Fredo's Theatre Group 
An archive of our reviews (Part 6) 
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Earlier Opinions can be found in  Archive 3, Archive 4Archive 5 
(Sorry - no Archives 1 & 2 are now available) 
Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury, at the Young Vic 
What's it about? Racial perception and prejudice, though that gives no idea of what you experience. 
What did it have going for it? A Pulitzer prize for drama in 2019 and a surrounding mystery about what is really happening up there on stage. The cast includes Nichola Hughes, Rhashan Stone and  favourite David Dawson (unrecognisable!) 
Did we enjoy it? Only after it was all over and we discussed it at length did we really decide whether we 'enjoyed' it. It was an experience, we were impressed and glad we didn't miss it. Do not be deceived by the opening sitcom scene – a black family are preparing a birthday meal; light humour, affection, family squabbles and a deft touch of all-so-familiar US prime-time tv. Then there's a gear change – (SPOILER ALERT)  the scene is repeated, same characters and situation but with a sound-over track of a white conversation on what race you would choose to be if you weren't white. The humour fades and an unease takes hold. What happens next, reviewers are asked not to say – there's a further gear-change or you might say a crashing of theatrical gears. It really would spoil the effect of what is controversial, eye-opening, highly theatrical, bizarre, funny, challenging and ultimately moving. It turns clichés on their head, points up possible prejudice all around us and within us, and begs for an active response. Like it or loathe it, it just refuses to be ignored.  
My Rating:  4/5 (but 3/5 from Fredo) 
Would the Group have booked? Probably not an easy sell for us, and yet a sell-out at the theatre. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? I guess “interesting” would be an average response. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Coming Clean by Kevin Elyot, at the Trafalgar Studio 2 
What's it about? A gay couple living in a semi-open relationship employ a third guy to clean their apartment.... 
What did it have going for it? It was written by Kevin Elyot of My Night With Reg fame. 
Did we enjoy it? With a shirtless young guy on the poster and a double entendre in the title, this was one aimed straight at a gay male audience. It achieved its aim and there we were, I have to admit,  more for the author's reputation for his now contemporary classic My Night With Reg than else. This debut play was produced in 1992, twelve years before Reg appeared, but even then the Elyot signature was there – the humour, the relaxed approach to what in those days was a controversial culture, the understanding of gay guys' lives - well, some of them! Here we have two guys in search of domestic bliss while at the same time seeking the sexual freedom to be themselves. When young Robert, out-of-work actor (of course), arrives in Tony and Greg's nest as their cleaner, the sexual tension rises while their camp neighbour recounts his own adventures encouragingly. The rom-com situation is a test for the almost-happy couple, while the audience, responding to every warning sign and erotic frisson, can run through a check-list of their own (would-be?) gay lives. It understandably lacks the maturity of Elyot's later Reg and I thought the final scene was misjudged, but it's a lot of fun and has a moral sting in its tale. 
Our Rating:  4/5  
Would the Group have booked? It would be too up-front for some, so probably not, though nowadays the humour of the situation would be a popular draw (as the play's tranfer from King's Head to Trafalgar Studio 2 has proven). 
Would the group have enjoyed it? These guys are good company. 
Group Appeal: 3.5/5 
Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Conor McPherson, 
at the Harold Pinter Theatre 
What's it about? A family and their retainers live on a remote estate in the Russian countryside, where they are visited by the local doctor, Astrov. Vanya’s brother-in-law the Professor, and his new wife Yelena, arrive and upset the routine, and make Astrov, Vanya and his niece Sonya confront the fact that they have colluded with their circumstances to allow any chance of happiness and fulfillment to slip away. 
What did it have going for it? It’s a great play, and one of my favourites. Why? It’s tightly constructed, yet each character is fully realised, and within the narrow confines of their lives, Chekhov explores worlds of emotional experience.  
Did we enjoy it? I’ve seen at least 3 outstanding productions of Uncle Vanya, and I hoped that this would be a fourth, but it didn’t quite make it into that category. It scored highly in most areas. Conor McPherson’s very faithful adaptation was very clear on the complicated relationships in the family (and you really do need to get those sorted out in order to understand the tensions within that family) and also spells out how the estate has been inherited in the excellently-staged argument in the third act. Toby Jones in the first two acts is one of the most tiresome Vanyas I’ve seen, and that is not a bad thing. Rosalind Eleazar develops sympathetically as Yelena, but I missed a necessary erotic tension between her and Richard Armitage’s slightly underpowered Astrov.  
However, there are certain scenes that looked like exercises for the actors, and they should have been left in the rehearsal room – Vanya’s drunken crawl into a cupboard, and later dropping his pants to retrieve the morphine he’s stolen from Astrov. The final embrace between Astrov and Elena was extreme and unearned. 
In a lesser production these faults wouldn’t have mattered, but Ian Rickson had done such a good job in setting and pacing the action that these infelicities stood out. 
Our Rating: 4/5 
Would the Group have booked? I would very much have liked to take the group, but it’s only a year since we took them to a solid if uninspired production of this play, and I thought it was too soon to offer it again. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Magic Goes Wrong by Mischief Theatre and Penn & Teller. 
at the Vaudeville Theatre 
What's it about? Turning a trick into a joke, big time. 
What did it have going for it? The 'Goes Wrong' phenomenon combined with the magic masters Penn & Teller. 
Did we enjoy it? Maybe the classic Noises Off! started it all. London (and the world) has seen The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, etc.; and TV currently has The Goes Wrong Show spreading the Wrong word. It's a phenomenon which has passed us by. Nimax Theatres invited us so we try not to say No to an invitation and went along to discover why the franchise is so popular. Personally I prefer everything that goes right and with Penn & Teller on the credits we hoped for bafflement. The first joke is outside the theatre on the amended poster saying “Penn & Teller are <not> appearing at this performance” - of course not, they are advisers and the humour aims at deflating the whole idea of creating magic. It seems this is what the people want - just as they turned the Wrong play into a box-office hit, this Magic show will be another hit with those looking for put-down silliness and a party vibe. We are supposedly at a charity show for deceased magicians but have conjuring apparatus that fails to work, performers who fall about, the mis-reading of minds, dead doves by the dozen, and a saw-in-half illusion ending in bloody mayhem. The audience respond on cue like that switched-on laughter effect in TV comedies. Fredo said at the interval that it was "quite good, better than expected". Quite! But I mustn't be condescending when the show creates so much enjoyment for so many. It is well produced and certainly brings in a new audience to the Theatre. Among all the on-stage disasters are a half dozen examples of perfect classic magic, including (SPOILER ALERT) the usual escapes from locked cupboards, and a signed playing-card reappearing in the hand of a guy handcuffed and submerged in a tank of water! If only just one real dove had been conjured from a hat, I would have been happier. If only.... 
My Rating:  2.5/5  
Would the Group have booked? If in party mood....maybe. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? It certainly pleases those who like Things That Go Wrong. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Dear Evan Hansen Book by Steven Levenson, Music & Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, 
at the Noel Coward Theatre 
What's it about? High School misfit Evan Hansen writes uplifting letters to "boost his confidence", instructed his analyst.  When bullyboy classmate Connor commits suicide, one of Evan's letters is found in his pocket. Connor’s parents wrongly believe that Evan was their son’s closest friend, and Evan is drawn into their lives. It get's complicated, and Evan's single mum gets concerned. 
What did it have going for it? We were guests of Delfont Mackintosh. The songs are from the team that wrote the lyrics for La La Land and the songs for The Greatest Showman, and it’s been playing on Broadway to sold-out houses for 3 years. 
Did we enjoy it? It’s a very slick, high-tech production, and the cast of 8 bring sincerity and commitment to their roles – and a high degree of precision as well.  West End debutant Sam Tutty is outstanding as Evan. The audience loved it, and jumped to their feet for a standing ovation at the end. 
For our taste, it was so highly-tooled that some of the darker corners of the story got brushed aside. The grief of the parents, and the revelation that Connor’s suicide is the best thing that ever happened to Evan needed further development. It lacks the edge that Teenage Dick brought to a similar setting. 
The songs are delivered with confidence – the cast all have all the high notes – but for me, there wasn’t a memorable tune or lyric. I concluded that I’m simply the wrong demographic: this show is aimed at the audience that has finally grown out of Wicked, but still yearns for a show that reassures them that however much of a misfit (or green) they are on the outside, their inner goodness will triumph. 
Our Rating:  3/5 
Would the Group have booked? No-one has enquired, and I doubt that a plot précis would sell many tickets. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Mike and I identified one friend who would absolutely love it! 
Group Appeal:  2/5 
Mike adds – The cynic in me saw this as mindfulness for simple minds, manufactured for exercising the tear ducts, and I soon built up a resistance to its vapid Hallmark lyrics and High School clichés. Certainly it's a slick teens-today show and brings in a younger audience, so for that I should. be grateful. We were the only ones to sit through the standing ovation
Endgame and Rough for Theatre Il by Samuel Beckett, at The Old Vic 
<Rough for Theatre ll 
What’s it about? With Beckett it’s never easy or wise to attempt to be too precise. However – 
Rough for Theatre II: A man (C) is standing in a window frame, seen from the back, and two men (A&B), similarly attired enter and sit at two identical desks each carrying a file of papers. These two men appear to be advocates for a higher, or perhaps much lower, authority reviewing the putative jumper’s life. 
Endgame: In a cavernous space we have Clov, a servant, dealing with the demands of his master/employer Hamm who is blind and in a wheelchair. There are also two dustbins each containing Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell. Nobody is happy with their lot but there is an inter-dependence which creates a circle that is hard to break. 
What did it have going for it? Rough for Theatre II (just 25 mins) is seldom performed. Endgame is regarded as being one of Beckett’s best works and has been performed often, by actors of note.  This production features Alan Cumming (as Hamm and B) and Daniel Radcliffe (as Clov and A). In addition, we had Karl Johnson and Jane Horrocks in the dustbins.  
Did we enjoy it? There's surprising humour in both plays as well as a deathly fatalism. In the curtain-raiser, A and B partake in a snobbish sparring, and an anglepoise interupts the two characters' bickering. Endgame displays a battle of wills with a highly animated Clov up against the paralysed but domineering Hamm and his discarded parents. It fascinates in mystifying and mundane ways, and we were particularly impressed by Alan Cumming’s performance in both plays. He displayed a mastery of the nuances required in each character and achieved the almost impossible by making Hamm deserving of some sympathy. Daniel Radcliffe ably tackled each role, exhibiting considerable physicality as Clov and took a further and brave step to move away from Harry Potter. Karl Johnson gave his character impressive pathos and Jane Horrocks, who had the smallest part, played a touching role.   
Our rating: 4/5 
Would the Group have enjoyed it? Beckett’s plays don’t appeal to everyone but the accomplished cast raised the enjoyment level. 
Group Appeal: 3.5/5 
Death of England by Roy Williams and Clint Dyer, 
at the National: Dorman Theatre 
What's it about?. The state of the nation, given a personal twist and a very up-front approach. 
What did it have going for it? Rafe Spall in a 100 minute monologue 
Did we enjoy it? With this title the play was likely to be about Football and/or Brexit, as well as our nation, good or bad. England on the pitch dies regularly and the nation has been in its death throes since our country voted narrowly for Brexit. Our funeral awaits. A funeral features importantly in this vividly told tale of a father-son relationship. This is personal story-telling in the form of one powerhouse performance by Rafe Spall. He's Michael, a personable working-class lad, an angry motormouth with a dad about to affect his life in more ways than he can anticipate. He races about the George's Cross shaped platform stage, finding a multitude of props, and handing us biscuits and bananas as he tells his tale in a vivid torrent of words. There's discord, racism, cocain, football and flowers. Disaffected dad loves his footie, disallusioned mum rages, sister fucks around – you get the picture – but this is a passionate tale tied to the fabric of society right now.  Congratulations to the National for choosing a play for today without obviously signaling racial and gender virtues - it's two authors are black (Dyer also directs) yet it touches the heart of England by giving a white man's perspective of life today. And cheers for Rafe Spall's tour-de-force presence which serves the play so well. 
Our Rating:   4/5  
Would the Group have booked? If Rafe Spall's name sells tickets (as it should) then Yes. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? They should be impressed. 
Group Appeal: 3.5/5