre regularly? Are theatres only interested in 'new' and 'event' audiences? Against that, we secured good bargains at some of the fringe theatres, and at the Royal Opera House – we were even upgraded from the Amphitheatre to the Orchestra Stalls at Andrea Chenier.
There were many highlights, and to be frank, a few duds. These, however, were outnumbered by the shows that were enthusiastically enjoyed by our group. It’s impossible to name them all, just as it’s impossible to ignore certain outstanding achievements:
Matthew Bourne: His shows get better and better, on a second or third or even fifth and sixth viewing. Is it possible to improve on his Swan Lake? It was at its very best this year. And at the interval of Romeo + Juliet, one of our group commented to me, “This must be the show of the year!”
Two Titans dominated the stage: Maggie Smith returned after too long an absence in A German Life and by some sorcery, single-handed, held her audience spellbound for nearly 2 hours. Ian McKellen toured the country raising money for theatres and theatrical charities, and delighted audiences everywhere with his one-man show.
Hadley Fraser, Joanna Riding and Janie Dee proved that you could perform Carousel without sets or costumes, and still reduce the audience to rubble. Hadley Fraser would have given the Musical Performance of the Year, but Andy Nyman in Fiddler on the Roof at the Menier had already blown all competition out of the water in that category.
The Menier had a good year, with imaginative and adventurous programming, and a high success rate: Penelope Wilton in The Bay at Nice, Fiddler on the Roof, the inventive and ingenious The Watsons and the deliriously entertaining The Boy Friend.
Further along the South Bank, the Old Vic was a reliable address to return to, with excellent performances from Sally Field and Bill Pullman and company in All My Sons and Myanna Buring and Reece Shearsmith in the startling A Very Expensive Poison. And it was here that the director Matthew Warchus breathed new life into that well-known play, Present Laughter – well, we thought we knew it, but with the tireless and charismatic Andrew Scott in the leading role, this was laughter as we’d never imagined it.
Was that the performance of the year? Or was that John Light or Laurie Kynaston in The Son at the Kiln Theatre? Unfortunately, we failed to attract many of our regular supporters to see this play, which later transferred to the West End.
Despite David Suchet’s star-turn in The Price, and the formidable trio of Tom Hiddlestone, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox in Betrayal, it wasn’t a vintage year for plays in the West End. Musicals were more successful, especially the triumphant return of Mary Poppins, giving us the jolly holiday we needed.
The Donmar, under its new Artistic Director Michael Longhurst provided a consistently interesting season, but also a less commercial one than we would have liked. Even the small Donmar is regrettably not selling out every night (nor filling our coaches!) while adapting its programming to meet new Arts Council grant regulations for 'relevance' instead of 'excellence'.. The National Theatre is in the same position.
But this summary reflects my own taste, and really we’re interested in what you’ve enjoyed this year – and what you’d like to see in the future. Do let us know by filling in the categories below, or just by sending an e-mail.
There are always people to thank at the end of the year. First of all, Cook’s Coaches, who took us to and from the theatres safely and reliably, and the team in Cook’s office, who also deliver what I ask for.
Personnel at box-offices and agencies play a big part in our providing your entertainment, and we are indebted to the outstanding staff at Delfont Mackintosh, Nimax, ATG, the Menier, the Old Vic and the Donmar. I am less impressed with the staff at another theatre south of the river (no, not Southwark Playhouse, not the National, nor the Old Vic), who have not been helpful for group bookings but that’s a story for another day.
Finally a big THANK YOU to all our customers. Your support and companionship has added to our enjoyment – yes, even those of you who have created challenges at different points in our theatrical year! I’m told that people who participate in the arts live happier, fuller lives, so do keep joining in the fun!
Happy Theatre-going in 2020!
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