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The Motive and the Cue

When I realised that Johnny Flynn would be starring in the National’s production of The Motive and the Cue I had to see it! Does that make me any different from the fans who waited outside the theatre each night in 1964 hoping to catch a glimpse of Richard Burton or Elizabeth Taylor? Probably not… 

This play within a play is, as many critics have noted, a “love letter to theatre” but it also deals thoughtfully with the conflict between fame (being a film star) and art (being a theatre actor), celebrity and artistic endeavour. Johnny Flynn as Burton, delivers a deceptively showy performance which subtly reveals the film star who longed to be A Great Actor as the play progresses. Sometimes, maintaining the Burton accent gets in the way of his performance but he uses his own charisma to convince as the tortured artist who was also a drunk and possibly a little overwhelmed by his superstar wife. 

That said, the production belongs to Mark Gatiss. He has the best lines and the most sympathetic character. He Is Gielgud. Witty, laconic, sad, scared about being forgotten. The resolution of the conflict with Burton in the final act is a little too easy but his is the performance I’ll remember.

Barbara and Dennis

Ain’t Too Proud

Having had the opportunity to see The Drifters Girl and Tina with Fredo and Mike, the musical bar is set very high!! Sadly Aint too Proud did disappoint, it was an enjoyable night out but did not have the spark other musicals have had. If you are a Temptations fan it would have been everything and more you could have wanted, telling the story of the group dynamics and the anti black racism that was prevalent at the time. The show just ended…….the entire cast and band were on stage for what we thought may have been a ‘mega mix’ that would have left us on a high, but no. It really was a play with music rather than a musical. Not sure if it will be running next year and it’s not on of those ‘must see again’ shows

Thank you Fredo and Mike, and a special thank you to Frank for the challenging drive home.


Guys & Dolls

Guys and Dolls is one of my favourite musicals and I’ve been lucky enough to see some wonderful productions over the years with top notch casts (who could blame Jamie Parker or Imelda Staunton for wanting to show off their vocal prowess as Sky Masterson or Miss Adelaide?). Nick Hytner knew he had big shoes to fill when taking on G&D and boy did he go for it! The mise en scene was so clever even if the narrow gangways restricted the movement of the dancers at times. And, unfortunately, I couldn’t always see what was happening on the floor (particularly during the scenes in Havana). Like others, I found the movement of the stage props and the stream of groundlings walking out of the auditorium to get another drink distracting. However, these are quibbles; you know you’re enjoying a show when, even if you know what’s coming next, it’s a pleasure to see how it’s done. I was particularly struck with the characterisation of Nathan and Miss Adelaide. Daniel Mays and Marisha Wallace brought real poignancy to their portrayal of the lovers stuck in a, ahem, rut. I was less convinced by the chemistry between Sky and Sister Sarah; both were tall and handsome and could sing beautifully but they didn’t “sizzle” for me at least. Was that because Sky would rather have been dancing with the boys back at the bar in Havana? In my mind, I’m still there now, singing along.

Judith & John

April 12, 2023

Private Lives

We had a wonderful evening with this production. Fabulous seats, so close to the stage that there was nowhere for the cast to hide! It was a very brave thing for the director to put his own ideas into it in the way he did. The scenes of domestic violence did understandably disturb some people and it is a sad commentary on life today, when we hear so much about it, that we seem to become rather hardened to it. However, the elements of farce did soften things for us.
The cast were terrific and, in particular, the connection between Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling was so powerfully convincing. At the start, in the veranda scene, Stephen Mangan seemed slow to settle in with rather hasty dialogue but he got into his stride and gave a fine performance. Watching Rachael Stirling at close quarters was a real treat; every expression, the movement of her hands, her body language all blended to convincingly portray her character.
After previous experiences with reading reviews before seeing a production, we said never again so this time we looked afterwards and stuck to reviews of other productions, happy to wait for press night reviews of this one. A production with Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge must have been very different, it is hard to imagine him as the perpetrator of domestic violence.
We much enjoyed the health and safety break to sweep up broken glass and the actors burying faces to try not to laugh and there were instances where they seemed to struggle to keep composure during the coffee and brioche episode!
It is also very brave of the Donmar to make the scene change in the way they did. We wonder if it will go well every night and what will be the state of the set at the end of the run.
The musical side of the production was excellent, Stephen Mangan doing his bit on the piano and the viola and cello players in the interval having their own domestic dispute with the cellist finally dragged off as he started to play the Elgar cello concerto!
Thanks Fredo and Mike for this visit; it joins the long list of memorable productions.

Sue Webster

April 5, 2023

Shirley Valentine

My first theatre trip for a very long while and I was overwhelmed by a truly powerful performance by Sheridan Smith in the title role. Busy in her kitchen we were not distracted by her domestic routines as she was able to include the audience ( and “wall” of course) in her dissatisfaction with her marriage, her demanding husband and the possibility of a brief escape to a Greek island…..I found the Act 1 to be be very amusing but was also aware of latent unhappiness……
Act 2 was in every way more thought provoking – enhanced by the simple set and Shirley being more static. She coped well with being left alone, enjoyed a holiday romance and after a lot of agonised thought made a brave decision to stay on the island. As Fredo asked on the coach what do we think happened after Joe’s visit to take her home? Sadly we will never know but the various possibilities kept me awake last night!

John Reed

March 27, 2023

Marjorie Prime

This was a fascinating and involving play. The hush in the audience from the outset was maintained throughout, and at certain points you could hear people taking a sharp intake of breath, either in surprise or recognition. I would think that most of the audience were in the 60+ age bracket and I wondered if this play were for, as opposed to about, older people. I suspect that younger people give no real thoughts to their own mortality, whereas the older one gets, the more such thoughts impinge. I have heard people with no religious/traditional beliefs about life after death, say that one is “alive” as long as one is remembered but when the last memory dies, then that’s it. I felt this was the main point of the play, but given a modern twist with the “prime” theme. It was wonderful to see this cast, especially the women, give such subtle and nuanced performances. Ann Reid is extraordinary in her ability to enable one to read exactly what is or might be in her thoughts while remaining utterly still. It was like viewing a film performance in close-up (oh the joy of being in row C in a small theatre. I found the themes haunting and kept myself awake last night pondering the complexities of this play. I was initially disappointed to learn that it was to be so short, but it’s exactly the right length.
The set was clever and I liked the lowering of the blinds to indicate change of act – rather like theatre curtains that the Menier doesn’t have. I would like to see this play again, and I don’t often say that.