31/12/22 Fredo writes –


Book by Tanya Wonder, Music by Jim Fortune, Lyrics by Rufus Norris, Original Concept by Katrina Lindsay and Rufus Norris, at the National: Olivier Theatre

My star rating: 2/5

Group appeal: 3/5

It seemed like a fun way to end our theatrical year: a matinee of a new musical based on The Sleeping Beauty. There would be colour, songs, spectacle and magic, and we’d be swept away by the wonder of it all, just like all the other children in the audience.

The reality didn’t quite work out as I had hoped. There seems to be a Hex on the theatre itself – it recently lost a substantial part of its Arts Council support, and at this matinee, the two female leads were both replaced by understudies. (Of course, a real curse would have been if there were no understudies, and the performance would have had to be cancelled).

And the understudies, Neima Naouri as Fairy – and of course, a clumsy, punkish one too – and Sabrina Aloueche as the Ogress Queen,  were in great voice, and tackled their lengthy parts with gusto. It was the show itself that was the problem.

To begin with, the story of the Sleeping Beauty is fairly thin, and anyone adapting it has to be inventive in adding narrative, tension and interest (take a bow, Matthew Bourne). In Hex Tanya Ronder over-complicates the plot with an ogre, an ogress, a team of rather wet princes, and some lively thorns (don’t ask). It could be great fun, but I’m afraid it isn’t because the tone just isn’t right. There’s not enough charm to balance the dark, grotesque details depicted on stage (I kept glancing nervously at the two little boys next to me to check if they were traumatised by the theatrical gore). The Princess certainly pricks her finger and falls asleep but is awoken by a streetwise prince, Bert, who happens to be the son of an ogress who likes to eat babies. And Bert and Princess Rose subsequently have two – a problem for the novice Fairy to sort out.

The songs might have saved the day, but they aren’t memorable, and the musical staging isn’t good; I was surprised to see that the respected Bill Deamer was a Consultant Choreographer. Rufus Norris, who directed as well as writing the lyrics, took the bizarre decision to raise the front of the stage and tilt it away from the audience, and then had a long table rise up from the depths to be put to little use. I spent much of the show’s length wondering why.

Maybe it was just me, because the audience responded well at the end. It wasn’t a show I warmed to, or that I would want to see again.

Mike adds – I would add an extra star to Fredo’s as I thought the stage setting with hundreds of fairy lights created. a magical ambiance. Nevertheless, it was just a pity that even with fairies hanging in mid-air I thought the whole space could have been more imaginatively used.

20/12/22 Fredo writes –

A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams, at the Almeida Theatre (preview performance)

(No production photos as this was a preview)

Our star rating: 4/5

Group appeal: 3.5/5

“I’m very adaptable,” Blanche Du Bois tells Mitch, in an early scene in Tennessee Williams’s great drama. And fortunately Patsy Ferran, the actress playing Blanche, is very adaptable as well. Before the performance, director Rebecca Frecknall came on stage to tell us that the actress originally cast as Blanche had had to withdraw. Previews were cancelled, and Ms Ferran stepped in at 4 days’ notice. This was her fourth performance. “She’s the most heroic person I know,” Rebecca added.

She needs to be. Blanche is one of the longest and most demanding roles in the female repertoire. She’s on stage for most of the play’s 3-hour length, and has to convey the character’s desperation, fear and flightiness in quicksilver changes of tone. She also has long speeches, which verge on arias of loss and heartbreak. No wonder Ms Ferran clutched her copy of the script throughout the performance, even though she barely consulted it.

It’s a huge weight on the actress’s slender shoulders, but Ms Ferran carries it off with assurance. She dominates the stage; this Blanche is fragile and damaged, but has reserves of strength as she faces the questioning of her brother-in-law Stanley about the loss of the family home. She’s manipulative, but she retains our sympathy because she’s reached the end of her road: how will she survive?

The play is famous for the sexual tension between Blanche and her brother-in-law Stanley. Paul Mescal concentrates on the loutish aspect of this character, and before the interval, I missed the frisson. He rises to the occasion after the interval, though his line as he prepares to rape Blanche, “We’ve had this date a long time”, came as a bit of a surprise. There’s a threat of violence in his portrayal that raises the tension every time he comes on stage.

Duane Walcott is very persuasive as the diffident Mitch, and their final confrontation is heartbreaking as we realise that Blanche has lost her last possible saviour.

This production is played in the round on a raised square stage, and this is not the most comfortable configuration in the Almeida’s auditorium. The stage is mostly bare, with limited props being handed on as required by the off-scene other actors. This works smoothly; we’re only shown what we need to see.

However, there is one directorial flourish that I find hard to forgive. In the powerful scene where Blanche tells Mitch about the death of the boy she married, this is enacted for us by a dancer intruding between the actors. It’s distracting both from Ms Ferran’s meticulous performance, and from Tennessee Williams’s carefully chosen words (and I think very carefully chosen, as I believe Ms Frecknall has used the revised version written for the London stage, to satisfy the Lord Chamberlain).

But let’s not denigrate a production which has so many virtues. Ferran’s Blanche is a complete person: she is an English teacher who can compare her sister’s house to the creations of Edgar Allen Poe; she refers to Der Rosenkavalier, and she pedantically corrects Stella and Eunice that her dress is not lilac, but Della Robbia blue. (and yet she permits – and this always happens – the mispronunciation of the family home as “Belle Reeve.” It’s Belle Reve, folks, meaning Beautiful Dream. Tennessee chose the name carefully).

Stanley also gets his due. He’s not a Polack or a pig; he’s a decorated soldier, part of the new world that is going to inherit the decadent South.  It’s a theme only lightly touched on by Williams, but it’s an aspect of the play that adds to its resonance and stature.

The staff at the Almeida are rightly in awe of Patsy Ferran. As the stunned audience filed out at the end, one of the attendants told us that she is different every night, that she is still adding detail to her performance.  A friend who saw it last night has a ticket for another date towards the end of the run, and I’m eager to hear his comparisons.

I have a long History with A Streetcar Named Desire. I read it when I was 11 years old, and I ask myself, what were my parents thinking of, to allow this to happen? Had Miss Fegan, in Enniskillen Library, no sense of responsibility to her young readers? It made a lasting impression, and after experiencing many productions, I remain convinced that it is the greatest play of all time.

At least, until the next Uncle Vanya or Death of a Salesman comes along. ‘Til then, I’m happy to board this Streetcar.

17/12/22 Mike writes –

As You Like It

by William Shakespeare, at the theatre @sohoplace

Photos: Johan Persson

After a somewhat ‘soft’ opening with Marvellous, this smart and gleaming  new theatre now goes classical with its first Shakespeare production in-the-round. It’s beautifully and simply set, enthusiastically performed, accompanied effectively by a centre-stage pianist, and is obviously a labour of love from Josie Rourke directing. The critics generally loved it and our matinee audience certainly did as well.

But here’s the rub. As you probably know, Will Shakespeare plays around with gender identities in this play, and back in his day all roles were played by men and boys. Josie now complicates matters further by defying genders herself in the casting, and lays it on thick for the audience. Was ever gender ambiguity so rampant? This focus on characters of indeterminate gender blurs the plot point of Orlando falling for the person Rosalind drassed as boy or girl. There are two ’they/them’ in the cast; Phoebe is played by a ‘she/her’ but has a man’s voice; a lady courtier is played by someone with a woman’s voice but a man’s demeanour; Jaques is played by a woman in breeches with piled up hair (Martha Plimpton, ‘she/her’, excellent); a character called Le Beau is an actor identifying as ‘they/them/he’ of indeterminate gender; and Rosalind who in the play disguises herself as a man (well played by an understudy) was obviously feminine throughout. (The actor Leah Harvey who should have played Rosalind was absent, but identifies as ‘they/them’.) June Watson,’ she/her’, always a favourite we can rely on, had to play Adam and Corin. All quite intrusive and distracting!

I have a general question – Why does the Theatre these days put itself at the forefront of accommodating those with Gender Dysphoria (and other minorities) when it’s the one profession in which actors train to convince us they are the roles and genders they are playing. It’s about acting, not being – not so important for say playing accountants, travel agents or doctors, and perhaps necessary for Prince Charmings but……not every play is a pantomime, nor does every minority need to be acted by one of its group. Politically Correct reviewers in the papers tactfully fail to mention this.

In addition, the charming and famously deaf Rose Ayling-Ellis (she/her) uses sign language for her role throughout. All the dialogue is given surtitles above the stage but they are in a Shakespearian scroll type of letterset which was too far away for me to be able to read – my fault, not theirs, but every little irritation counts.

Sorry, it was not as I like it, but I wanted to see it for those involved and I’m pleased I did.

My star rating: 3/5

Group appeal: 3.5/5 if you like the play anyway and are a supporter of diversity by positive discrimination.

10/12/22 Mike writes

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Nicholas Hytner

You really know the Christmas season is in full swing when you are spoiled for choice with A Christmas Carol popping up in so many theatres. The Bridge’s version has a resident Scrooge; the one at the Old Vic is already an annual revival with different Scrooges each year;  and the one at my local theatre (Kingston’s Rose Theatre) has chosen a woman to be miserly this year. What would Dickens think? The RSC and Greenwich have a version too, and there’s a touring company. It seems to have taken over from panto as the must-see Christmas treat.

Our treat was free tickets at the Bridge, compensation for the two and half minutes we lost of John Gabriel Borkman a few weeks ago (see our review earlier). It certainly was a treat too. I shall award it five stars for maximum involvement from a minimal production – pure storytelling and pure theatre which both older and younger audiences could relate to. For a packed Saturday matinee, it was pure satisfaction. Even a young boy in front of me, of maybe six, sat enthralled throughout.

A few trunks, props and puppets, a simple atmospheric set with smoke and projections, and just three cast members were all it needed. Of course SRB, direct from playing JGB, was a Scrooge which most people would never quibble at having as a miserly uncle; he can be beastly in a cuddlesome sort of way. All the other characters were well played by Eben Figueiredo and Lindsay Marshall, with minimum changes of costume and accents.

The staging allowed Dickens to still tell his story, or rather the actors told us the story as they enacted its many parts. It was fluid, gripping, and sometimes chilling with eruptions of gaiety and laughter. You know the tale, I’m sure – without kindness the comfort and joy of Christmas will pass you by  – there are pleasing moments of ghostly visitations, times to shed a tear, and a theatre filled with fairy lights at the finish to give us a seasonal smile as we exit into the freezing December air. Christmastime has begun.

Our rating:5/5

Group appeal:4/5

Photos: Manuel Harlan

08/12/22 Fredo writes –

A Musical Chat Show

Live at Lola’s Underground Casino

Our star rating: 3/5

Group appeal: Limited to Musical habitués

It’s a new venture, and it took place in a cabaret room buried in the depths of the Hippodrome. You have to brave your way through a sea of slot-machines and gaming tables. You may need a stiff drink when you get there, but look at the price-list before you order one.

The evening took the form of a chat show, with four West End performers having a chat and an informal interview, and singing one or two songs. Greg Barnett, the host, sang as well. He seemed a bit nervous and unprepared at the start, but the four featured performers were totally at ease.

For me, Hadley Fraser was the best. He’s the most experienced and the most assured, and was at ease with his anecdotes and quick-witted answers to questions, He sang Things are Moving Too Fast from The Last Five Years, and duetted with the lovely Christine Allado on Tell Me Something, from A Star is Born. He became very emotional while singing Anyone Can Whistle, and had to take a break while the pianist did a solo.

Christine’s first song was Can’t Help Loving That Man – “It’s from the classical repertoire,” she told us. “Is it Show Boat?”. She sang it perfectly, but left out the swing section, which was a shame. She also sang a song from In the Heights.

I’d been surprised when three lovely women mounted the stage, but I realised that one of them was the non-binary Isaac Hesketh. He/she/they sang Part of the World from The Little Mermaid, but we waited in vain for another song. However, they and Carly Mercedes Dyer had a good time together, appreciating their friends’ performances.

Carly sang Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now from Ain’t Misbehavin’ and The Music and the Mirror from A Chorus Line (she played Cassie in that show in Leicester).

There were also questions from the audience to the performers (nothing revealing) and a musical theatre quiz, and of course a finale of Christmas songs. We left with a smile on our faces.

(Note: This was the first in a new venture of Musical Chat Shows at this venue, and a friend had kindly given us VIP tickets – we were sat on a couch at the foot of the performers, feeling conspiculous but honoured.)

07/12/22 Garth writes-


by William Shakespeare, at the National: Lyttelton Theatre

Photos: Myah Jeffers

The Bard’s play (written 1602-3, a few years before King Lear) is usually categorised as a tragedy; it brings us (inter alia) ambition, heroism, triumphalism, racial hatred, infatuation, deceit, rancid jealousy, mindless violence, murder and suicide. Clint Dyer’s production stints on none of these. Othello’s military prowess seemingly has overcome the prejudice and resentment that attends him as a Moor and as the successful wooer of the beautiful blonde Desdemona. Whatever his strengths, Othello has, however, no defence against the two-faced Iago’s evil determination to bring him down by fuelling his insecurities and the jealousy provoked by what seems to Othello an over-close relationship between Desdemona and the lusty captain Cassio. It’s all bound to end in tears…..

In a quasi-Greek theatre setting (most of the action is in Cyprus), with ranges of deep steps down to the acting area, the director leaves us to decide where we are at any given moment, indoors or out. Likewise, quite when the events take place is also left pretty open, though the dramatically effective use of flaming torches and indeterminately Tudorbethan costumes suggest some distance away in time. The readiness of many characters to pull out a knife at tense moments perhaps lends something of a contemporary edge…. However much he has left to the imagination (or to the text), the director aims to help his audience catch salient points in the drama by highlighting them with a sound score of pops and vibrato, evoking fear, trembling, plotting and whatnot. Likewise, at moments, the steps are peopled by a sort of silent Greek chorus (called the System in the cast list) which reacts gesturally to Iago’s hate-filled self-congratulatory soliloquies.

The way things went on stage made me stupidly wonder why the play did not have Iago as its title. It’s not just that Iago, Othello’s Ancient as he used to be described, has many more lines than his master. He is the dynamic force in the story, ceaselessly calculating how to exploit Othello’s tragic weaknesses. Paul Hilton, skeletal of visage and grindingly taut of voice, gave a bravura performance, reinforced by spotlighting and the reactive chorus. But, even though he ends up dead, he is not the tragic hero. As Othello, Giles Terera was convincing as a forceful figure of martial strength and emotional susceptibility, the sole person of colour in a white world, with all that that may mean for us today. But it didn’t seem a very deep reading of the role as the climactic scenes approached. If his violent end did not much move me, I fear the same has to be said of Rosy McEwen as Desdemona. Her part is perhaps thankless, but she seemed to put little into it, largely energy-less and vocally subdued. Among other roles, there was persuasive work by Rory Fleck Byrne as Cassio and Jack Bardoe as Rodrigo. As Emilia, the abused spouse of Iago, Tanya Franks’ expressive performance was a notable contribution throughout.

Overall, the production had a somewhat populist character (and why not in the National theatre?), even to the extent that one might never have realised that the characters were speaking verse….

My star rating: 3.5/5

Group Appeal: 3/5

30/11/22 Fredo writes –

Saving Grace

Music & Lyrics by KT Tunstall, Book by April De Angelis, at the Riverside Studios

(No production photos available)

This may well be the only review you read of Saving Grace.Why? Well, before the performance began, director Laurence Connor introduced himself, and appealed for a helper from the audience – but it had to be a female, Scottish, and had to have written a musical. “That’s me!” cried the small, attractive woman across the aisle from me, and KT Tunstall, the Scottish singer and song-writer, ran down the aisle to join Laurence.

This, they explained, was a workshop performance, and not a finished product. It was based on a film from 2000 with Brenda Blethyn, Bill Bailey, Leslie Philllips and Martin Clunes, and KT had worked on it during lockdown. Now it was being presented for two weeks only before audiences to gauge their reaction. KT added that every day was like a day at school for her, as she had never been involved in a musical before.
And she had supplied a generous amount of music.

The plot follows very traditional British comedy lines: small community unites to defeat a  big opponent against all social and financial odds. Along the way, friendships and other relationships are tried and tested, and they all emerge stronger at the end.

In this instance, it’s about Grace (Dianne Pilkington), a widow who discovers that her husband has left her with enormous debts, and even worse, the entire Cornish fishing village is in hock as well. The obvious answer is to start growing cannabis. There’s a lot of plot to get through, and oddly, the almost-surfeit of songs doesn’t get in the way. Nevertheless, there are in fact too many songs, good as they might be. There’s a big foot-stamping company number right at the start that outstays its welcome and is superfluous to the story. And there’s a duet for two older women in the second act that has comedy and charm but slows down the action when it should be hurtling towards the end.

There’s a lot to enjoy. The songs are good, if lacking in variety, and the short lines of the lyrics are pithy and move the narrative along. A lot depends on the performers’ engagement with the audience, and here the cast generate a lot of goodwill. Dianne Pilkington (West End take-over in Mamma Mia! and Wicked) sings strongly, and at times seems to be channelling the spirit of Brenda Blethyn. David Fynn (recently Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing) can always be relied upon to bring fun, and injects a lot of energy into the proceedings. Gunnar Cauthery is a not-too-grumpy Dr Martin, the part that Martin Clunes played in the movie, and that begat the successful spin-off series Doc Martin.

But will it transfer, and go on to great success? “Did you enjoy it?” asked KT eagerly as we left the theatre. I did indeed, but at the moment it has too many songs, too many characters and the second act needs serious work, as it descends into pantomime and farce. 

That’s why they have workshops like this. They can test the strengths and weaknesses, and tighten the screws and oil them. There’s work to be done. With a cast like this, a bit of judicious trimming, and in a small theatre, I can see it pleasing audiences in the future.

Our star rating: 3/5. Group appeal: 4/5, once it has been revised

25/11/22 Mike writes –

Girl from the North Country

Written by Conor McPherson, Music and Lyrics by Bob Dylan, at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

(No photos of this cast available)

Our star rating: 4/5

Group appeal: 4/5

Five years ago this ‘play with songs’ which Conor McPherson wrote using the songs of Bob Dillon premiered at the Old Vic and subsequently moved to the West End and to the US and Canada, first Off Broadway then to Toronto and back to Broadway in 2020. That production was brought to a close by the Covid pandemic and never reopened. We saw it three times in London as we loved it so much; we took the Group to see it, and it has remained firmly in our memories ever since. It is now back, touring the country, and we caught up with it in Woking. I don’t intend to give it a full review as it remains very much the same as before, it is the same production, only the cast has changed. They may lack the star quality of the original performers but they certainly perform it well and I still recommend it even to non Bob Dillon fans. It’s sad, characterful, and the songs as performed here are heart-shakingly moving.

The theatre in Woking, a vast soulless auditorium, was not the ideal venue in which to see what is essentially an intimate tale of US country folk, down on their luck with nowhere to go. The nature of the piece means no applause follows the songs. Inevitably, as a touring production, it never really has time to settle in anywhere, and here a good size audience barely filled a third of the theatre on a Friday night. Nevertheless, the ultimate response was enthusiastic. I just wish I had seen it in a more suitable venue. All fans of McPherson and Dylan should catch up with it – it continues touring until next Spring.

23/11/22 Fredo writes –

It’s A Wonderful Life

An opera with Music by Jake Heggie, Libretto by Gene Scheer, at the London Coliseum

Our star rating: 2.5/5

Group appeal: 3/5

There must be a law somewhere that says the best-loved Christmas stories have to have a grim view of the world to begin with. Charles Dickens started it off with Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, which is more a scary ghost story that a heartwarming tale. Frank Capra’s 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life follows this tradition: for much of its length; it puts its hero George Bailey (James Stewart) through the wringer, and paints a pretty dismal picture of the world at Christmastime.

But like Scrooge, George Bailey is saved and finds redemption in a heart-warming conclusion, and audiences have embraced both over the years. Now the beleaguered English National Opera has imported an operatic version of Capra’s tale, ominously heralded as being “redefined for a new generation.” Does it work?

I’m not the best person to judge it on its musical merits, but I’m prepared to believe that composer Jake Heggie has scored it with invention. I found the music pleasant to listen to, without being memorable. However, it seemed to me that Gene Scheer’s words fell heavily on the score, and didn’t tell the story very well.

And that’s the problem. This version concentrates on the character of the angel Clara (in the movie, it was Clarence) and the narrative structure of the movie is largely jettisoned. Okay, it’s a new work, but this drains a lot of interest and suspense away from the plot. And its warmth and emotion are absent.

It would be easier to overlook this fault if the production carried it off with charm and conviction, but sadly it doesn’t. The set is dull and some of the staging is clumsy (in fairness, we saw a dress rehearsal). Danielle de Niese as Clara has to hang around the stage an awful lot while the main action unfolds, and while Frederick Balantine sings strongly, he just isn’t James Stewart. At the end, the cast tried to get the audience to join in Auld Lang Syne, which made me feel a bit ho-ho-humbug.

When I told my niece Emma that we were going to see it, she replied that it’s a film she watches every Christmas, and that she’d read about the changes in the opera. She added, “It’s a classic that doesn’t need fucking about with!” That’s a caveat that many directors should take to heart.

As a Christmas treat. I’d rather be at the Cafe Momus with Mimi, Rodolfo and Musetta.

(Mike adds – Take a look at the poster/ad above. It has snow, angel’s wings, distant twinkling lights, it’s full of seasonal atmostphere….everything this lumbering production lacks. Admittedly the second act has stars, but the atmosphere outside in St.Martin’s Lane, with it’s Christmas lights, is more in keeping with the spirit of the season.)

18/11/22 Mike writes –

The Sex Party

by Terry Johnson, at the Menier Chocolate Factory

(I wrote this introduction before seeing the play – )

Every party has a Before and an After. We anticipate, we prepare, we dress up. And then post-party we gossip, we deconstruct and we clear up. It cannot be any different for The Sex Party. We did anticipate and invite friends to join us for the play but disappointingly the general response was in accord with one who told us it was probably not to her taste. Fair enough, but I also anticipated that in today’s censorious cultural climate, Terry Johnson could be a problem despite having won 9 British theatre awards over the years. 

This is a play to prepare for by remembering some of Johnson’s other plays which have impressed us – Insignificance, Hysteria (I was chosen for the Olivier Awards panel after writing about it); Dead Funny, Prism (some of you will remember our Group visit to Hampstead), and of course Cleo Camping Emanuel and Dick (at the National Theatre, God bless those days), a cheeky and well reviewed homage to the Carry On films. Many awards have been won for these plays. I assume The Sex Party will be cheeky too; it has a good cast, but will it jar with the prudery and humourless PC thinking of 2023, just as the Menier’s last play did (Habeas Corpus, unwisely promoted as “a filthy farce”). The critics mostly disliked that one but the Independent gave it a 5-star review, nearly 50 years after it was first a success; the Menier audiences were well short of House Full; but our Group loved it – that was an Alan Bennett play after all, he who wrote “Kafka’s Dick”! We have been Terry Johnson fans down the years so did not hesitate to book.

I can happily see no sign-of-the-times Trigger Warnings on the website for Terry Johnson’s The Sex Party though it does recommend an audience of 16+.  Will it make the New Puritans ‘uncomfortable’? I guess the title will deter those with a humour resistance, those woke warriors who polish their haloes as they sneer at what they label Right Wing thinking. Johnson has said in an interview that this is probably the last in his play cycle about the British and their attitude to Sex, and he expects trouble from those who dislike what he writes. 

Now put on your party attire and brace yourself for Party time – the critics mostly hated it, giving one and two-star reviews (but 4 from the Telegraph – they would say that, some would say). It is unfashionable in this woke age to talk lightly of sex and gender matters for fear of causing ‘offence’, but as an out-of-step-with-the-times dinosaur myself, I’m looking forward to it. Terry Johnson himself has suggested that some of his previous plays would not be acceptable today; CCE&Dick would need revision to pass scrutiny by today’s morality dictators, but he still has enthusiasm for what he likes to write. 

Our star rating: 3.5/5

Group appeal: I hesitate to guess.

(And now after attending The Party – )

The Party’s over, what can I say? Did it Carry On too far: was it dead funny; or insignificant? Putting its focus on matters of political correctness aside, did it entertain? The gossip in the press suggested no-one was amused but party poopers were  absent from our capacity Menier audience who gave it a great reception. It’s tone is somewhere between Abigail’s Party and No Sex Please, We’re British, but with an enthusiasm for plain speaking and a sting in it’s appendage. Our party goers on stage are reversing the Puritan trend with libidinous characters oblivious to the present day’s cold climate of controversies over Cancel Culture and Gender Dysphoria ; but our playwright is well aware of the social climate he’s stepping into.

John Boyne’s The Echo Chamber is the book he wrote in response to attacks made on him after he had bravely supported J K Rowling’s stand for Real Women. His book is a relaxed satire on everything woke, a book given pro and anti responses from each side of the divide – laughter and hate. Terry Johnson’s play finds itself in the same situation. It doesn’t deserves this. It plays around with its theme (desire, sexual embarrassment, ill-matched partnerships, sexual identity, intolerance) before turning serious.

Fredo reminded me of the play’s likeness in structure to The Boys in the Band , an often reviled sex classic, but this time the sex is straight instead of gay. Here an enthusiastic ensemble cast play a group of couples gathering for some intimate fun, hoping to spice up their sex lives, some keen to begin, some reticent and just wanting to watch.  The host and his current girlfriend have invited an obnoxious American businessman (you know the sort) with a mouthy Russian wife, also invited are an eager-to-please ex-girlfriend of the host with her apprehensive beefy husband, and other couples with similar appetites for sharing sexual favours (though they indignantly insist they are not Wife Swappers). There are wine bottles on the table in the smart John Lewis rustic kitchen ; a conservatory stage left provides a cooling off space while  the sounds of exertions seep in from the next room stage right. All are keen to appear cool but tension is in the air; the dialogue is ripe with frank innuendo, nervousness disguised by wisecracks, as everyone strives for elusive satisfaction. 

Then an unexpected guest arrives to disrupt the party. She’s single, tall and glamorous; she’s calm, reserved, apprehensive; she’s smart, aware of the curiosity of others but with answers to every question –  ones we may want to ask for ourselves. (“Do you identify as a They/Them?” “I identify with the shortest queue!”) She’s transgender and played slinkily by the transgender actor Pooya  Mogseni. She’s no RuPaul, there’s not a hint of drag, and the differences she’s happy to explain. She’s enough to befuddle everyone’s basic vanilla desires. I have never had the transgender situation presented to me so clearly and persuasively.

This is where the play confounds expectations. The deconstruction of the hoped-for hands-on encounters is savage. Those looking to explore their sexual fantasies are grounded by real feelings and emotions. There’s anger, pain and unexpected results. The end is calm, sad, and satisfying too, just glowing embers after what might have been a sexual conflagration.  No more wisecracks, the party’s over.

But it’s not YET the play we hoped for from Terry Johnson. It’s one of two written during lockdown and he says he likes to revise after early audience reactions, revise and rebalance the jokes.  He even rewrote the whole second act of Dead Funny after the first preview.  A humorous surface always covers more profound thinking. Let’s call it a work in progress. At present it’s two halves are mismatched. If it was No Sex Please, We’re British, back in its day, it would tour the Provinces being edited and tweaked along the way, the weaker elements strengthened. At the Menier, a very small theatre, it can be scrutinised and adjusted for any future outings. It needs it and deserves it. 

The play’s subject is timely but it’s tone currently fails to ensnare the very audience that should enjoy it if the carping reviews by those thinking it’s smart to sneer are a guide. I hope this production is a success for the Menier despite the critics. We enjoyed it and were pleased to make up our own minds.

I would like to quote an interview with Terry Johnson in the programme – ‘He said he would (make adjustments) after the first preview as “You don’t want anything going off at half….” He stops short of completing the well known expression for semi success. “You have to be so careful what you say these days”. Yes, most regrettably you do. The times, they are not achanging for the better.

You can read about Pooya  Mogseni at this LINK

17/11/22 Jennifer writes –

A Single Man

by Christophr Isherwood, Adapted by Simon Reade, at the Park Theatre

Christopher Isherwood wrote A Single Man in 1964 and it is considered by some to be his favourite novel. It takes us through a day in the life of George, an ex-pat Brit living in LA in the early Sixties teaching a literature course at a Californian university (so far so autobiographical as Isherwood also taught in LA). George is mourning the loss of his lover, Jim, who has died in a car crash. Given the times in which George is living, he’s unable to express openly his grief and sense of dislocation at the loss of his partner to his neighbours or to his partner’s family. 

In 2009, Tom Ford, the fashion designer, directed a well received adaptation of the novel with an Oscar nominated Colin Firth in the lead role. The Park Theatre acknowledges the novel and the film in its publicity material and Theo Fraser Steele, who plays George, looks and sounds very much like Firth (and Isherwood according to friends who heard him interviewed before he died in 1986). The challenge in adapting the novel for the stage or screen is that it’s set inside George’s head and the reader is carried along by his narrative, by turns waspish, amusing and desperately sad as he goes about his quotidian routine. 

On stage at the Park, without the luxury of a cinematic voiceover, the production sometimes struggles to convey those thoughts to us successfully. The first act sometimes feels wordy and cumbersome although, thanks to the strength of Fraser Steele’s characterisation, we always want to know what happens next to George.

After the interval, things improve. In two extended scenes, one with George’s fellow ex-pat friend Charley, an engaging Olivia Darnley, we see one alternative future opening up for George now that he is once again A Single Man and, with a friend, relaxed and open. The scene is perhaps too long as two old friends get drunk together but who hasn’t been bored by other people getting drunk at some point? Isherwood gets that right! 

Later, George meets one of his students, Kenny, an assured Miles Molan in his theatrical debut, in a local bar. As was hinted in the first act, Kenny is interested in George and perhaps attracted to him? After leaving the bar, the two men swim in the ocean and return to George’s house. Social conventions of the time and George’s own reticence prevent him from speaking openly to Kenny about “who I am” and what they might share together. Kenny leaves and George’s day comes to an end. Notwithstanding the story’s bittersweet ending, we are left with a sense of George’s acceptance of who he is, what is the past and what is the future and how his life could be.

My star rating; 3/5 for the production but 4/5 for Theo who never leaves the stage

Group appeal: 3/5

10/11/22 Mike writes –

Tammy Faye: a new musical

Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Jake Shears, Book by James Graham, at the Almeida Theatre

And it came to pass, Praise The Lord, the Almeida has another hit  –  not just with its clique Islington subscribers and its wider catchment of thinking theatregoers but, let’s hope, even Elton John’s stadium regulars. He has joined with Jake Shears (Lyrics) of the Scissors Sisters, James Graham (Book) of Quiz, Best of Enemies, This House, and Rupert Goold (Director) the Almeida’s own Artistic Director, to bring to the musical stage the televangelist Tammy Faye. She’s better known over the pond than here, but maybe her fame will spread. Jessica Chastain played her on film only last year, and won an Oscar for her performance.

The real Tammy died of cancer in 2007, as the show reminds us right at the start when she joshes with the surgeon bringing her the bad news. She was one for always looking on the bright side, and in her role of spreading the Word of the Lord she showed all her followers a bright side to aim for.

And to pay for, with donations to help her PTL fund (Praise The Lord again). That was for the small-time religious tv channel she established with her husband Jim Bakker, and with the assistance of hand-puppets, catch-phrases, devoted subscribers and plenty of understanding smiles. This was God, pitched tele-sales style.

Religion + Money = Corruption. That was their downfall. The word of the Lord, as preached by Tammy and Jim, brought in dazzling amounts of dubious dollars which turned PTL into a big business, subsequently sank him but miraculously kept her buoyant until the Grim Reaper came to call.

You can see why this brash, camp and mega popular tele-selling of God was waiting for someone (it had to be Elton and friends) to turn it into a  brash, camp and…er…hopefully popular musical. Have they succeeded?

By the Interval I was not sure. I had been expecting (and hoped for) an attack on the pseudo-religious mega-business machinations of the Religious Right in the USA, the influencers that brought Trump to power and have been trying to destroy the ….dare I say….decent side of the US we used to know. But Tammy Faye The Musical is more about her, the well meaning woman beloved of so many who did bring comfort and joy to her fans with a colourful and exuberant panache.

Act Two sees the downfall of the PTL empire, and not only for financial reasons – she supports AIDS victims and Jim swings both ways, neither endorsed by the religious Right, of course. But Tammy is a resilient woman and fights back.  Never for a moment was I not in thrall to her, and entertained by her neon-brite PTL world. This is satire, pitched Las Vegas style.

Let us praise the show’s makers for picking up the subject and presenting us with such a head-storming show. The presentation dazzles, the saga (and it is one) never sags. But it’s not perfect yet. At present, men in suits are indistinguishable, the simple staging and tv-style dancing for the Almeida does not always work to the show’s best advantage, and Jim Bakker (the show’s other star played by Andrew Rannells) needs to be written-up more. Fredo thought  that the first act needed a rewrite, to explain Tammy’s motives and aspirations better, and to develop her relationship with Jim. But it still speeds us through its chapters and verses. The show is new, and it will be tweaked before it moves on; I imagine notes are being written after every performance. 

Finally, I must PTL again for the casting of Katie Brayben who, with every nerve in her body and with every decibel she sings, is Tammy Faye. We remember her starring in the Carole King musical Beautiful, beautifully, at the Aldwych Theatre a few years ago where Tina is currently wowing audiences. Carole, Tina and Tammy are all major female stars, icons needing major musical performers to portray them. Katie Brayben is one of those actors whose name you may not know or remember. You will remember the parts she plays, the roles she morphs into, the voice she turns completely into another’s. Just watch and hear her sing the anthem If You Came To See Me Cry she, if not God, raises the roof and our cheers. Surely an Olivier award nomination awaits her.

Katie Brayben and Andrew Rannells themselves and as Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye on their PTL show.

Will you like the numbers? He’s Inside Me, Satellite of God, Look How Far We’ve Fallen and more – no let-up in the full-on assault of music, movement, humour and emotion – you can just see Elton bashing them out on the piano to arena applause. The Almeida continually erupted and we joined them. There’s an infectious likeability about the whole show. 

And will there be an award for Best New Musical? Sorry Elton & Co, that is still reserved for The Band’s Visit, playing from a different hymn sheet altogether.

Our star rating: 4/5
Group appeal: 4/5 for Elton fans.

09/11/22 Fredo writes –

John Gabriel Borkman

by Henrik Ibsen, at the Bridge Theatre

My star rating: 3/5

Group Appeal: 3/5

There’s no need to parody John Gabriel Borkman; Ibsen does that himself. “I’m your sister Ella,” announces Lia Williams to a disgruntled Clare Higgins. “I haven’t seen you for 8 years since your husband went to prison for embezzlement.” That’s the plot, in the opening lines of the play.

As in Greek tragedy, the important events have happened before the action begins. And like classic French tragedy, the happiness of one character creates a catastrophe for someone else.

But then it’s a play of character, not action. Simon Russell Beale, as the disgraced JG, cradles himself like a wounded animal and howls with pain when confronted by his fall from grace. Clare Higgins wallows in self-pity and recriminations, while Lia Williams as the terminally ill Ella tries to console with forgiveness and reconciliation.

It’s this study of Borkman’s Nietzchean self-belief that has attracted great casts over the years – I’ve seen Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft and Wendy Hiller at the Old Vic, Paul Scofield, Vanessa Redgrave and Eileen Atkins at the National, and Ian McDermid, Penelope Wilton and Deborah Findley at the Donmar. It can be a clash of titans, as the women battle for the future of happiness of Borkman’s son Erhart while JG struggles with the mythology he has created in his own life.

How does it fare at the Bridge? For me, it worked in fits and starts, and always better when the actors were left to their own devices. When they are burdened with Nicholas Hytner’s  directorial flourishes and Lucinda Coxon’s translation, the plodding contemporary rethinking gets in the way. There is no sense of the Borkman’s having once lived in grandeur in their squalid living room (they still maintain a grand piano upstairs), and the arrival of an outsider Fanny Wilton (now black, pushy and over accessorized) is implausibly presented.

It’s a shame. The actors are at full throttle and in a more traditional production could have been earth-shattering. Lia Williams was still struggling with a badly injured leg (she damaged herself on stage in New York earlier this year) and at one point loosened her support and massaged her lower leg while carrying on with her speech; was this rehearsed, or was the actress in real pain? In any case, it was a heroic performance (and less relentlessly radiant in the role than Vanessa Redgrave had been).

Welcome light relief came from Michael Simkins as Borkman’s loyal and abused friend, while Sebastian DeSouza  gave Erhart a youthful intensity.

There was an unwelcome interruption two minutes before the performance drew to an end. As Simon Russell Beale and Lia Williams ascended to the final moments of grandeur in Ibsen’s play, the theatre staff started a forewarned fire drill prematurely, and we had to leave the theatre just as the actors, clipped of their final lines, were forced to leave the stage. It’s a tribute to the actors that their work wasn’t totally dissipated by this event. They survive, and so does Ibsen’s play.

07/11/22 Mike writes –


by C.P.Taylor, at the Harold Pinter Theatre

My star rating: 3/5

Group appeal: 3/5

John Halder is an ordinary man living in prewar Germany; he is a professor; he has a family; he has a lover; he leads a calm life; he is good. But the influences on his life are changing; mother has dementia; the family is unsettled; his Jewish best friend Maurice is troubled. National Socialism is on the rise.

The play explores Halder’s change of views as he imperceptibly drifts into involvement with Nazism. The writing is subtle but snaps from one short scene to another, exploring the politics of the time, and prodding our conscience towards a chilling and inevitables conclusion.

Tennant is Good, using his natural warmth and likability to persuade us to accompany him down his path of No Redemption. All the subsidiary roles are played by Sharon Small and Elliot Levey: she especially adept at changing voice and accent as necessary, in a blink, as the lighting changes and we abruptly enter another scene with another character. 

Years ago Michael Grandage presented this play at the Donmar with Charles Dance in the lead. Now it is revived (perhaps revised) with David Tennant and I feel something has changed. Is the writer or the director (Dominic Cooke) in charge here? There is too much haste, and yet many scenes remain static, slow to involve us. It’s more a wordy thesis than a living play. The small plain triangular box set with multi-purpose sliding windows does not help, a visual gimmick which adds little to what is a conversation piece, a radio play.  However, the ending comes with a visual theatrical coup. It shocks, as it should, but for me this is no Bent (and if you don’t know that play by Martin Sherman, it’s the other major Holocaust play). Good’s good but not as good as it could be.

Note: As we left the theatre, dozens of Tennant fans were queuing at the Stage Door and I wondered what they made of this Tennant vehicle so far removed from usual fan fodder. Of course he’s a major star actor deserving of admiration, and one of few who have made such an impression across a wide range of drama, comedy and fantasy. As with Kit Harrington, cast on stage in Dr Faustus and Henry V, it’s Tennant’s name which sells the tickets to a tv audience. We must be grateful that another worthy play is filling exorbitantly priced West End seats, even if many of the audience may not have been expecting what they saw. We paid £35 for the cramped front row of the third tier Gallery. You could pay £145 for a Stalls seat, except the whole run is just about Sold Out. 

26/10/22 Fredo writes –

The Crucible

by Arthur Miller, at the National: Lyttelton Theatre.

Photos: Johan Persson

What’s it about? Miller used the story of the outbreak of hysteria in Salem in 1692 that resulted in many innocent people being tried for witchcraft. He focuses on John and Elizabeth Procter, and their former servant, Abigail Williams, with whom John had had an affair. The play written in 1953 incorporates many historical figures, but Miller used it as a vehicle to attack the activities of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in the 1950s.

What did it have going for it? By any criteria, this is one of the key plays of the 20th century, and a revival by the National Theatre using the resources of the Olivier stage promised a major theatrical event. Director Lyndsey Turner has done great work at the Donmar with the work of Brian Friel (notably Faith Healer). Expectations were high.

Did we enjoy it? Yes, but less than we had hoped to. The story is told very clearly, with a preface and afterward (not part of the play) that sets it in its historical context. It’s very neat and precise, and that somehow drains an essential energy from the drama. More than any other play, The Crucible needs a sense of mounting uncontrollable frenzy, of relentless external forces crushing blameless members of society, and a foreboding that at any moment the hysteria may spill off the stage and overwhelm the audience. It was all too tidy and contained. 

Visually it was striking, set on a rectangular platform with centrally lit characters being swallowed in enveloping darkness. Wooden chairs and tables were the only props. Curtains of cascading rain separated scenes. But it looked as if it would fit better on the Lyttelton stage. 

A lightweight Brendan Cowell brought an earthiness to the role of John Proctor but lacked charisma, and he never felt like the tragic hero of the piece. Eileen Walsh wasmore convincing as his wife Elizabeth. It seemed to me that Erin Doherty and Rachelle Diedericks were directed to play their parts too childishly as the accusing young women, and the destructive force of Abigail Williams came over as nothing more than ill-mannered petulance. For me, the acting honours go to Fisayo Akinade  as Reverend John Hale and to the ever-reliable Karl Johnson as an older villager caught in the tragedy. Matthew Marsh brought a chilling gravitas to Deputy Governor Danforth. It was a strong cast, and yet the effectiveness of the play was muted. 

Nevertheless, the play towers over its contemporaries. It’s powerfully written and hard-hitting – and, sadly, always timely (especially in today’s new Puritan Era – adds Mike).

Our star rating: 3/5 although our companions were more enthusiastic.

Group appeal: Our group enjoyed the play at the Old Vic about 7 years ago, in a stronger production. 

22/10/22 Mike writes –

Something in the Air

by Peter Gill, at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Two old men sitting in their red leatherette armchairs in a care home, hold hands and reminisce. They remember times and places from the 1960s, the social pressures and pleasures on the queer London scene. And they remember particular young men, emotions, disappointments, loves both lost or lasting that have lingered through the years. Alex married and had two sons while Colin stayed single; there are visitors, Alex’s irritated son and Colin’s helpful niece; and there are two young men discovering their passions who are mirroring the past, all enveloped in a mist of oncoming dementia.

Peter Gill has created a memory jigsaw of love and pain in old age where the pieces only gradually fall into place. The play lasts just an hour but the detail is vivid and affecting; elusive too as we can never be certain of the connections which bring these characters together. At first we think the old men are lovers from the past, then we find they are really just attached to each other in mutual loneliness. 

It’s one of those plays which needs full attention and then the pay-off comes much later when we realise how closely we have been drawn into these lives, how universal are the heartaches of love, how much we care, and how easily their situation could affect any of us. It’s a view from the future back to the past, infused with sadness and regret, earning our moist eyes.

Bravo to the cast for creating such an honest look at old age. Ian Gelder (Colin) and Christopher Godwin (Alex) break our hearts with such delicate and sympathetic performances that I wanted to hold their hands too.

Our star rating: 4/5

Group appeal: This tiny theatre could not accomodate our Group but individuals who choose to book would be impressed.

15/10/22 Mike writes –


by Georgina Burns, at Hampstead Theatre downstairs

The title is unhelpful, unless it suggests the ominous situation in which a patient finds himself when referred to a NHS therapy clinic. (There are ravens outside the window in the ad.) Let’s call it ‘One Man, Three Therapists’.

Daniel is depressed, angry, has no job and lives with his mother. Denise supervises two psychotherapists – the older Arthur has had enough of Daniel, has run out of ideas for him, so for a fresh approach Daniel is referred to the newcomer Lydia, keen and caring, but who has a history not quite dissimilar to the case in hand.

Following on from a couple of very well received tv drama series about therapists and their patients, this play comes from the experience of an ex-therapist herself (Georgina Burns) with 10 years of work in the NHS behind her. She knows her subject and portrays the situation with understanding, compassion, and enough detail to keep us gripped and concerned about the outcome.

We get to know Daniel well, a detailed and affecting performance from Jon Foster, and Lydia, as played by Lizzy Watts, has the right frailty and perseverance for us never to anticipate what may be the outcome. Daniel has his six sessions permitted by NHS restrictions and then….the resolution is honest, troubling and worth conversations.

Simply staged and only 90 minutes, this is not great drama but a compact and compelling look inside one department of the NHS today, not an attack nor a satire but a calm observation of believable people in a difficult situation. We liked it.

Our star rating? 4/5

Group appeal: minor, but with unreserved seating a group booking would not be appropriate.

12/10/22 John R writes –

Blues for an Alabama Sky

by Pearl Cleage, at the National: Lyttelton Theatre

What did it have going for it?An intriguing title and the themes sounded interesting.  It’s author is Pearl Cleage, who wrote it in 1995, but it’s set in Harlem in 1930. She is almost unknown in the UK but has a huge CV in the States.  

What’s it About? A group of characters in a tenement building wonderfully realised in the designs of Frankie Bradshaw; the initial revelation of the set put me in mind of the opera Street Scene or perhaps Cannery Row in Porgy.  The main character (though none of the roles are exactly small) is a showgirl called Angel (a mesmerising Samira Wiley) who has just been fired from her job as a chorus girl for calling out her lover (on stage) for his unfaithfulness.  Her life is a balance between haphazard, alcohol-fuelled, joi-de-vivre and desperation over money and employment prospects. 

She shares her apartment with a lively and hilarious gay man called Guy (wonderful Giles Terera), a dress designer whose dreams of success are that his frocks will be taken up by Josephine Baker, for her Paris cabaret performances.  Across the hallway is an endearing though slightly frumpy Delia, who is being courted by a doctor Sam (endearing Sule Rimi) who is also exhausted by his long hours at a surgery performing illegal abortions for desperate women.  A crucial catalyst for the action is a Gentleman Caller (yes) who seems to offer Angel a more secure future “He gives me checks that don’t bounce”. 

The play does indeed sometimes recall Tennessee Williams but is wonderfully its own thing.  The final image of Angel at her open window talking to a strange man, was very Edward Hopper.   Lynette Linton’s direction is as superb as was her Sweat at the Donmar a few years ago.  Several other interesting things are shown, not least the fact that Guy is open about his homosexuality and casually referers to it as a modern gay man might in 2022 – though he suffers abuse when out partying on the town.  Jazz music and singing regularly colour-in the background, and the Black Experience conveyed in all its complexity.

Did we enjoy it? Can’t you tell?

Our star rating: 5/5

Group Appeal: 4/5
Not feasible to do an outing.  However it is still playing in rep until November 5th and Senior priced tickets are still available at some matinees.  When I raved about the August Wilson play Jitney a while back it was nearly at the end of it’s London run,  but our friend Margaret caught it in Bath and was similarly engrossed.  Do not miss this one.

20/09/22 Mike writes –

Love All

by Dorothy L. Sayers, at the Jermyn Street Theatre

What did it have going for it? It’s one of the few plays written by the crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers, but its plot could be mistaken for a Noel Coward, very much typical of 1940s light drama but with no crime involved here. I was kindly offered the ticket by Kathie who was unable to attend.

What’s it about? Godfrey has escaped London to hide in Venice with his actress lover Lydia while he writes another novel and gets divorced. The liaison is not going well so both plan to return to London, unbeknown to each other, he to accost his wife and she to seek out a popular playwright for a part in their new play. The playwright, using another name, turns out to be Godfrey’s wife. Plot points set – await misunderstandings and fireworks.

Did we enjoy it? I enjoyed it as a collectible. Predictable as it is, and overloaded with exposition, it has a charm and runs apace through Acts One and Two. The Act Three denouement can be seen almost from the start, but then (surprise surprise) there’s a twist. It should work better than it does and here’s where Coward would have oiled the cogs with sharper wit and more laughs . 

The cast gallantly enter into the spirit of the time and have the right class and clothes and clipped accents to make us wince when Godfrey’s view of women clashes with a surprising streak of feminine determination. This may be why the play’s revival after 80 years seems  both timely in theme and yet old fashioned in presentation. 

Plaudits must go to the designer who creates an apartment overlooking the Grand Canal that is turned into a plush London office during the interval. Jermyn Street Theatre has big ideas yet squeezes them onto the minutest stage in London. Despite the title, there’s no-one for tennis.

My star rating: 3/5

Group appeal: 3/5

12/09/22 Mike writes –


Adapted from Kavita Puri’s “Partition Voices: Untold British Stories”.
By Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood,
at the Donmar Warehouse

Photos: Manuel Harlan

What’s it about? The partition of India in 1947. A decision was made that after 200 years of British rule, India would gain independence and be partitioned into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Simply put, a dangerous line cut the country in two; both sides wanted independence from British rule but this left a minority among a majority on each side of the partition and major bloodshed resulted.
The play has been adapted by four authors from a book, and they make the book’s author a character in the play as she interviews those who have memories of their experiences back then, as well as those of subsequent generations whose history this is. 

What did it have going for it? The subject as above (on its 75th annivarsary), but here with personal accounts of what happened – as a quote says, “It was a great tragedy.  We were friends one day and enemies the next.  I will take these things to my grave.” My expectations were high for drama, explanation, tragedy, and tears. We had heard it made Donmar staff members shed a tear, and the cast (with historical family involvement) were moist eyed when they first read the script.
The Donmar website warns – Silence contains scenes that some people may find difficult to watch.  People may find this content triggering and distressing.
Hankies at the ready…

Did we enjoy it? I must confess that the four of us attending the performance were split. Two were enthusiastic and found it interesting; two less so. But I must speak for myself – it failed to grip me. But why?

The authors say this is not a verbatim script and yet the memories are presented as straight story-telling conversations. The overall lack of planning for the partition, its bad application and horrific consequences are described but with little attempt to involve the audience dramatically. We may as well have been reading the interviews in the  book. I wanted more background, more context, more involvement, and less reliance on whatever knowledge and interest we each bring to the theatre. There were tragedies to listen to but no time for characterisation; we could see the acting but I could not feel the emotion. 

Were ’too many cooks’ involved in the adaptation? Someone needed to take better control. Perhaps too many tears were shed during the adaptation and in the rehearsal room, obscuring the need to reach out to the audience, and instead assuming we already knew the politics and just wanted our worries confirmed. So many have been silent over the years about what actually happened at that time, and certainly personal stories need to be told. But with an unevenly talented cast, bland presentation, and too many transitions from interviews to book-form to the theatre, the result was not appropriate for its stage presentation. Those testemonies are still waiting to make an impact.

My star rating: 2/5, which recognises a worthwhile attempt. 

Group appeal: 3/5 generally, but more if this subject is part of your family’s history. This became evident in the Q&A with the cast that followed the performance.

A report on the Q&A can be found at this LINK and a further opinion below.

Margaret’s comments on “Silence”

I enjoyed this performance because the individual stories were vividly brought to life and it was shocking to hear how self-destructive people became under the instability and fear generated by the sudden partition of India. As a piece of drama, “Silence” was less successful as it came across as a series of cameos rather than a unified piece with a coherent sense of direction.  The narrator character played by NimmiHarasgama was under-developed so the connection between the different cameos was weak.  Having said that, each story was compelling in its sadness and it was shocking to hear how brutally many people behaved and how the veil of silence about this period of post-colonialism has remained in placefor over seventy years.

The holding to moral account for the killings and suffering was ambiguous: were the British being held responsible for the policy of partition and then its chaotic implementation? Was the play more concerned with simply raising awareness of the history? Was its central focus the way humans can behave when under extreme stress? I don’t know the answer which could mean that the writers were even-handed or could be the lack of momentum in driving forward the audience’s emotional engagement.  Certainly in the post-performance Q&A, several audience members expressed strong emotional identity with the characters and the cast were clearly entranced by the power of the material so maybe it was my lack of background knowledge that left me uncertain.

“Silence” was definitely a play worth seeing that will stay with me.  I learned a lot about partition and was very moved by individual stories. The performances were a bit variable in quality but overall I was fully absorbed and left with a greater insight, especially from the actors’ answers in the Q&A.

My star rating: 3/5

01/09/22 Mike writes –

Into The Woods

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine, Directed by Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman, at the Theatre Royal Bath

“Into the woods” is where so many fairy tales lead, “then out of the woods and home before dark”. But not so quick! “Who knows what may be lurking on the journey?”  Sondheim’s lyric poses the question and there are many answers, many characters, some we already know – Cinderella wishing to go to the Prince’s festival;  Red Riding Hood taking a basket of bread to her grandmother, Rapunzel locked in a tower combing her hair, two Princes looking for love, plus a wolf and a witch, all with tales to tell. There’s also a Baker and his Wife wanting a child but with a curse and a list and a quest to fulfil.  Nothing comes easy in fairy tales, especially with Sondheim doing the telling. These are dangerous woods, there are giants in the sky, and princes brought up to be charming, not sincere. Oh dear, will there be a Happily Ever After? 

In a special abbreviated version for schools there is a Happily Ever After ending, but that show is short and is only the first Act of this grown up Two Act version. These fairy tales are To Be Continued after the Interval when the uncertainties and disappointments of real life intrude. There are lessons to be learned, deaths to be accepted and compromises made before we leave the woods, wiser, more thoughtful, and all the happier for it.

It’s that second act which sometimes causes problems for new audiences. Is it an anticlimax or too much to take in? We Sondheimites (surely a better word than Sondheimies, which one critic sneered) we have already learned from Sondheim’s lessons. Pay attention at the back there, listen, expect the unexpected, and there will be rewards. Omit Act Two and you miss a giant seeking revenge, a witch’s climatic demise on the last midnight, a royal marriage falling apart, songs to bring tears among laughter, and you would miss the most practical of endings to send you home before dark, truly satisfied.

Directors Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman recognise the pitfalls along Sondheim’s way. They and their chief designer Jon Bausor (with Illusion and Video designers too) make sure everyone takes notice by providing visual delights to amuse, to illustrate the story and carry it along. We all remember those fairytale picture books from our childhood so here we have stylish pop-up illustrations, all presented in a cut-out life-size toy theatre setting.

There are gnarled trees, woodland animals and fluttering birds which all fairytales should have, but also a huge postmodern vase and a can of beans (a nod to Monty Python or Warhol?), and we have that giant too, far too big for the stage (what we can see of her!). There’s a Mysterious Man (Julian Bleach) who tells the story, dressed in top hat, black cape, and sometimes ominously carrying a scythe. And star of the show may be Milky White, the cutest cow in all panto (with a diminutive Faith Prendergast inside).

But there’s nothing picture-book or two dimensional about the assortment of characters – they argue, proclaim, demand and advise, they fall in and out of love, and some die (because we all do that). Beware what you wish for; spells are cast too; and curses redeemed in true storybook fashion.

Into The Woods is a great ensemble show, created with wit, humour, and character-parts for all, with chances to shine. Nicola Hughes makes a demanding witch, Lauren Conroy is a feisty Red Riding Hood; Rhashan Stone as the Baker brings appealing urgency to his protracted dilemmas. I liked Alex Young as the Baker’s Wife pulling on her knickers after an illicit tryst; and the pompous princes (Henry Jenkinson and Nathaniel Campbell) suffer amusing agony over the frustrations of love.

Even with an overlong first act and Sondheim’s rhythms and rhymes not always as clear as they should be, we were still carried along by the pace and exuberance of it all.  The experience may vary in different parts of the theatre but from our seats in the third row, we thought an orchestra and sound system in a different theatre may assist the performers better – a little too hasty and a little too loud here.

The characters’ various well known plot lines are deconstructed and reassembled – one character protests “I’m in the wrong story!” – with apocalyptic consequences.  It’s serious fun, dark but humorous, tragic but playful. It’s a toy-box of familiar treasures transformed into lessons on Life. But the point, from childhood onwards, as the song says,  is “Children Will Listen”, and learn. As should we all. 

This production has had a tortured history before arriving in Bath (see below) but it coasts along on audience goodwill and a West End transfer is certainly deserved. It’s a moral education, bittersweet and fantastical, a classic milestone in the history of musical theatre.

Our Star Rating: 4/5. Group Appeal: 4/5 I hope, if someone brings it to town.

Photos by Marc Brenner

Into The Woods (a prequel)

Terry Gilliam (Photo: Rii Schroer)

If any of you are now hoping the Bath show will come to London so we can take our Group to see it, I must remind you that originally it was scheduled to appear at the Old Vic earlier this year. After many thousands of pounds worth of bookings had been taken, the production was suddenly and mysteriously cancelled, in the very worst tradition of Cancel Culture. The term is normally used for the cancellation of speakers at unis, where students say they need Safe Spaces to develop their views and avoid challenges, where their academics cosset them from alternative viewpoints in the outside world, and where appeasement rules the day. This Old Vic response is just the sort of over-zealous thinking which puts protective restrictions above any challenging thoughts and freedoms, which slaps Trigger Warnings on art and culture and would find fairy tales too dangerous without pre-emptive alerts. 

It seems appeasement rules at the Old Vice too. They turned it into a Safe Space for snowflakes. The theatre has continually refused to comment on the situation but accounts , from inside the theatre world and recently from Gilliam himself, suggest that 12 younger members of staff (known as the Old Vic 12 – the theatre’s development group for emerging artists) disagreed with comments Terry Gilliam aged 81 had previously made about #MeToo and transgender issues. He had also recommended a Netflix show by the controversial black American comedian, Dave Chappelle, and made an un-PC joke. The young staff were not amused by his opinions. Gilliam was blacklisted.

These c-word* personnel refused to work with Gilliam, they acted as thought police and caused the show to be not just postponed, but wiped from the Old Vic schedule, . These young people began the shameful procedure which resulted in the show’s demise – reports suggest they were not long-term staff but mainly a new intake, probably with theatre diplomas on their CVs, wanting to flex their newly discovered political muscle. They shouted and stamped their little feet (well, perhaps not literally, but you get the picture) until the powers that be at the Old Vic picked the toys from the floor, relented, and cancelled the show. Bad parenting!

I deplore the misjudged staff uprising and deplore the reprehensible decision to cancel the show. The theatre suffered as a result with very poor attendances at some subsequent productions. Into The Woods could have been a big hit for the theatre at a difficult time, and we should remember that the Old Vic is a charity like the National Theatre and Donmar, relying on income from bums on seats in addition to subscriptions and subsidies. They need our money and could have done with a box office boost. Where was Matthew Warchus, the Old Vic’s Artistic Director, when we needed him to step in and sack the dissenters? The admin staff should not have such influence over artistic decisions nor be permitted to think ahead on behalf of audiences; the show and its makers must be allowed their voices. 

Happily, Bath’s Theatre Royal stepped in and offered to stage the Gilliam production. It has now been generally well received by critics with The Arts Desk giving it a 5-star review (see LINK) as did Libby Purves calling it “an event to remember for life” (see Link). Most have given the Old Vic a gentle rap on the knuckles for its bad behaviour. I feel more passionately about their decision (as you can probably tell) and feel a severe whack across their staff protection policy is needed. The play’s the thing, always.

I understand the alleged wicked witch**, spokesperson in this behind-the-scenes panto scenario, has now moved on to another theatre to ensure they follow current trends in Politically Correct issues, so we must fight on. I have twice written to the Old Vic and received no reply. Will other West End producers show solidarity with the Old Vic by keeping the show out of London, or will a brave producer do what’s right? We are not out of the woods yet. 


** Fredo won’t allow me to name names!

I would be pleased to learn all your opinions too.

YOU MAY LIKE TO READ THIS LINK from WhatsOnStage – Why Milky White is the Best Character in Into The Woods

Photo: Jeff Moore (Sunday Times)

27/08/22 Fredo writes –

Jack Absolute Flies Again

by Richard Bean & Oliver Chris, at the Olivier Theatre

Photos by Brinkhoff Moegenburg

What did it have going for it? It’s from the same writer who had a huge success with One Man, Two Guv’nors, generally agreed to be one of the funniest plays ever. This time Richard Bean has joined forces with an actor from that play, Oliver Chris, to give a new setting to The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, generally regarded as one of the funniest plays of 1775.

Why, then, did I detect a certain reluctance in myself to book tickets? The idea of updating the action to World War ll didn’t strike me as particularly clever, and I’m not a member of the Caroline Quentin fan-club. And (whisper it) I didn’t fall out of my seat laughing at One Man, Two Guv’nors either.

Still, Mike and I have to maintain a reputation for being au fait with what’s happening in the theatre – see what sacrifices we make for you!

What’s it about? Oh, please don’t ask me to summarise the plot. It’s a farce, and it’s fast, frenetic and indeed very, very funny. We’re at an airbase near the stately home belonging to Mrs Malaprop. There’s romance, misunderstandings, rivalry, letters delivered to the wrong people, complications and much laughter. There’s even a big dance number, no doubt suggested by having two former Strictly contestants (Caroline Quentin and Kelvin Fletcher) in the cast.

Did we enjoy it? Even I succumbed. It really is very funny, and very cleverly staged by director Emily Burns. She is blessed with a cast of expert comedians, led by Caroline Quentin (actually very good) and Peter Forbes. It’s possibly the best comic ensemble that I’ve seen in the last 40 years; everyone pulls their weight, and earns their laughs. The script is witty, and even the updated wordplay for Mrs Malaprop is inventive, rude, and at times hilarious. It was fascinating how it straddled seaside postcard humour and political correctness.

Mike thought the change of tone at the end of the play wasn’t quite successful, but I didn’t agree. Anyway, it’s WW2 after all, and I was busy brushing away a tear.

Group appeal: No big names to sell tickets, but it’s a comedy, and there’s an audience for that.

Would the group have enjoyed it? By and large, yes. I feel that I know who would have had a rollicking good time, and who might have  pursed their lips over some near-the-knuckle innuendos. Much as we enjoyed it, it may have been too broad for certain tastes.

Our rating: 4 stars

18/08/22 Fredo writes –

The Trials

by Dawn King, at the Donmar Warehouse

What’s it about? A jury of young people (ages range from 12 to 18) consider their verdicts on three adults (or ‘dinos’, as in ‘dinosaurs’) who have been tried for their contribution to climate change. Have you had a car? Have you ever been a smoker? Have you taken holidays abroad? Have you worked for the oil industry? Worst of all, have you had children? That’s it: you’re on your way to be euthanized.

Did we enjoy it? Full disclosure: we probably wouldn’t have booked a ticket, but this was part of the Donmar’s Director’s Forum events. It was only on for two weeks, and we were told that the cast had taken part in workshops and that some of the 12 young people were making their stage debuts at the Donmar. We had to make some (but not many) allowances for their lack of experience.

The three adult Defendants were played by Nigel Lindsay, Lucy Cohu and Sharon Small, all reliable actors – and they didn’t disappoint.

The first jury scene was awkwardly staged by director Natalie Abrami, but as the action developed and the characters became more defined, this problem faded. We became engrossed in the arguments between the hardline extremists who wanted to euthanize all the dinos, and the minority who argued for a more balanced approach. It’s Twelve Angry YoungWo/Men meets The Handmaid’s Tale.

But Did we enjoy it?  Yes, we were impressed. There were some magical scenes, such as when one of the jurors complains of being hot, and opens a window, and ‘pollution’ billows onto the Donmar auditorium, or when the youngest juror tries to imagine snow, and she can only think of it as bubbles which float down to the stage. Playwright Dawn King is perhaps more even-handed than she might appear at first glance. Yes, she presses the charges relentlessly, but the audience has to make up its mind about the arguments and tactics of the jury. Are we responsible for a lifestyle which has brought about climate change? Guilty as charged! It may sound fancifully academic but the evidence is convincing and a personal twist makes any verdict challemging.

Our star rating: 3.5/5

Group appeal:  I can see it interesting the more thoughtful members of our group (and that’s all of you, of course) but Mike and I were aware that it antagonised certain members of the audience. It would have been a hard sell, but I suggested to one of our friends at the Donmar that it ought to be recorded and streamed as a learning resource for schools, if not for wider circulation.

The cast on Trials: A post-performance Q&A

In the discussion that followed the performance, Silvia Melchior, Director of Development at the Donmar, introduced Dawn King, Lucy Cohu and Sharon Small.  They were joined by six of the young “jurors” including Joe Locke and William Gao from Netflix’s Heartstoppers.

Dawn recounted that she had been booking a flight to New York to attend a writers’ conference instead of taking part in a climate protest, and she commented to a friend that she wondered how future generations would judge us. This suddenly gave her the idea for a play. When she wrote it, it was taken up by a German theatre who performed it in German earlier this year.

Phil McCormack, the Donmar’s Director of Particaption, described how the theatre had set up workshops to develop the production and find the cast. He told his counterpart at another prestigious London theatre what he was working on, and got the reply, “We wanted to do that, but we didn’t have the nerve!”

Honor Kneafsey, Elise Alexandre, Francis Dourado and Rue Millwood (all young jurors) agreed that the rehearsal process had been stimulating, though they had found being called back tedious.  They had learned a lot from various experts who had visited to give additional information about climate change. Honor made the point that this is a play that cannot be unread; it’s message is strong and needs to be addressed.

The questions directed to the company revealed the unease that had been generated in some members of the audience. Was the legal process being correctly followed? What form of government was in place in this dystopian world? And – most aggressively from one Donmar member – these young people didn’t know the whole picture, and the play was misleading.

Francis adressed the last point with grace and simplicity: we are witnessing climate change. What can we do? What could people in power have done? Whoever is right or wrong on climate decisions, it is the younger generation who will have to suffer the consequences and find a solution. It is certainly a play which generates discussion and disagreement. And cheers.

In a month when we had the highest temperature recorded in the UK, followed by torrential downpours and flash-floods, it’s time to examine our consciences.

06/08/22 Mike writes –


by Patrick Marber, at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

Ella Hunt (Alice)
Jack Farthing (Dan)
Sam Troughton (Larry)
Nina Toussaint-White (Anna)

What did it have going for it? A reputation as one of the groundbreaking plays of the turn of the century, filmed in 2004 with.Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, now revived to face the manners and mores of the 21st century. Certainly worth another look.

What’s it about? The time is ‘now’, like it or not. Dan, a writer, meets Alice when her leg is hurt in a road accident. He takes her to A&E where their paths briefly cross with white-coated Larry. Dan and Alice begin an affair. Larry and Dan later converse in a forthright internet chat where Dan pretends to be Alice and tricks Larry into meeting her. Anna, a photographer, is introduced to Dan when she snaps him for the cover of his new book. He begins an affair with her just as Larry also begins an affair with Alice. Partners are exchanged; flirtation, love and jealousy take their toll. It’s a sexual  roundabout which our foursome jump on and then fall off – emotional damage is influenced as much by social media and the pervasive sexual climate we inhabit, as by the character and desires of those involved.

Did we enjoy it? The language and liaisons shocked us back then as the play mirrored a new way of casual dating and easy hook-ups. Other plays followed its tone; audiences became accustomed to a new openness in the noughties; and then later what I call the ‘new Puritanism’ swung the pendulum back again. Now this revival has all the power to surprise just as it did back in 1997. 

Despite their characters’ flaws and relaxed morals, the four actors need to seduce us – that’s life, and they do! I was particularly impressed with Ella Hunt as Alice, making her professional stage debut – she has a warmth, a determination and yet a vulnerability perfect for the part. Jack Farthing Is Dan, cool and calculating just as he was as villain George Warleggan in tv’s Poldark; Larry is played by the reliable Sam Troughton as a befuddled bear; and Nina Toussaint-White impresses as the feet-on-the-ground Anna whose photos manage to capture the torment within her subjects.

On an open stage four similar characters form a background to each featured scene, imitating or observing, and an occasional song interrupts the narrative. It’s tightly written with complex plotting and chronology, but only in Act 2 does its grip temporarily falter, otherwise we follow as if watching the downfall of friends. A calming sadness descends at the end as the entanglements are played out. 

The play’s characters may have hard hearts but the writing has a tenderness for them and recognises their inherent vulnerability.  A coda set in Postman’s Park refers us back to our first introduction to Alice – you will want to visit it yourself, just near St Pauls Cathedral, to check out a little mystery which lingers throughout the play. 

My star rating: 4.5/5. Group appeal: 3/5

(Postman’s Park)

02/08/22 Fredo writes –

Joe Stilgoe with Special Guest Rosalie Craig

at the Crazy Coqs. I was the guest of friends Jan and Michael

Happiness is a thing called Joe: This is how to make a star entrance: you move slowly from the back of the room, wearing a spangly jacket and you mount the stage. You turn slowly to let the sequins catch the light, and let the audience see your boldly striped trousers, your black shirt with the integral bow-tie (you look terrific, and you know it) and as the applause rises, you dazzle the audience with a smile.

Of course, it only works if you have star-talent. And Joe Stilgoe has that in bucketfuls. He started his seduction of the crowd by telling us we were a wonderful audience, and adding that the first sitting had been amazing, so we had a lot to live up to. This blend of self-deprecating humour and mildly sarcastic repartee crested a complicity with the fans, who were eager to party.

Piano Man: The piano isn’t just an extension of Joe’s hands – it’s part of his brain. As he surveyed the room while doing an arpeggio, he hit a key, and announced, “Wrong note! You thought I was into West Side Story with that A” – and carried on with a couple of bars of The Jet Song. He played and  sang and extemporised on Randy Newman, Tom Lehrer, Frank Loesser, Ray Davies and his own compositions, and spiked his patter with some sharp political impersonations.

One of his own songs was based on not being admitted to a jazz club, “not a million miles from here in Frith Street. It rhymes with Bonnie Spots,” where the “meat-headed” doorman refused him entry, resulting in shouting, swearing (“and I never swear”) and fisticuffs – and eventually he slunk round the back and went in the service entrance “because the problem was that I was the main act that night.” The result? A song called Nobody, which is what you are if you’re not on the doorman’s list.

Old Friends: Joe’s guest was Rosalie Craig, a friend who’d had great success in Company, so her first song was Stephen Sondheim’s little-known So Many People. Her next choice was Both Sides Now, a song that Joni Mitchell wrote in her early 20s, and which has been given a new lease of life by the composer’s recent re-recording of it – she says she didn’t understand what she had written till now. Perhaps none of us did, until we reached the age we are now, with a lot of life under our belts.

Their final choice was dedicated to their daughters, who are similar ages and who are friends: You’ve Got a Friend in Me from Toy Story. Rosalie dashed off to let the baby-sitter go home.

Come to the Cabaret: Joe carried on on his own (presumably his wife was looking after their children) and jazzed on Cabaret and The King’s New Clothes from the Danny Kaye movie Hans Christian Andersen. And carried on to his inevitable party-piece, where the audience calls out songs, and he selects five and does a mash-up of them – The Muppet Song featured prominently. And of course there was an encore: “Do we still say ‘Encore’ since Brexit?” he asked, innocently. Well, he didn’t just put on his Top Hat, he was Puttin’ on the Ritz.

Thank You for the Music: No, he didn’t play Abba – well, maybe he did, in that cascade of music. It was a great evening, and next time Joe Stilgoe appears, give yourselves a treat and book…quickly. You’ll dance all the way home.

My star rating: 5/5.

Group appeal: 5/5 if you like cabaret, but Crazy Coqs is too small for groups.

23/07/22 Fredo writes –


An Evening of the Music and Lyrics of the Late, Great Stephen Sondheim with the Luminaire Orchestra, at Cadogan Hall

Smiles of a Summer Night: We weren’t smiling to begin with. Of course we wanted to see this concert. We’re long-term, card-carrying Sondheimites, and faithfully attended many galas when that was the only way to hear his music.  It woud be a second-class parade without us.

Beautiful Girls: And what a starry line-up – Janie Dee, Roalie Craig, Jenna Russell, Lorna Dallas, Courtney Bowman and Danielle de Niese. Don’tforget the boys – Jamie Parker, Lucca Chadwick-Patel and Danny Whitehead. As well as the full-strength Luminaire Orchestra. . And we’d taken a group to the inaugural concert from the Luminaire Orchestra. But look at the ticket prices! No group reduction either, so we decided that we’d resist the urge to mingle.

Then at the last moment our friend Andrew came to the rescue with information about a deal…

So Many People: We could see why there was no need to lower the prices. Cadogan Hall was nearly sold out with Sondheim’s followers (we couldn’t help but notice that we’re all growing older together!). That meant that we were all familiar with the songs, and Alex Parker, whose orchestra it is, didn’t need a compere to introduce the artistes or the numbers. However, even old timers like us struggled to place If You can Find Me, I’m Here (it’s from Evening Primrose) and Talent (from Road Show) and the satirical God, (written by Sondheim himself for the Broadway revue Sondheim on Sondheim.)

There Won’t Be Trumpets: Actually, there were trumpets – almost too many, and I worried at the start that the music might drown the singers. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, though there were one or two glitches. Lorna Dallas’s voice seemed to disappear just before she hit a high note in both Take Me to the World and Take the Moment. And then Janie Dee appeared dressed bizarrely as Snow White to vamp her way through Sooner or Later, which would have been funnier if she’d been more sure of the words. And occasionally the tempo was a bit faster than we’re used to. Courtney Bowman seemed to marry The Miller’s Son in double-quick time. I liked Danielle de Niese, and enjoyed hearing Green Finch and Linnet Bird and I Wish I Could Forget You filled out with a big voice, but Mike found her operatic tone too rounded.

Isn’t He Something: Keep an eye out for both Lucca Chadwick-Patel and Danny Whitehead, personable performers both, and with soaring voices to match.

It Takes Two: Yes, everybody had there solo moment, but the highlights of the show for me were when two of the artistes got together. – Jenna Russell and Jamie Parker wringing all the humour out of By the Sea, and the anguish out of We Do Not Belong Together. And then the audience lost its collective mind as Jenna and Rosalie Craig blended Sondheim’s most heartbreaking songs, Losing My Mind and Not a Day Goes By.

The Road You Didn’t Take: Andrew was disappointed that Alex didn’t give Lorna Dallas and Danielle de Niese the chance to duet on One More Kiss. Nevertheless, it was a very rich programme, and Alex gets extra marks for choosing some of the less familiar material.

Did we enjoy it? Can’t you tell? Yes, it was up there with the great Sondheim concerts of the past. We were there, and it certainly wasn’t a second-class parade. All credit to Alex for putting it together.

Group appeal: They’d have loved it, but we would have had to charge £95 including coach.

Our rating: 4 stars

20/07/22 Mike writes –

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

A major new production of the CS Lewis classic tale, at the Gillian Lynn Theatre (For shorthand, let’s just call it Narnia)

“Voted the nations favourite novel” says the publicity (no apostrophe! Who voted?), the show arrives in London after a “critically acclaimed tour” of the UK. This was the first London performance; we were invited; and maybe the rest of the audience were too.

Falling and failing somewhere between Harry Potter and The Hobbit, Narnia mixes whimsical ideas from the spectrum of so many childish tales. It opens with the cast singing “We’ll Meet Again” to set the period and begins with four black Railway Children being transported to the country to live with a rather creepy Uncle. Escaping through the back of the wardrobe, as y’do, they meet a Wicked witch defying gravity, some simple minded gnome-like creatures, a godly lion, and a Santa Claus with dancing attendants wearing antlers. This scatter-brained and scatter-targeted narrative is geared to a young audience, but it’s often dark and scary, plods along at a snail’s pace, and is portentous with an air of Moral Rearmament ethics. I would suggest it’s best suited to those over seven and under nine with no social media savvy, leaving adults to mistake the patronising preachy tone for the nostalgia of a pre-digital yesteryear.

Maybe you love the story, maybe it’s a part of your childhood you want to bring to another generation. I must own up to having a Narnia resentment. Due to some childhood trauma I have long since forgotten, even the word Narnia raises my hackles, so inevitably I approached this production with trepidation. With wandering minstrels masquerading as animals, one stage illusion so hesitant I was reminded of Tommy Cooper, and with the worst ‘young-actors-playing-children’ currently on the London stage, my low expectations were never dashed.  This is tosh masquerading as epic adventure. 

In the interest of fair reporting I must extol the production’s merits. I will  pause to take a deep breath…..yes, it had some merits. On the huge stage it impressed with handsome use of neon and thunderous sound effects. (An electronic malfunction stopped the show and  brought the curtain down for ten minutes but I’ll overlook that.) Flashing lights, haze and smoke added necessary atmosphere (and apparently necessary Trigger Warnings). And the use of puppets (popular since War Horse and peaked with Pi’s tiger) encourages youngsters’ imagination and teaches them the possibilities of theatrical pretence. A purring cat with claws immediately won over the smaller kids who maybe hid under their seats at the louder darker excesses.

Our friend Elizabeth left at the Interval (her trains were affected by the weather) but I stayed to enjoy the Air-con, and it would not be fair to criticise if I hadn’t endured the show to its safely-back-home conclusion. I remained seated during the inevitable standing ovation.

Don’t open the wardrobe.

My Star Rating: 2/5

Group appeal: 4/5

14/07/22 Mike writes –


by Peter Morgan, at the Almeida Theatre

Peter Morgan writes plays we like. He writes about real people. Netflix subscribers have been hooked on The Crown for four series, but on stage, film  and tv he has presented British royalty and politicians (Frost/Nixon; The Queen; Longford, The Audience; The Special Relationship) all with a docudrama’s authenticity, a satirical edge, and a populist appeal.  Here he turns his attention to Russian politics, oligarchs, finance, corruption and assassinations. The well known characters are here – Putin, Yeltsin, Litvinenko, Abramovich –  and, as the central character, the less well known Berezovsky. He was a mathematician, financier and businessman who mentored Putin. He lived to regret it. They are characters beyond Morgan’s normal reach, but not by chance many have links to the UK.

In the lead an unrecognisable Tom Hollander (in a bald wig) commands, rages, manipulates, cajoles and certainly entertains us as he schemes for his own ends and for his country. In contrast, Putin played by an equally unrecognisable Will Keen (unusually with hair) resembles a wily snake in waiting, looking for his chance of power but hardly moving a muscle to achieve it. Luke Thallon is a young Abramovich, taking a chance on Putin and winning acceptance. Bravo for these lookalike performers. 

Rupert Goold directs with his customary flare for eye-catching presentation, here chic sleaze or oppressive grandeur on a catwalk with neon, and a continual flurry of short scenes. Men in grey suits come and go, women as attachments, the years pass with machinations while History takes its course and leaves its mark. And yet…

I was interested to see how the cogs of history turned, and how so many disparate characters fitted into the rich Russian tapestry, but Morgan’s usual grip on his characters was less sure, the narrative less persuasive. The play confirms all our suspicions of how Putin’s power continues to change the world, but the drama was low key despite the shouting. It’s Morgan-lite, a staged Wikipedia bio, lacking his usual sharp focus, suggesting the playwright is less enamoured with all things Russian than he is with all things British. Morgan has strayed into Stoppard territory and lost some of his fun along the way. He still entertains, but this time with less assurance, less glee.

Maybe it was the weather. While writing this and thinking about it more, I have become more impressed with the play than I was at the time! I would recommend it, but it’s a hit and every performance is Sold Out. Let’s hope it transfers to the West End.

My star rating: 3.5/5

Group appeal: 3/5

06/07/22 John R writes –


by August Wilson, at the Old Vic.

What did it have going for it? It’s a major play by black American writer August Wilson.  He wrote it in 1979 but it was not performed in England until the National Theatre production in 2001, when it won the Olivier Award for Best New Play.

What’s it about? It’s set in the drab office of a jitney company (ie taxi service) where a group of black guys are desperately making a living by answering the non-stop telephone calls from clients wanting lifts.  There’s a joshing, bantering relationship between these guys, whose boss, Becker, is forever trying to control.  Very skilfully we learn about the individuals and how they cope with difficult lives, just about scratching a living, and dealing with racism in its various forms.  The most shattering story is that of Becker, whose son has recently been released from jail. It is revealed what a shocking impact this has had on his parents and in a desperately harrowing scene, the father and son confront each other.  (Miraculously the telephone stops ringing for about 15 mins!). 

Another main relationship is between Youngblood and his girlfriend Rena (the only woman in the play) who suspects him of being unfaithful with her own sister.

Did we enjoy it?  Enormously. It’s full of anger, but humour too.  The language Wilson creates for his characters is fizzy and this language is used to almost create a musicality, in the way that David Mamet uses for his characters.  In fact I decided that Wilson was the Black David Mamet!  The cast is superb – despite the problems (including the threatened closure of the jitney) it is a buoyant play, magnificently acted by an ensemble cast.  

We saw this play at the end of its Old Vic run, but it’s playing at the Theatre Royal, Bath, 26-30 July. If there is an earphone commentary, use it.  It will help you attune to the scintillating dialogue.

Our Star Rating: 5/5

Group Appeal:: With no star-names it may lack an obvious appeal but the large audience was very enthusiastic so I hope some of our Group would have been impressed too.

27/06/22 Fredo writes –


Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, at the Dominion Theatre

We Go Together:  We were invited by Delfont Mackintosh. Mike had never seen the show on stage, and I hadn’t seen it since the first London production in 1973, with Richard Gere and Elaine Paige (yes, really). Then there was the movie, and it has been a crowd-pleaser ever since.

Tell Me More: This theatre is a fairly soulless venue, and every show has to work hard to fill the vast space. Grease didn’t succeed, and that was only the first of the many problems it failed to overcome.

First of all, it’s a high school musical, with pupils Sandy and Danny destined for an on/off romance, but the cast looked as though they’d come together for a high school reunion. (This hadn’t hurt the movie version) The girls looked a bit haggard, and all except Sandy sang in the key of shrill. The boys, clad in jeans and leather jackets, all looked the same, and at times it was difficult to pick Danny out from the crowd.

The script is borderline lewd and offensive, and indeed it crosses that line frequently. Originally, the risque dialogue was tossed off with an air of faux-innocence, but now the trend is to emphasise the vulgarities with looks and gestures. (The show’s website says this is a “grittier” version.)

The first act was badly staged, with flat lighting and bad groupings on the stage. In the first iconic number, Summer Nights, Sandy starts her part of the song behind a table with the girls sitting around her. From row E of the Stalls, and I suspect from the entire left side of the theatre, she was hidden from the audience.

Stage lighting should be used to direct the audiences attention to different areas of the stage for different parts of the action, and to create atmosphere. Here, the lighting was foggy and random, and the main players in the scene kept getting lost. At other times, during the musical numbers, I was blinded by revolving lights.

The choreography resembled the group dance at the end of the first week of Strictly. Nobody actually bumped into anyone else, but there was more enthusiasm than skill on display. A lot of the dances were crotch-centric, in case we forget for a moment that the show is sex-obsessed.

Is This the Worst Thing They Could Do? In fairness, the second act picked up. The lighting was a bit less erratic, and the dance numbers seemed better-rehearsed. There were still signs that the director was nervous about using the centre of the stage. However, the solos were sung well, and I was caught off-guard by the charm of Magic sung just with guitar accompaniment. As there’s a dance at the gym, a harrassing policeman and a rumble, Grease invites comparison with West Side Story and does itself no favours by doing so.

The audience had been asked not to sing along or cheer, and indeed they were noticeably unfrenzied. All except for three well-refreshed women several rows behind us who talked loudly and incessantly throughout the first act. They topped up on their supplies at the interval, and resumed their commentary when the second half began – at which point, they were ejected from the theatre!

Did they put up a fight? I thought they would. As I was a few rows in front of them, I missed most of the drama, but the theatre manager (a braver man than I) was firm and commanding.

Beauty School Drop-Out? No, we stayed till the end, when the audience very gradually rose to their feet for the mini-mega-mix. And where was the promised Peter Andre? Missing in action, with no word of explanation.

(Note: If you look carefully on the show’s website, you will see that Peter Andre and Jason Donovan are sharing the same small role. The website lists the dates Peter Andre is NOT appearing and separately lists the dates Jason Donovan IS appearing. You might assume the dates are the same but this is not so. At many performances you will get Darren Bennett, as we did – no offence but no star and no substitute.)

Born to Hand-Jive or Raining on Prom Night? This show has altered over the years. New and better songs – Hopelessly Devoted to You, You’re the One That I Want and the title song – were all added for the movie, and have now been integrated into the show. If only someone could rewrite the script…..

Did we enjoy it? Have you been paying attention?

Group appeal? Hasn’t everyone seen it often enough?

Star rating: 1/5

16/06/22 Fredo writes –

The Father and the Assassin

by Anupama Chandrasekhar, at the National: Olivier Theatre

What did it have going for it?  It was directed by Indhu Rubasingham, the talented  (and friendly) Artistic Director of the Kiln Theatre. We’ve seen several of her productions, and they’ve all been exciting and imaginative, but I don’t think she’s worked on a stage as big as this before.

On the other hand, it has several things working against it. First of all, it’s by an unknow (to us, anyway) playwright, and it features a largely unknown cast of Asian actors who have had to play minor roles as policemen on television. And the subject sounded grim….

What is it about? It’s about Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Gandhi, and the events and tensions within the Indian nation leading up to independence and partition. Godse narrates the play, and advises us that it will be “nothing like Attenborough’s fawning film” as it charts his journey from being inspired by the Mahatma to his disillusionment and final act of defiance. 

Did we enjoy it? Absolutely. From the moment Godse sprang on to the Olivier stage, we were gripped by his personality, then both the narrative and the spectacle. It a lively, entertaining script, describing Godse’s early life with his parents who, having had other sons die in infancy, brought him up as a girl to appease a goddess. They also believed that he had prophetic gifts, and used this to support the family. The staging presents a busy world of Indian life, and we are shown the tensions between Hindu and Muslim at both street level and in politics. It’s never less than compelling and absorbing.

We recognised many of the actors, especially Paul Bazely as Gandhi, and Marc Elliot as Nehru. The star of the show is Shubham Saraf as Godse. He oozes star quality and his charisma carries the play. At the start he announces with a smile “I’m the assassin but I don’t like that word. I’m a murderer.” It’s a tireless performance, engaging the audience and wooing us to his point of view even when he is so obviously misguided, which we finally realise and escape from his charm. The audience lapped it up, and at the end, his fellow-actors joined in the well-deserved applause.

Group appeal? Limited, sadly. Nevertheless, it had a big audience in the Olivier, including many young Asian people. It would have been interesting to know their opinion.

Would the group have enjoyed it? It’s an epic! I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. It has excitement, spectacle, comedy and tension. And Shubham Saraf would melt the hardest heart.

However, at the interval, we noticed a flurry of activity at the booth where people collect hearing devices. We were sitting in the front row for £20!

Our rating: No less than 5 stars from me.

04/06/22 Mike writes –

Prima Facie

by Suzi Miller, at the Harold Pinter Theatre

What did it have going for it? Jodie Comer, Jodie Comer and Jodie Comer. The play sold out for its entire run well before it opened, most likely sold to an overwhelming majority of Jodie Comer fans wanting to see Villanelle on stage. Jodie is proving herself one of our finest actors with many other award-winning roles on tv, as well as Killing Eve. This is her West End debut. We had to ‘pull strings’ to get a ticket and paid £85 – the market price, such is her popularity.

What is it about? Tessa has worked her way up to become a highly successful defence barrister. She knows exactly how the law works and how she can work it to bring in a Not Guilty verdict. And then she is raped by a barrister colleague. She reports the offence and finds herself in the dock as the main witness facing the rapist’s defence barrister.

Did we enjoy it? Suzi Miller’s monologue plays fair. She lets the facts speak for themselves without hyping the emotions involved. She explains how the law is used, the necessary requirements for bringing a case to court, and all the details of what happens next. But all this comes via Tessa’s knowledge and experience, made personal, enhanced by her wit, humour, feelings and understanding. It takes 782 days for the case to reach court; storytelling more than truth is what matters; the verdict depends on whether the jury can believe without doubt how well the prosecution and defence barristers tell their stories. Stella knows how the game is played but can doubtless truth ever be told?

The subject is gripping enough, but Jodie Comer animates it with a tour de force performance. In chambers with shelves stacked high with case files, she tells about the trials and tribulations of her life and the dehumanising affect of the law, how it can never reveal a finite truth with the rules it has acquired. It is an essential physical performance – she darts about the stage, rearranges the furniture, changes costume, and tells her story more vividly than any witness could. Before the performance began we joked about the inevitable standing ovation that would erupt at the close. It did…but it could not have been better deserved.

Bring on the Olivier Award. No doubt in this verdict.

Our rating: 4.5/5

Group appeal: 4/5

03/06/22 – To be reviewed


by Dexter Flanders, at the Seven Dials Playhouse

What did it have going for it? We were taking our group to see Marys Seacole at the Donmar which we had seen, and not only is the Seven Dials Playhouse also in Earlham Street, but by lucky coincidence, it ended at the same time as well so we booked. In the event, the Donmar play was cancelled because some members of the cast had Covid. The Seven Dials Playhouse allowed us to transfer our booking to another evening.

What’s it about? Daniel, a young black man from West Indian parentage, is told by his Muslim girlfriend Meera that she is pregnant and has been rejected by her Asian family. That sounds like enough plot to be going on with, but there’s more…

Daniel’s mother is a stern, no-nonsense Christian Jamaican matriarch (cue whoops of recognition from certain sections of the audience) who lays down the law but takes Meera in. The young couple plan the baby’s arrival, despite Daniel’s fecklessness with money, but there’s more…

In a tussle with his slacker friend Leon, Daniel is shocked when Leon kisses him. And then, having rejected Leon at first, there’s a change of heart and the two men carry on a covert affair. Eventually this is revealed, leading to confrontations with Meera and (the best scene in the play) Daniel’s mother. 

Does it end well? Hmmm, better than expected (or even credible).

Did we enjoy it? We warmed to it. At the start, it was difficult to tune into the West Indian accents and patois, but it was acted with such commitment that we overlooked that difficulty. And yes, the cast were uniformly excellent. The writing was a bit uneven, but the author’s heart was in the right place.

And I’ve spotted a career opportunity, after watching this mother peel yams, and seeing Anne-Marie Duff peel potatoes in The House of Shades: there’s an opening for a dedicated teacher to show actors how to prepare vegetables convincingly on-stage. Any drama school who reads this can contact me via this website.

Our rating: 3/5

Group appeal? Limited, I’m afraid. The play is aimed at a particular audience, and it isn’t our Group. 

01/06/22 Mike writes –

The House of Shades

by Beth Steel, at the Almeida Theatre

Anne-Marie Duff is the star, the centre of this new play, and I guess the reason most of the audience and we are there. It’s a good reason as she’s mesmerising, she’s our money’s worth, but she has a reputation for choosing over-earnest and worthy political plays to appear in, which disappoint audiences. This is a pity as she is worth more than that.  Here she’s the forceful mother of a Working Class family in 1964, scraping by, supporting Labour, but aspiring to better themselves. There’s a lot of scraping by as the years pass, not helped by family deaths, a bloody abortion, a bloody miscarriage, deception, desperation, and inter-family squabbles as generations move on but don’t get very far. It’s mostly set around the table in the family’s kitchen so the proverbial kitchen sink is always background to the drama. 

By the interval, after a long first half, we have reached 1995. Prime Ministers have changed several times but there’s still a lot of political anger and strife. It may all be this family’s history but it is also the history of politics, of Labour’s decline, of promises mismanaged and generations short changed. The production uses ballads as effective signposts to the decades, and they lighten the mood during the dark times. I was enjoying it, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

In the second act, when I was looking forward to the hope and improvements Tony Blair brought to Labour’s fortunes, he hardly gets a mention. Suddenly we fast forward to 2019 and are looking back on more family carnage, more political and personal regrets. Anne-Marie Duff is side-lined to being a dream of what might have been. But at least it gives her the chance to put on a slinky dress and sing a dreamy ballad. 

Playwright Beth Steel and director Blanche McIntyre have given themselves an unwieldy task to achieve, telling an epic family saga alongside the ups and downs but mostly failures of a chunk of twentieth century UK politics. Fair marks for trying. At one point a physical fight breaks out simultaneously between the same brother and sister at different ages, played by two pairs of actors – too much! 

But it’s the heroic cast which hold our attention for most of the journey. Stuart McQuarrie as the husband heading the table is a good foil to Duff’s rants. Unfortunately it all just fades indecisively at the end, just as Left-wing politics did, leaving us to wishful thinking of our own. 

And so, very Anne-Marie Duff, very Almeida, but not very satisfying.

Our rating: 3/5

Group appeal: 2/5

24/05/22 Mike writes –


by David Eldridge, at the National: Dorfman Theatre

Our rating: 4/5

Group appeal: 4/5

We were there at the Beginning and shall no doubt approach the End, but here we are at the Middle, the centre play in David Eldridge’s trilogy about relationships, marriage and human foibles. This time we are in the up-market house of an Essex couple, middle class, in the middle of the night, when husband and wife happen to accost each other on sleepless walkabouts in their large open-plan kitchen/living area. 

Maggie has something to tell Gary – “I don’t love you any more.” Pause. Gary ponders a recipe for the next day’s roast.

The middle of the night is never a good time to discuss mid-life crises but here begins their long day’s journey into night – no drug problems, no money problems, but an eight year old daughter asleep upstairs and a general malaise descending upon their marriage.

Maggie has met John who has potential to provide better conversation, better sex, better life opportunities, and a major change of habit. Gary breaks a few plates, wonders where he went wrong, and will do anything for life to continue as before.

It’s all rather sad, rather amusing, and rather endearing. No great drama here but the conversation never flags and every quirk and mundane detail rings true. It makes a change for the wife to be the one wanting to stray, bored by her routine, while the husband is content with his family life – no younger woman on the periphery here. But it’s understandable how, for both of them, life has slipped into a rut. Hopes along with expectations have somehow coalesced into dull routine. 

The cheers at the end (from an unusually half-full Dorfman) were as much for the characters as for the actors who fitted those characters to perfection. Claire Rushmore (woman in a dressing gown) and Daniel Ryan (sweatshirt over paunch) deserved the acclaim…and a bigger audience.

07/05/22 Fredo writes –


Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, at the Young Vic.

Photos: Marc Brenner

What did it have going for it? Well, first of all, it’s Oklahoma! one of the greatest shows ever. What more do you need? This production had created a sensation in New York, and was rumoured to take a radical approach to a much-loved classic. We’ve seen radical approaches before, and haven’t always been convinced. However, the prospect of an old-fashioned show like this at the Young Vic was intriguing.

What is it about? That’s a good question, and one that has often been asked since the show opened in 1943 . Is it about two love-lorn cow-pokes taking their girls to a box-social? Is it about a collection of the most glorious songs ever heard on a Broadway stage? Is it about a recently-settled brand new state, where the farmers have created tension by building fences across cattle ranges? Is it about progress, as detailed in the songs Kansas City, The Farmer and the Cowman and the anthemic title song Oklahoma!? This was our chance to find out, in this  version “re-orchestrated and re-imagined for the 21st century”.

Did we enjoy it? I have to admit that I was excited from the moment we entered the Young Vic and saw the wide-open space with a skycap backdrop depicting a scene of endless prairie with scattered farmhouses. The entire auditorium was surrounded by wood panels, with rifles in gun-racks and rows of tinsel streamers up above. The cast trooped on, and I waited for the lights to dim; they didn’t, but Arthur Darvill’s  strong, sure voice rang out with There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow, echoed by the equally confident voice of Liza Sadovy. I was transported.

I’ve been familiar with the score of Oklahoma! since childhood, and I’d had a niggling worry that I would resent any meddling with some of my favourite songs. I needn’t have doubted. Although Richard Rodgers’s music is given a Country & Western twang, it is nevertheless treated lovingly by the 8-piece band (strings and percussion; no wind instruments). Oscar Hammerstein’s words are cherished, and every line is inspected for characterisation and interpretation. And when Arthur Darvill grabbed his guitar to woo a reluctant Anoushka Lucas with a seductive  Surrey With a Fringe on Top, I succumbed completely. (Mike and I remembered being transfixed by Lena Horne giving this song a smouldering treatment at a Royal Variety Show back in 1966 or 67, but Arthur Darvill was scorching!).

The show is strongly cast, with visitors from the original New York cast, James Davis and Patrick Vaill adding their strong voices. And what voices! Anoushka Lucas (last seen as the princess in the Donmar’s Henry V) sang a defiant Many a New Day which soared out from the back of the stage, while Marisha Wallace vamped as A Girl Who Cain’t Say No. As her counterpart, James Davis had a great time vamping her (and a member of the audience who clearly appreciated it!)

There is a startling moment when Curly visits Judd in the smoke-house, and the entire theatre is plunged into a total blackout for several minutes, until the huge closeup faces of Arthur Darvill and Patrick Vaill are projected onto the backdrop. It sounds bizarre, but it brings us closer to the tortured jealousy of poor Judd Fry.

This sounds like a rave, doesn’t it? Well it is – almost. The first act gets an unqualified 5 stars – it lost half a star for not making the most of the dance sequence in Kansas City (I recall no less than Tom Stoppard beaming with delight and amazement at what choreographer Susan Stroman achieved in this number in the National Theatre’s production), but it reclaimed that loss by appearing to cut the dreaded Dream Ballet from Act One.

Alas, Act Two opened with the ballet, now scored for electronic instruments. An avalanche of dry ice descended, and while it didn’t quite obscure the dance, it still didn’t clear away sufficiently for the next number, The Farmer and the Cowman, to make its full impact.

The cast continued to perform at full throttle, but there was a noticeable loss of energy in the production. And then the ending of the show became confusing. Spoiler alert: traditionally, Judd attacks Curly and Laurie, and Curly kills him in self defence. They then ride into the sunset, with the chorus warbling (somewhat inappropriately) Oh, What a Beautiful Morning. Here, Judd hands Curly the gun, and while Judd dies, it is a traumatised Curly who is spattered (generously) with blood. Is this a comment on America’s progression from a land of promise to a land where the right to bear arms reigns supreme? Was I the only member of the audience to feel confused?

Even so, it’s a landmark production, and if the second act only gets 3 stars from me, the glorious first act – for the beautiful voices, the attention to the lyrics, and the unexpected sexiness of Arthur Darvill‘s performance – retains it’s 5 stars.

Group appeal? Oh, come on – it’s Oklahome! But the Young Vic has an enthusiastic following, and there were few tickets available for us to make a Group booking..

Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes – BUT they would have struggled with the way the show ends.

And by the way, Richard Rodgers was a stickler for having his music performed exactly as he wrote it. I suspect he would have hated it. But Oscar Hammerstein, who smuggled a lot of earthy humour into his lyrics, would have loved it. So did I.

Our rating: Act One – 5 stars, Act Two – 3 stars

03/05/22 Mike writes –

Anyone Can Whistle

Book by Arthur Laurents, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, at the Southwark Playhous

It was the day of the Sondheim Memorial Gala. Everyone who had ever loved appearing in a Sondheim show and everyone who had ever loved Sondheim were heading to the Sondheim Theatre. Except us. A friend had very kindly given us tickets for the matinee performance of Anyone Can Whistle.  We could have made it a Sondheim double but with tickets selling at exorbitant prices for the Gala (for a good cause) we decided to think small, think Off West End, and go see Sondheim’s biggest flop.

Anyone Can Whistle famously ran for just over a week once it officially opened on Broadway back in 1964 and it is rarely revived. Call it ‘collectible’ if you like, but it’s still a mess. Blame Arthur Laurents who wrote the book. What was he thinking of? A mayoress wants to raise funds for her town and decides that a fake miracle will attract the crowds (take note Sadiq Khan). What it does attract are the loonies from the loonie bin, or to put it more politely the Cookies from the Cookie Jar. How it all fits together, who knows and who cares? But it’s a satire, Sondheim is on board, and it’s Sondeim’s songs that save the show….almost.

You know so many of the songs even if you haven’t seen the show (they proliferate on Sondheim albums and in concerts) – There Won’t Be Trumpets, Simple, A Parade in Town, Everybody Says Don’t, I’ve Got You To Lean On, With So Little To Be Sure Of, and of course the title song. They are charming and melodic, or they are witty, rousing and fun.

But we have to contend with all those tiresome Cookies, plus a strident mayoress keen to be bossy and triumphant. If the show is to work, so much depends on the casting. Here the supporting players include (appropriately for our times) a mixed-gender and variable-talented chorus of ‘theys and thems’ among the lively ‘hims and hers’ (as acknowledged in the programme and publicity).  In the lead as Cora, the mayoress, Alex Young (her)brings a motherly warmth and much humour to a basically unsympathetic role; Chrystine Symone (her), as Nurse Fay Apple, has a voice and pseudo-sexy allure to always hold our attention; and Jordan Broach (they) playing the male lead Hapgood (whether him or they in role or life) has a smiley presence and soaring voice.

The show is performed ‘traverse style’ with the audience sitting on two sides, all the dance, parades and confrontations confined (and sometimes not) to a narrow strip of a stage. Poor Alex had to bravely perform with a crutch after, I suppose, a fall. It mattered not. The audience were always on-side to applaud everyone’s exuberant efforts.

But the show remained a Sondheim miss while his palpable hits were being acknowledged back in the West End.

Our rating: 3/5

Group Appeal: 2.5/5

26/04/22 Fredo writes –

What did it have going for it? We were invited to see the play by the NIMAX Company. It’s been running in London since 2012, and won an Olivier Award as Best Comedy in 2015. I wonder why we’d never been to see it before?

What is it about? The Cornley Amateur Dramatic Society are staging a thriller – they are certainly ‘amateurs’ and everything goes wrong!

Did we enjoy it? There was a good audience for a Tuesday night, they were up for a good time, and they responded with great enthusiasm to the broad comedy and slapstick antics of the cast. Some of it is obvious, laboured, and some of it goes on for an awfully long time. But some of it is clever and at times the actors seem to risk life and limb with the very physical antics that misfunctioning props force upon them. Regretfully it just wasn’t to our taste, I’m afraid. I laughed several times, but it didn’t hit my funny bone consistently. Most of the audience were prepared to respond continually on cue like a tv laughter track, and had a great time.

Would the group enjoy it? I’m sure a lot of people would – I could name several friends whom I think would love it.

Our rating: 2/5

19/04/22 Fredo writes –

Witness for the Prosecution

by Agatha Christie, at the County Hall

What did it have going for it? We were invited by KKtickets, and the date happily coincided with a group visit to another theatre. And it’s a curiosity: this courtroom drama in the Council Chamber of London’s County Hall has had an extended run, and we’d heard good reports from a group we took several years ago.

What’s it about? It’s rather daring for its time (1953). Leonard Vole has been involved with a richer, older woman, and is suspected of her murder. During the trial, he discovers that he is not actually married to the woman he thinks is his wife – and she gives evidence against him!

Did we enjoy it? What is the demographic for an Agatha Christie drama that’s been running in the South-West End for some time? The elderly? Coach parties? Well, you’d be wrong. Last night Mike and I were among the few elderly people in the audience, which consisted  mostly  of younger people, with a fair representation of young Japanese tourists! And they lapped it up! There were cheers at the end, and while I won’t be rushing back to see it a second time (as I did with the film, but I was only 10), I felt the production deserved the plaudits.

First of all, the setting is a gift, and almost worth the price of admission, especially if you’ve been invited and are seeing it for free, as we were. The council chamber where it’s performed is quietly impressive, with comfortable seats. The set by William Dudley is ingenious, and the lighting and sound effects pitch the action to the right side of melodrama.

It’s another triumph for director Lucy Bailey (Oleanna). She orchestrates her cast – some making their West End debut, others who have had countless supporting roles in reputable companies, and a few who I suspect have served time at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff. They all rise to the occasion, serving up a generous slice of ham from time to time – even the audience who sit in the jury box, who were up and down on cue like the lift at Harrods during the court scenes.

Highly recommended as a good night out. We might even organise another visit.

Our rating: 3.5/5

Group appeal: 4/5

16/04/22 Mike writes –

“Daddy” A Melodrama

by Jeremy O. Harris, at the Almeida Theatre

What did it have going for it? The scent of controversy already pervaded the air when the Almeida advertised the intriguing title. The black playwright had already caused a stir Off-Broadway and pocketed  awards. The subject had stirred the chattering classes. An on-stage swimming pool was rumoured. And Claes Bang (Tv’s Dracula, European star of blockbusters and independent cinema alike) was top of the cast list). Obviously it was a ‘must see’.

What’s it about? Art and Sex. Patronage and Paternity. Leaving mother’s grasp. And the heady Art Scene not far removed from The Collaboration, the Warhol/Basquiat play seen recently at the Old Vic.

Did we enjoy it? I was highly impressed, but the critics were divided – only a 2-star rating from a few but 5-stars from others (“A masterpiece” announced the Independent). I can understand why the unexpected nature of the production dismayed some –  the leading actors naked (briefly) and everyone wet (often); a trio of Gospel singers as  chorus; gay affection given a determined flourish; the art scene amusingly skewered. And essentially some uncomfortable truths exposed about black culture, family relationships, and fame.

From the first moment Terique Jarrett rose from the pool, looked at us and smiled, we were hooked – young, black and hugely charismatic, he held the play in focus and brought a light touch and endearing presence to every twist and turn. From a later moment when both Terique and Claes momentarily dropped their speedos (“Oh My God!” gasped a woman along the row) I guess some of the audience were resisting,, or were at the least apprehensive. (Perhaps they hadn’t read the Trigger Warnings – my current hate – the list concluded with warnings of “latex balloons and the smoking of herbal cigarettes”. Oh dear.) 

Surprises kept coming as the bonding between ‘young-black-and gay’ cemented with ‘older-white-and very rich’ in the arty hip society of Bel Air, attended by vocal camp followers. Then, in Act Two  mother arrived. This was Sharlene White, dripping contempt, and standing for none of this nonsense. Claes crooned George Michael’s Father Figure, and Terique simulated sex with the  stuffed art-dolls of his family. Somehow it did make sense. The clash between the onanistic Art World and Black Culture was about to….well, lose the interest of some of the audience and continue to grip others…..me! 

This was highly entertaining in both theme and presentation, not just comedy or tragedy, but melodrama with a kick and a heart.

Our rating 4.5/5

Group appeal: Not for the faint hearted so 3/5

14/04/22 Fredo writes –

The Fever Syndrome

By Alexis Zegerman, and the Hampstead Theatre

What did it have going for it? Hampstead Theatre has a fairly good track-record for choosing new plays, and giving them classy productions. And this one boasted Robert Lindsay and Lisa Dillon leading the cast

What’s it about? The family has gathered in the New York brownstone house to celebrate Father being awarded a prize for his ground-breaking IVF work. There are complications: he has Parkinson’s disease, and his teenage grand-daughter has an auto-immune syndrome.  And are there buried resentments festering in shallow graves? You betcha!

Did we enjoy it? It’s a very fluent – if slightly underlit – production from Roxana Silbert, and all the cast are on top form (but did we really need to have that spectral child skipping around in several scenes?) I especially enjoyed Alexandra Gilbreath as the marginalised second wife fighting to retain her position in the family, and Alex Waldmann as the very animated gay son. The late arrival of Sam Marks as the second son cheers the action up considerably. At the interval, I was toying with the idea of awarding it 4 stars.

While the momentum is more or less sustained in Act Two, the play’s flaws become more apparent. Illness as a metaphor for the problems in the family and American society becomes overworked, and old sores are relentlessly picked at. The ending fails to generate the tension it’s aiming for, and (spoiler alert) a last-minute revelation about the financial state of the family comes too late for us to care.

The bar for American family drama has been set very high , and too many moments in the play recall O’Neill, Miller and Williams, and how they did it so much better. Someone should have taken the writer aside and advised her that if she had to name-check Edward Albee, she needed to write a better play. To give her credit, she gives Alex Waldmann a couple of speeches that I foresee being used as audition pieces which proves that she has an ear for dialogue. On the other hand, Waldmann and Jake Fairbrother have to work hard at a clunkily-written gay proposal scene that led me to that most damning conclusion: it needs work.

Would the group have enjoyed it? Overall, yes, I think it’s sufficiently entertaining. Robert Lindsay and Lisa Dillon are reliably good performers, and all the cast – and I mustn’t overlook  the hangdog resentment of Bo Poraj – give nuanced performances. Attention may wander during the medical arguments, but there’s genuine human pain exposed here as well.

Group appeal? 3/5

Our rating: Overall, the play didn’t fulfill the expectations I’d had, so I revised my rating to 3/5

13/04/22 Eric writes –

The 47th

A new play by Mike Bartlett, at the Old Vic

I went with two American friends and so I had the unusual experience of seeing the play twice during one performance. Carol was upset and horrified at the interval, her concern stemming from the belief that this was how other people saw her country. 

Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump was utterly convincing, his gestures, mannerisms and speech scarily undistinguishable from the man himself. I had to remind myself that this was a play about Donald Trump rather than one in which Donald Trump played himself. So it was reassuring to find that Ivanka, the doll-daughter, apparently triumphs amidst political wrangling between the magnificent Ted Cruz, the fading Joe Biden and a striving Kamala Harris. 

Implausible. Or maybe not. I liked the blurring of real with imagined events. This is a play speculating on what might happen, much of which appears plausible; but it’s still speculation. I also liked the fact that it took Donald Trump seriously, as do more than 70 million Americans and all of the Republican Party. 

That’s the scary part, alluded to without shouting it in capital letters. Carol was a little more sanguine at the end, though still shocked by what could happen when the number 47 President comes around. It’s not that far away. 

06/04/22 Mike writes

The Handmaid’s Tale

An opera: Music by Poul Ruders; Libretto by Paul Bentley, at the London Coliseum.

My rating: 3/5 (This was a dress rehearsal.)

Feminist Group appeal: 4/5

I must declare my aversion to this feminist dystopian tale, my reaction based on the first season of the tv adaptation. I have not read Margaret Atwood’s novel from 1985, but I wonder if the subsequent  retellings in different forms are worthy of the original novel’s premise? It became a graphic novel, a movie in 1990, this opera in 2000, and then propagated Elizabeth Moss’s television series in 2017, now in its fourth season. It strikes a chord particularly with the #MeToo generation and their determined and wide ranging campaign against Men’s treatment of Women in every strata of society.

A totalitarian regime has overthrown the US government to create the Republic of Gilead with (let’s imagine, no half-measures) its extreme traits borrowed from the world’s most appalling religious and political history, “where women have been entirely stripped of their rights and freedoms”, says the ENO intro. This is America in the near future. Pollution has caused sterility and so those women still able to procreate have been enforced into sexual slavery as ‘handmaidens’ to satisfy their Commanders’ desires for power regeneration. This Western patriarchal society is assisted by ‘aunties’, older women beyond childbirth age, who support the subjugation of the younger women. Yes, it’s a nasty business which has excited current feminist fandom – I call it Torture Porn.

The opera was first produced at the ENO in 2003; this new production now joins the bandwagon to cash in on current concerns (Weinstein,  Gilliam, the Taliban, China, Russia) and the fourth, perhaps final, season on tv. Despite my misgivings (some other friends were not keen either) I wanted to see Camille Cottin (from tv’s Call My Agent) in a non singing role (it lasted barely three minutes!); and I wanted to see the opera’s staging for 2022, in another political era, another chapter in the tale of despotism, populism, pollution, feminist power, and the younger generation’s search for ‘safe places’ and their reluctance to participate and be ‘challenged’. The inevitable Trigger Warnings state – “This production depicts scenes of sexual violence, suicide, death, coercive and controlling behaviour and contains strong language throughout”. It promises a highly charged evening then…unsafe for the faint-hearted…one to essentially support feminist issues and satisfy the worst possible view of humanity’s faults and the dire predictions for its future, especially with all Men Against Women.

First and foremost, it’s an opera so needs to tell its tale in operatic terms, to convey the serious threats of the theme. The music is tense and foreboding, with a gravity that emphasises the horrors being inflicted. And the performances, especially Kate Lindsey in the huge role of central handmaid Offred (of Fred, geddit?), carry the production. 

I am less happy with the libretto that hands out some cliches and fails to involve me on any emotional level, surely essential in such an emotive tale. The minimalist staging uses processions, formality, uniforms, all appropriate for the totalitarian situation. But for me it remained remote, dramatically sterile, unpersuasive, safely preaching to the already converted.

Act Two found more immediacy and urgency, adding some much needed stage drama to the cerebral process, and it involved me more. A visual flourish to the open unresolved ending finally lowered my resistance and raised my enthusiasm.

I should add that my two lady companions were enthralled throughout and found much to admire and mull over.

(Note: The Guardian gave the opera a two-star rating in 2003. I wonder what it will receive now.)

29/03/22 John R writes –

Straight Line Crazy

by David Hare, at the Bridge Theatre

This was a debate concerning the future of New York envisaged by the Commissioner of Parks, Robert Moses – a vast system of improvements linking parks, motorways, beaches, and leisure facilities, for all residents regardless of income or race.

In part one (1926) we learn of the attempts to make the huge estates and parklands of the wealthy residents of Long Island available to the ordinary citizens, to breathe fresh air and wander among woods and greenery. In part two (1955) we follow Moses’ attempt to create a fluid traffic flow between Manhattan and the outer boroughs by creating a sub ground level highway bisecting Washington Square Park.

We see furious objections from the locals who of course want the peace of their square to be maintained. A huge amount of debate throughout the play about the sorts of issues that are still much with us today – the wants of ordinary citizens as opposed to the power of huge political and commercial institutions. These subjects sound less appealing as grounds for drama but thanks to David Hare and a superb cast, it is (nearly) always absorbing.

Central to the success is a huge performance by Ralph Fiennes as Moses, passionate, unyielding, arrogant, contemptuous, amusing, and who manages in the end to alienate his closest friends and colleagues. Superb performances from the other members of the cast, several of whom have large parts, especially a wonderful Samuel Barnett. Siobhan Cullen was a discovery, and Guy Paul gave a very funny and spikey performance as Henry Vanderbilt, and Helen Schlesinger excellent as the great Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).

I have heard comment that this play is considered too “talky” but I felt that Hare was back on form, managing to deliver urgent themes but making them accessible by creating sympathetic characters to deliver them. Oh! and it is quite funny too. I had expected the inevitable Ovation for Mr Fiennes but none came. I wonder why – many far lesser performances have achieved such accolades. Surely it is time we had Mr Fiennes King Lear?

My rating: 4.5/5

Group appeal: 4/5

16/03/22 Fredo writes –


by Mark Gerrard, at the Seven Dials Playhouse

What did it have going for it? We took our group to see Pretty Woman which we had seen. We had an evening to fill, and Steve lasts 90 minutes without an interval. That left us time to have a coffee after the play, before we met the group at the coach.

It was at the newly refurbished and renamed Seven Dials Playhouse. Oh, and the cast included Jenna Russell, who brightens up any evening.

What’s it about? Two gay couples meet with their terminally ill lesbian friend Carrie in the iconic Joe Allen’s restaurant on Manhattan’s W 46th St. Steve has discovered that his partner has been sexting Brian, a member of the second couple. Relationships change, and (spoiler alert) Carrie dies. It’s all wrapped up in brittle New York banter, with practically every line referencing a show-tune. Along the way, playwright Mark Gerrard comes up with three strong scenes, that suggest that with more work, this could easily have been a much better play. Some – not all, and not enough – of the comic lines are zingers, but Gerrard has the capacity to dig deeper. Instead, he buries this talent in gratuitous conceits. I almost lost count of the number of characters who are called Steve* or variations of the name (two on stage, two off-stage, and one Esteban, plus the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim weaving in and out of the background.

But what is the play actually about? Is it the fragility of relationships in the face of available infidelity? Is it the value of love and friendship? Is it that we all grow older and die? Gerrard fails to pull any of these themes into sufficient focus to provoke thought and discussion. And in a couple of scenes, the writing falls apart: there’s a clumsy telephone scene that defeats the poor actor lumbered with playing it, and a toe-curling reunion between the two couples that had me shielding my eyes with embarrassment.

Even so, there were things to enjoy. The set is impressively detailed and inventive for a theatre with limited resources (I think the original New York production in 2015 was set in a random piano bar rather than specifically Joe Allen’s). Ben Papworth provides a sensitive live piano accompaniment to the action. David Ames seizes his opportunities as the principal Steve, and Nico Conde brings charm to his supporting role as Esteban. And Jenna Russell brings a much-needed warmth and gravitas to her performance.

Our rating: 2.5/5 It’s a near-miss.  I was more forgiving of its flaws than Mike was. We asked ourselves which of our friends we could recommend it to, and we couldn’t think of anyone.

Group appeal: 2/5 It’s a very inward-looking play that would appeal to a very niche audience.

Mike adds: I think a visit to Joe Allen’s just overhearing conversations would have been more entertaining than listening to the camp self-absorption of this lot! Great production though with lookalike Joe Allen’s set. Note : the run had been extended due to “phenomenal demand”.

*The Urban Dictionary definition of STEVE is : “A wonderful loving man who makes you smile. A best friend and lover in one. Sometimes harsh but always knows what to say and how to say it. He inspires loyalty and devotion from those around him. The man who others rely on but at times he will need someone to rely on and when he does he always turns to the same person. A man of honor, strength and dignity. A soul mate and trusted friend. Once he claims your heart, you will never stop loving him.” It’s a wonder the Playhouse wasn’t renamed the Steven Dials Playhouse for this production!

15/03/22 Garth writes –

The Woman in Black

by Stephen Mallatratt, from the novel by Susan Hill, at the Fortune Theatre

Black indeed, but a bright shining star of a play for over 30 years in the heart of London’s theatreland. I’m a late arrival at the ball – and I ought next to break my duck with The Mousetrap – but The Woman in Black nevertheless gave me as powerful a welcome as if I’d been there on day 1.

In a zig-zag bemusing way, we are presented with a gothic-style tale of how the spooked-out Arthur Kipps desperately seeks to free himself of the haunting tragedy of recurring child deaths linked horrifyingly with sightings of the ghostly woman in black.

That rather lumpen summary doubtless does not reflect the subtleties of Susan Hill’s novel of 1983 and certainly conveys little of the late Stephen Mallatratt’s chilling dramatisation and the polished skill of Robin Herford’s direction. The sinuous way in which the story is told and the lightning shifts between Arthur and the unnamed Actor, who takes on his role as a young man, make for part of the experience, unsettling and intriguing at the same time. All this in an atmosphere of dread, fear and horror, the more potent for being in the intimate surroundings of the Fortune.

Buttock-clenching anticipation of the unknown, blood-circulation-stopping jolts and frights, cold-sweat-inducing quiverings in one’s seat  – these are created by a whole terrifying battery of theatrical lighting, sound, scenic and other beautifully coordinated effects.

And then there are the two – or is it three? – members of the cast…..Terence Wilton as the mature Arthur (and several other roles) and Max Hutchinson as the eager young Actor as Arthur’s younger self are masterly in measured characterisation and in interaction. And then there’s the Woman….drifting in and out of misty graveyards and in and out of our apprehension….but just who can she be?

We know as much about who plays her as about Spider the invisible dog. No one at the Fortune is telling – but deservedly, she gets her own round of applause……

Our rating: 5/5

Group appeal: 5/5, if you like ghost stories

Mike adds – If you like a good ghost-story brought to life on stage, there is none better than this. After 30 years the production is still on top form, still excites and chills. If you would enjoy a Group visit, please do let us know and we shall see if we can organise it.

11/03/22 Jennifer writes

Maria Friedman & Friends: Legacy

A concert celebrating the music of Marvin Hamlisch, Michel Legrand & Stephen Sondheim, at the Menier Chocolate Factory

What’s it about? An evening with Maria Friedman, two of her long time collaborators, and a group of talented young people to celebrate the works of Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch and Michel Legrand in the intimate setting of the Menier stage. 

What did it have going for it? Having seen Maria Friedman perform many times over the years, it feels like slipping on one’s favourite party outfit to go and see her again. You know it will help you to feel good, have an enjoyable evening, and head home later feeling better about the world (which is quite a feat in these troubling times). The twist in this production was that Maria had invited two Old Friends (yes, we did get to hear it – how could we not?), a choir from the Royal Academy of Music and three talented young singers to share the singing duties. Two of the young performers had responded to Maria’s invitation to audition for the show and the third was Maria’s son, Alfie. Before you ask if he auditioned over lunch at home, he’s a natural and gave a fantastic rendition of Franklin Shephard Inc from Merrily We Roll Along demonstrating both his acting and singing skills. 

Of course, most of us had come to see Maria and, after kicking off her high heels to sing in her stockinged feet, she gave us the classics including Sunday in the Park with George and Papa, can you hear me? We were also treated to some knowingly self deprecating stories about her career: being heckled by a punter sitting in the gods at a Sondheim gala who wanted Elaine Stritch to sing Broadway Baby. Maria dug into the lyric, sang the song and brought the house down. Who knew?* She did the same again here. A bittersweet story about having to tell Marvin Hamlisch before going on tour with him that she had no hair after cancer treatment AND had broken her leg, that brought sympathetic applause from the audience, many of whom had probably heard those stories before…..

At times, the chat got in the way of the songs but perhaps it’s only fair to expect Maria, at this stage in her long career, to take a rest every now and again. This could be why she’d invited so many other performers to take part in the show alongside her stated aim of nurturing new talent. We got some great ensemble pieces, including a jazzy, syncopated Michel Legrand melody, but, as each of the performers also got a solo, there were a few longeurs.  However, Maria was soon back on stage to sing for us as only she can. She’s a star and it’s always a pleasure to be entertained by her. 

Our Rating: 4/5

Would the group have enjoyed it? Undoubtedly, but the original run was only for two weeks. This has now been extended so take the chance to go if you can.

Alfie Friedman / Theo Jamieson / Maria Friedman / Matthew White / Desmonda Cathabel

05/03/22 Jennifer writes –

The Collaboration

by Anthony McCarten, directed by Kwame Kwei Armah, at the Young Vic

What’s it about? The play is set in New York in the 1980s and describes an artistic collaboration, spanning around three years, between Andy Warhol, whose career has started to fade and Jean Michel Basquiat, whose meteoric rise to fame has just begun. The collaboration is set up by Bruno, the agent/dealer shared by both artists, which enables one of the play’s themes of the Commodification of Art to be explored. Other themes, including What is Art? and Does Success Inevitably Mean the End of Artistic Integrity? are also discussed at some length.

What did it have going for it? A clever and inventive set, with images of a ramshackle and crumbling New York projected onto screens before the plays starts sets the scene. A young, live DJ plays rap and hip hop tunes from the 1980s to get us in the mood before the play starts. The action takes place in the dealer’s gallery and the artists’ studios and, with only two minor but pivotal supporting roles, the focus is almost exclusively on the developing artistic and personal relationship between Warhol (Paul Bettany) and Basquiat (Jeremy Pope). Both actors have buckets of charisma and appear to inhabit their characters, as written for the play, completely .

At certain points, one can’t help but wonder whether either artist would have enunciated the portentous statements setting out the play’s themes but, sadly, not every playwright has James Graham’s gift for imagining believable dialogue between real people. That said, there is much to enjoy in the production. Bettany reveals a gift for comedy particularly during his description of a star studded night out (dinner with Mick and Jerry etc etc) on the New York social scene and also shows us Warhol’s vulnerability. Pope is mercurial and lively and conveys the impact of the whirlwind that surrounded Basquiat convincingly, especially during the more sombre second act.

The play is clunky in places but the time and place are cleverly evoked and the two actors give all they can to their performances. Paul Bettany noted in a recent interview that he had returned to the London stage after more than 20 years and, when the play takes place, Warhol had not painted for 20 years. I hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years to see Mr Bettany on stage again. We are certainly going to see more of Jeremy Pope as he is a star in the making.

My rating: 4/5 for the acting; 3/5 for the play.

Would the group have enjoyed it? On balance, yes.

2/03/22 Guest reviewer Garth writes –

The Chairs

by Eugène Ionesco, at the Almeida Theatre

My rating: 4/5

Group Appeal: 2/5

If asked what The Chairs is about, I guess I could reply evasively – well, things real and imaginary, true and untrue, present and (or but) absent, dreamt and experienced, there but not there, things expected and unexpected……and so on. Ionesco’s works are usually described as examples of the “theatre of the absurd,” a genre characterised by the overturning of conventional dramatic norms. Comparisons with the plays of Samuel Becket seem reasonable. Indeed, The Chairs was published in the same year as Waiting for Godot – 1952. (Another happy comparison might be drawn between Ionesco, of Franco-Romanian origins, with the begetter of Dadaism, Tristan Tzara, also a Romanian who worked in Paris in the 1920s. Both men were wrestling with the aftermath of shattering world wars).

Up to a point, it’s easy to summarise “what happens” in the play, but it would be open to question whether what happened really did so. Two nonagenarians, Man and Woman, seemingly sitting alone in the world, anticipate an event at which an Orator will give a speech. We see them bringing more and more (real) chairs on to the stage and greeting and inter-acting with (invisible) guests as they trickle in. Eventually through the double doors at the back a figure appears whom the couple salute as the Emperor before fleeing screaming from our view.

The apparent pointlessness of the actions on stage and the often witty quick-fire dialogue with its repetitions and circularities bring to mind vaudeville and the antics of circus clowns. Indeed, the stage, draped with voluminous curtains, has a circular revolve and the two actors demonstrate some seriously impressive slapstick, mime and physical comedy. In this production, the director Omar Elerian has tricked out the original with a prologue which underlines the unreality of the play and an epilogue by the Orator referencing some of the bemusing confusions of truth and falsehood in today’s world. There’s also a bit of audience participation, another populist directorial gesture.

The show is a true tour de force, a teasing, involving, comedy which at the same time exposes the fragility of the human condition and – dare one say – the futility of existence. Is the Orator a supreme being who, in Godot fashion, fails to show up or at least fails to fulfil delusory expectations? Marcello Magni and Kathryn Hunter give mesmerising performances, filled with brilliant timing, polished mimetic skills, unflagging energy and undaunted conviction. In her red stockings, black frock, ginger wig and sprightly wide-eyed cheerfulness, Hunter made me think of Giuletta Masina in Fellini’s La  Strada. Magni could be any respectable bearded and tail-coated bourgeois from the Edwardian era. As the Orator (or Emperor) and occasional wacky supernumerary, Toby Sedgwick also commanded the stage, his closing remarks delivered in a beguilingly spontaneous (and prolix) fashion. He had only to raise his right hand to bring curtains, lights and furniture crashing down around him.

I thought it was an immaculate production, blessed with terrific performances – and the crowded matinee audience obviously agreed.

24/02/22 Guest reviewer John R writes

The Forest

by Florian Zeller, at the Hampstead Theatre

What’s is About?  That is not an easy question.

What did it have going for it?  It is by Florian Zeller, author of The Mother, The Son and The Father (his best-known “trilogy”) but also The Height of the Storm (2018)

Along with many others, I have always been a fan of Zeller, who will have reached his largest audience via the film of The Father.  His pieces are deliberately obscure but nearly always fall into a satisfactory reveal by the end.  Not this one, though the act of trying to sort it out is hugely enjoyable.  

Coming into the theatre we find a darkened stage with a spotlight brightly focussed on a table (coffin?) with a spray of flowers of the sort that you don’t buy for your lounge.  The play starts and we find that there are three acting areas;  an elegant lounge, and a sort of consulting room alongside, and a bedroom up above.  These light up in turn for various scenes.  The Man (actually called Pierre) is played by both Toby Stephens and Paul McGann, thus dividing up aspects of the character, and The Wife is played by the elegant Gina McKee.  Their daughter is distraught to find that her husband of several months has been unfaithful.  We next see Man 2 in the bed with his feisty dissatisfied lover Sophie, who is angry and agrieved at her Other Woman status, but the Man can promise nothing more, saying that she knew the situation from the outset.  She reveals that she has been offered a job in Berlin (she’s a singer) and is shocked that he shows no interest or regret.  She gradually becomes a threat to Pierre and a series of meetings with a very sinister, white-faced Finbar Lynch, seem to indicate that he could arranged for her to be gotten rid of.  It seems that a revolver has been used by an assassin and when Man 2 finds her corpse he carefully puts a revolver into her hand. 

Other moments involve blinding light coming through suddenly opened doors (moments of death?);  a white telephone which frequently rings with nobody at the other end;  sinister characters who reminded me of Pinter baddies; and ominous music, etc.  It’s quite chilling and certainly tense, but does need a more rewarding ending.  The fragmented mind of The Father ends movingly when one realises that not only is he in a home but that his daugher Anne has moved to Paris and only visits infrequently.  And who will ever forget at the end of The Height of the Storm,  Eileen Atkins calmly peeling mushrooms and talking with calm tenderness to her husband of many years (Jonathan Pryce) even though one doesn’t know which of them is actually alive, saying words to the effect of “I always told you I would take care of you” – very moving.  But this play, less so.

My Rating: 3.75/5

Would the Group have enjoyed it?  Quite possibly, given reservations.

22/02/22 Guest Reviewer Cecilia writes

The Cunning Little Vixen

by Leoš Janáček, at the London Coliseum

Leoš Janáček’s opera (1924) may be a century old, but it’s a work absolutely pour nos temps. Once again, English National Opera with its lengthy Janáček production history brings us a marvel of music and stagecraft.
 vixen2    vixen6
The opera was inspired by a newspaper strip cartoon about the ups and downs of Vixen. Sharp-Ears who thinks that she can out-fox those disillusioned humans – for a time she does, but not forever.  Janáček universalises this seemingly simple story into the wider interactions of living things in the natural woodland world with its cycle of life, death and renewal (perhaps the more appreciated for this great work being seen on the palindromic 22022022). Those unfamiliar with the opera mustn’t think that it’s going to be yucky anthropomorphising stuff – it’s sex, violence, love and death in the raw, the very core of opera through the ages. The Vixen is a sort of life-force, energetic, forward-looking, fertile, contrasting with the nostalgic, love-lorn, sadcake Forester, Priest, Schoolmaster and others human animals.
This production, confident, revelatory and hugely enjoyable, directed by Jamie Manton, is a terrific heart-warming achievement, a fine example of a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art in which all aspects function beautifully together.
We have to start with the composer. Janáček’s passionate score, a product of his 70s, is full of brilliant birdsong and colourful drama, telling us of his own vigour and his empathy with the world of his native Moravian forests. Under Martyn Brabbins, the ENO orchestra is in top flight. The libretto also is the composer’s, here in a modern translation, both touching and witty.
Then the staging – and this production uses the whole of the Coliseum’s enormous space – brings to life the forest and its seasonal rhythms, evoked by sets as fluid as the music. 
Multifunctional logpiles are rolled around on pallet trucks and the trees, the weather and the seasons come and go, conjured up on long fabric drops painted by Anja Allin. Costumes (by Tom Scutt) are also inspired – scarlet foxes young and old all look rather devilish, the fluttering matronly hens, the hilariously over-dressed Cock, and the truly wonderful insects and colourful mushrooms and endearing rabbits and of course the Dragonfly, the Frog and the Badger.
The tale is told episodically. But the director and the movement director (Jenny Ogilvie) have paid close attention to the score so that there’s an organic cohesion between pit and stage throughout.
And so we come to the singers (not forgetting a big crowd of exuberant youngsters as creatures of the forest). There’s some seriously starry casting, luxurious one might have said, had the vocal demands of even minor roles been more modest. But show-off extended arias do not feature until the final act.  Sally Matthews is a silvery-voiced Vixen, Clive Bayley a grumpy Badger and a disillusioned Priest, Alan Oke (impressive as Gandhi in Satyagraha) is the Schoolmaster. Pumeza Matshikiza is a lyrical Fox, father of the Vixen’s innumerable offspring. Lester Lynch is the warm-toned expressive Forester whose capture of the infant Vixen initiates the story and it’s his extended regretful rumination that closes the work.
You can’t help feeling sorry for these humans, for all their devotion to drink, their fatalism, their inability to respect other living beings with whom they share the forest, their reliance on the leash, the gun, the axe – but it’s the non-humans, the gnats, the flies, the birds, the various hairy quadrupeds with their optimism, their energy, their understanding of the natural environment, who captivate us. Amid the joys and sorrows of the Vixen’s career, there are great lessons for us on how to live better.

My Rating: 5/5

Group appeal: 3/5

07/02/22 Guest reviewer Cecilia writes –


by G F Handel, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

My rating: 3/5

Handel’s dramatic oratorio Theodora, first briefly staged at Covent Garden in 1750 and then largely forgotten, has gained some popularity in modern times – it had an airing at Glyndebourne in 1996 – and maybe you are familiar with one of its arias Angels, ever bright and fair

The work tells of the martyrdom of the Christian Theodora in 4th-century Antioch under the pagan Roman governor Valens, when Diocletian was the actively-persecuting emperor. Her punishment was to serve the sexual needs of the Roman troops, a fate from which she was rescued by swapping clothes with Didymus, a soldier who was a Christian convert. Ultimately, however, both are put to death.

Already a tale of female heroism, Theodora has been brought into the contemporary world by the feminist director Katie Mitchell. (Followers of opera will recall Mitchell’s take on Lucia di Lammermoor). Theodora does not die and is here depicted not as submissive and passive but, along with her pal Irene, as resisting the brutish Romans as the pair work in the kitchen of an embassy, planning a violent subversive action against Valens. That modern resonance is matched by the brothel scenes with their overtones of the trafficking of women into sexual slavery. The religious context is not abandoned in this version, though it’s a bit of a stretch to find much Christian forgiveness in Theodora’s cooking up a bomb and her handiness in using a gun against her oppressors. People get exercised over “director’s theatre” and even now, 120+ years after Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet, they fret and fume about the updating/colour-blind  casting/gender-swapping of beloved classics in various ways. I am relaxed about such practices, so I was disappointed with the way Theodora turned out. I was clearly in a minority, possibly of one. I did not join in the screams of delight at the curtain after 4 hrs of the show as I made a hasty exit. Of course, it had been immaculately done in every respect, especially musically (Harry Bicket conductor), even though all those da capo arias can be very wearying and some of the acting had all the qualities of Hollyoaks

My main objection was that theatrically it was so unengaging, with all action set some 20 feet back on the stage in a (technically rather impressive) sequence of rooms that slid from side to side – from the well-appointed kitchen to the dining room to the pole-dancing lounge to the brothel bedroom and back to the refrigerator chamber where Theodora (Julia Bullock) and Didymus (Jakub Józef Orliński) are put to die. The effect was of a sort of strip cartoon behind the orchestra. How I yearned – despite myself – for a bit of “stand and deliver”! – instead, of course, every character was given endless business to occupy themselves with – Irene (Joyce Didonato) for example spooning out powdered coffee or folding tea towels whilst rambling through a lengthy aria. Another extremely irritating procedure to fill the time available was repeatedly doing things in slo-mo, which can be pretty woeful in film and even more so onstage. I will admit that when you are putting a bomb together in the kitchen (seen from a seat in the Amphitheatre it might have been preparing chicken Kiev) you do need to move with care……

All in all, it was a brave effort that did not entirely come off – or was it simply that, as not exactly a fan of Handel, I was not up to the task of reconciling the surtitles (which followed the original libretto by Thomas Morrell) with what was going in those distant rooms in the depths of the Covent Garden stage?

Mike adds – Following Cecilia’s comments on this production, I was temped to go along and have a look for myself. I was interested in Katie Mitchell’s updated production, and I am not averse to a bit of Handel as staged in the 21st century.

However, I did find it overlong and tedious (as the original work probably was) but in the end I was rather impressed by how the interpretation was followed through and was obviously so different to the original. I do like to see new Shakespeare productions just to see how a director interprets the original play for today (no doublet and hose, please! Instead here we had cross-dressing and pole dancing!) and I think this was a similar situation – a new look at an ancient work. The performances and the sound were magnificent and certainly the audience were impressed…by something. A man sitting behind me left at the first interval, but others stood and cheered at the end. Of course some people would not have known what they were letting themselves in for, while others (going by the press and 5-star reviews) were hugely impressed. The audience around me were highly attentive.

My rear Amphitheatre seat was far from ideal but I had a good (though distant) view of all the stage.  However, I was too far away to read the stage surtitles and was at a too oblique angle to read the Amphitheatre surtitles. And of course there were few sung words I understood.

Because of the work’s rarity, it’s very contemporary and controversial production, and the high calibre performances (wildly appreciative reception from some audience members), I’m sure it will receive a Best Opera Production nomination. And why not? This is 2022 not 1750. And I woz there!

Photos: Camilla Greenweld

03/02/22 Mike writes –

A Number

by Caryl Churchill, at the Old Vic

I am not usually a fan of Caryl Churchill with her dystopian/philosophical jottings, often lasting the length of an interval in any other play. Less is more, some think, but I don’t. However, A Number is one of her longer plays, just over an hour. We originally saw Michael Gambon (as the father) and Daniel Craig (as his sons) twenty years ago; there have been other revivals since; none have been as accessible or impressive as this one.

It’s the future, of course, humans can be cloned just like the famous Dolly the sheep, and this father discovers the dead son he wanted cloned has been repeatedly cloned surreptitiously many times. The old nature v. nurture theory is explored as lookalikes conflict with their other selves. The setting is non-specific, here represented by an all-red other-worldly apartment, but the emotions, concerns and different character traits are real and affecting.

Lenny James, always a warm and sympathetic actor, brings these same qualities to the perplexed father whose earlier rash decisions are catching up with him. He is confronted first by a son he knows then by another he sent away, and finally by an unknown son, all the same but very different in character. 

Giving perhaps the year’s first award-worthy performance is Paapa Essiedu as all three of the sons we see. The times change and so does he, in the same body but with a different person inside. One is nervous and disturbed, another aggressive and angry, a third is calm within himself and content with his situation. 

The dialogue rattles to and forth through interruptions and unfinished sentences that keep us alert and on edge, with blinding-light scene changes to deceive the eye and hook us to this conundrum.

Lyndsey Turner, a favourite director of ours, brings the play back from a future imperfect and distanced to a today we can accept through these real people, rather than their uniquely unusual circumstances.

It makes for gripping theatre, challenging and provoking, brief but affecting. I loved it (this time around) and the matinee audience cheered. For once a Caryl Churchill play was not just for Theatre Studies students.

My rating: 5/5

Group appeal: 2/5

20/01/22 Fredo writes –

Peggy for You

by Alan Plater, at Hampstead Theatre

“What is a play?” That’s a question that worries dramatists’ agent Margaret Ramsay throughout the first act of Alan Plater’s play Peggy for You. It’s a daring question, as it challenges the audience to consider if that’s what  Mr Plater has delivered himself.

A bit of background first: from her office high up in Goodwin’s Court, off St Martin’s Lane, Peggy Ramsay ruled over her stable of dramatists in the 60s and 70s (clients included David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Christopher Hampton and, for a time, Alan Plater himself). She fostered their talent by arranging productions in the West End and on Broadway. She earned a formidable reputation for promoting her favourites and securing lucrative deals for them. She didn’t achieve this by always being kind to people, though it’s acknowledged that her influence on London theatre was seminal.

Consequently, there’s a certain ambivalence about her, which is clear in this account by Alan Plater. In the first act, we witness her in transactions with an aspiring playwright, and then her current golden boy (Jos Vantyler) who arrives with champagne and the unwelcome news that he’s getting married, and her long-suffering secretary (Danusia Samal). Shafts of wit abound, as she tries to focus on her work, fielding interruptions from clients and producers and laughing off inconvenient errors. A lot depends on the actress captivating the audience, and Tamsin Greig revels in the role. It’s a storming performance, designed to win the audience over to this charismatic personality.

Why did I feel so much resistance at the interval? Did it stem from my innate dislike of ditsy women with a whim of iron (I’ve met a few) who trample on others with their delusion of entitlement?  Or was it because I felt that however entertaining it was – and whatever a play is – Peggy for You didn’t amount to a drama….yet.

The second act was a different matter. It turned out that this wasn’t a work of hagiography after all, as Mr Plater (whom I suspect suffered at Peggy’s hands) proceeded to slay the sacred cow. In a confrontation with an older playwright who came to announce that he was leaving her agency (strongly played by Trevor Fox) home-truths are exchanged. One devastating insult, accurately delivered, brought a gasp from the audience. It’s an even battle: Peggy’s defence is allowed time, and the playwright draws blood, but he doesn’t go in for the kill. It’s a thrilling scene, with carefully calibrated nuances from the actors and director Richard Wilson.

And perhaps it answers the question: what is a play? For me, a play presents a situation where characters are confronted with options and conflict, and works through to a resolution with which the audience may or may not agree. That answer may not satisfy all critics, but it’ll do to be going on with.

The audience loved it, and Ms Greig was clearly pleased with her fellow-actors at the end. A special mention must be made of rising star Josh Finan as the young playwright who is dazzled by Peggy in the first act. (See him as miscreant Marco with Martin Freeman in The Responder on BBC1).  But it’s the Tamsin Greig show – she’s always the centre of the action, providing us with wit and laughter. Her natural warmth allows the other actors their big moments. It would be interesting to see a less generous actress in the role, as I suspect that would be nearer the truth but not as entertaining. 

Our rating: First act: 3/5 Second act: 3 and a half stars.

Group Appeal: 4/5

19/01/22 Mike writes –

Best of Enemies

by James Graham, at the Young Vic

The Democratic National Convention in Chicago is upcoming and political rivalries are hotting up. The tv moguls are in competition to lure the most viewers to their channels. It’s 1968 when the world was focused on what was happening in America, and what did happen split opinions and changed the direction the world was heading. This is a rich slice of media politics retrieved from history and served to us on stage at just the time both the USA and UK are internally split again politically over so many issues. 

This is an entertaining clash of opposing personalities in the style of Frost/Nixon, the play we saw at the Donmar back in 2006. This time it’s the Young Vic’s turn to refresh our memories, and playwright James Graham has picked on the contradictory characters William J Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal to pull apart political thinking of their day. Their series of tv confrontations made history as their battle of wills became ever more aggressive, and media personalities became involved. 

The play’s cast list reads like a Who’s Who of the time with appearances (thanks to multi-casting) from Bobby Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Petula Clark, James Baldwin, Aretha Franklin, Tariq Ali, and even Enoch Powell. Charles Edwards and David Harewood are forceful opponents as Vidal and Buckley, centre stage in the tv lights, as the media world around them magnifies their conflict and inflames the populist culture of the time. 

Race inevitably takes an important part in the issues raised along with homophobia and other topics still hot today. The battle of wills is seen through the media’s cameras with the cut and thrust of the tv studios brought thrillingly to the Young Vic’s small circular stage area, with cameras, monitors, screens and the bustle of technicians and media pundits. It’s a flashpoint of history both on the small screen and at large in Chicago….and beyond. 

The frenetic atmosphere and over-heated egos excite our attention and, despite the ensuing chaos inside and outside the studios, made me wonder if politics today is too restrained, predictable, and dull. Not in the theatre, it ain’t! Thank you, James Graham.

I am not a fan of colour-blind casting. Here the accomplished black actor David Harewood has been cast as the white William J Buckley Jr, right-wing political commentator. I wonder why. I wonder if an extraneous point is trying to be made rather than just casting with talent. To cast a black  actor as a real-life white man involved with racial politics seems to me to cast an opaque veil over the character and blunt the point of his views on race. Would a white actor playing this character have been regarded as too inflammatory these days? The waspish gay Vidal is allowed maximum self-promoting swish!

Our rating: 4/5

Group appeal: 4/5

10/01/22 Fredo writes –


Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Book by Joe Masterhoff, based on the play by John van Drute and stories by Christopher Isherwood, at the Kit Kat Club (formerly the Playhouse Theatre).


Yes, of course we were excited when a new production of Cabaret was announced. And the casting! Star-names Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley in the leading roles of EmCee and Sally Bowles, with hot newcomer Omari Douglas (from It’s A Sin and Constellations) as the gay Cliff, our eye into 1930’s Berlin. Reliable actors Liza Sadovy, Elliot Levey and Anna Jane Casey are in major roles, as well.  We had to be there! Then we saw the ticket prices, and gulped. There are no group discounts, of course.

After much soul-searching and debate, we concluded that this was a treat we (almost) deserved. It had been a long period of theatrical abstinence. We identified reasonable Circle seats at a price we could afford – that’s well below the top price of £250, or £350 with dinner and champagne at a stage-side table.  Besides: what use is sitting alone in your room?

We arrived at the Playhouse (currently transformed into the Kit Kat Club) as instructed, almost an hour before the show was due to start. We were armed with evidence of our recent lateral flow test, which was indeed scrutinised by the security staff. There was a long queue to be admitted through the side entrance (formerly the Stage Door) and we descended a narrow staircase festooned with beaded curtains. Somehow we missed out on the free drink we should have collected in the long corridor. Then we found ourselves in a downstairs bar, where a scantily-clad dancer cavorted to the strains of a violin. We elbowed our way to the ground floor foyer – more violins and another dancer cavorting in a stand above the bar.  Eventually we made our way to our seats, and took in the spectacle of the theatre.

The first surprise was that the auditorium had been transformed. It took us several minutes to identify where the former proscenium arch had been, as the acting area was now a raised circle in the centre of the stalls, surrounded by lamp-lit tables, at which people were indeed dining. Who knew there was so much money to burn? Above them, and facing us from what used to be the backstage area, there was a newly installed Circle, with more audience. This transformation meant that the sight-lines were vastly improved, and the the position of the stage brought performers and audience closer together.

There was already a certain intimacy taking place, as various dancers mingled with the spectators in what seemed like a very 21st century idea of Berlin decadence in the ’30s. If you want to try this at home, you’ll need very uncomfortable underwear, boots, badly-applied make-up and a diaphanous negligee. No doubt you can think of easier ways to have fun.

Because of the very popular film and its many revivals over the years, it’s possible to overlook how shocking and disturbing a show that Cabaret is. The keynote is provided by the interpretation of the EmCee, memorably created by Joel Grey and radically reinvented by Alan Cumming. How would the more febrile talents of Eddie Redmayne fare in this central role? As he rose from the pit in the centre of the stage, looking like a degenerate clown, and launched into the familiar Wilkommen, it was clear that this was not the affable Mr Redmayne we know and love. His leering welcome and the suggestive movements of his contorted body drew us into a horrible complicity with this odious character. Our glee in his first appearance continued as he led us through the frenetic Two Ladies and The Money Song, but this hardened to dread in the second act, as his every appearance brought more shade to the sinister atmosphere. He is a revelation.

There was great anticipation over Jessie Buckley’s Sally Bowles. This young actress has proved her mettle in many film, television and cabaret appearances: how would she fare in this major role? I don’t think she was helped by having to perform her first song, Don’t Tell Mama, in a costume that looked like a Grayson Perry cast-off. However, Ms Buckley is a shrewd actress, as well as a phenomenal singer. If her performance initially seemed pitched a little high, this fitted in with the way Sally behaves throughout the show: she’s a victim of her own lack of awareness as well as a victim of circumstance. When she finally takes a decision, it’s the wrong one, and maybe this time she finally recognises that she’s heading for destruction.

I’ve never liked the song Maybe This Time, as it seems to belong in another show, but in this production, it fits perfectly, and Ms Buckley performs it exquisitely. However, every actress who attempts Sally Bowles will be judged by her version of the title song, Cabaret. It’s the big, show-stopping number, that excites, alarms and chills the audience – in the right hands. How would Jessie Buckley approach it? The answer is: courageously. This is Sally performing the song: Sally, who’s decided to have an abortion, decided to desert the only man who loves her, who closes her eyes to the gathering storm. This is Sally who mourns her girlfriend Elsie, Sally whose tomorrow doesn’t belong to her. Wearing a drab man’s suit, Jessie Buckley mocks herself, her audience in the Kit Kat Club, the advice she was given by Elsie, the friends who came to snicker, and as she flails in increasingly demented despair, she sinks through the stage into the hell of her own creation.

It’s a virtuoso turn that brought cheers from the audience, and a climax that hangs over the despicable EmCee’s hollow assurances that our cares and troubles have dissipated in the warmth of the cabaret. No, we’ve seen Liza Sadovy’s Fraulein Schneider’s survival instincts, displayed in her introductory So What?, reduced to the false hope of continued resilience in What Would You Do? We’ve witnessed and warmed to the hopes of Fraulein Schneider and Elliot Levey’s Herr Schulz of finding security and happiness in being Married, but then shatter in a heart-stopping act of violence. We’ve heard the glorious and insidious Tomorrow Belongs To Me. And we know our history.

I’ve seen two great productions of Cabaret in the past. I’ve seen productions that aim for being tawdry, and just stayed tawdry. Now director Rebecca Frecknall has marshalled the resources of a great cast and an inspired designer to reveal once again what a great, hard-hitting experience Cabaret can be. It’s a triumph.

Our rating: 5/5

Group appeal: 4/5

OnOurOwn reviews for 2021 are on the next page,