The Show Must Go On!
A look back at 2015
What an unusual year it was, in so many ways! Mike and I will remember 2015 as the year we had a big adventure; the year there were almost too many worthwhile shows to book; and the year it became more difficult to make bookings for our Group, despite the unwavering assistance given to us by our friends at box-offices and ticket agencies.
It was impossible to book groups for certain shows, such as Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King - too popular and therefore no group discount (and no availability for a booking of 60 seats). Kenneth Branagh’s season at the Garrick was also a group-free zone with only a small discount for those booking all five plays.
Nor could we get tickets for Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory.“We’re a small theatre” we were told. Smaller than when we took a group to see Assassins in February? The whole run sold out in 30 minutes although Mike did manage to contact the box-office before all seats were sold. Never mind, we’ve booked two groups to see Funny Girl in 2016, in the larger Savoy Theatre, where it will have more room to breathe.
Elsewhere, availability for groups and discounts were limited too. Even so, we booked both Death of a Salesman and Photograph 51, both big at the box-office, while obtaining discounts of 45% on tickets for the Orchestra Stalls at the always popuar Royal Opera House.
This was the year when we offered more dance than ever before, and visits to the ROH and Sadler’s Wells are always eagerly anticipated. Meanwhile, we sometimes ran out of plays to offer, as producers announced shows and casting later and later,before a sudden rush of new peoductions.
It was a year of towering performances - from the anguished Penelope Wilton in Taken at Midnight; Imelda Staunton's heart-stopping turn in Gypsy; Rufus Sewell confused and distraught in Closer; Nicole Kidman’s single-minded concentration in Photograph 51; Sinead Cusack unravelling in Splendour; the astonishing and astonishingly powerful Nomi Dumezweni in Linda (replacing the indisposed Kim Catrall at five days' notice); an arrogant David Morrissey and menacing Johnny Flynn in the blackly comic and brilliantly original Hangmen; plus Harriet Walter, Ralph Fiennes and Simon Russell Beale respectively bereft, bothered and bewildered in Boa, Man and Superman and Temple
Each year has its disappointments, and I wonder what possessed me to book for Reviewing the Situation, the Lionel Bart concert at the Royal Festival Hall, after the disastrous From Rags to Ritzes. There were two other shows where I feel I should have trusted my instinct; my excuse is that they were requested, and some people enjoyed them. We aim to please all tastes, after all.
More feathers were ruffled by the revival of Closer than on its first appearance in 1997. Patrick Marber’s forensic examination of love and sexual jealousy alienated a section of the audience. Will they cope with the more cruel and more cynical Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which deals with similar themes - but in pretty frocks? We now live in less permissive times than when the plays were written.
We were fortunate to see many plays in their original homes, smaller fringe theatres, before some transferred to larger homes in the sometimes less hospitable environment of the West End, and we’re proud when our group is willing to take a gamble on new plays and new writers.
By the end of the year, we had offered you 54 different shows spread over 58 dates and 62 visits to theatres. Prices went up, but our average ticket price (without coach) was only £37.20, with many at only £29.50 and a few with a discount of more than 50%. Orchestra Stalls seats for Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House cost £64 even with a 45% discount, whereas our lowest price was £20 for How To Hold Your Breath at the Royal Court. But we do have a £20 ticket coming up in 2016 at Southwark Playhouse - sometimes it pays to be a Senior!
Offstage, there was a certain amount of drama as well. Who can forget that extraordinary night when I had to tell a small group to get off the coach and go home because their show (Beautiful) had been cancelled owing to a fire in Kingsway? The rest of us travelled to the Royal Opera House, only to find the Aldwych like a ghost town, and only the auditorium of the ROH fully functional. Coming out into darkness afterwards with no street lights or shop lights, and trying to cross the road to find the coach wasn’t my idea of fun.
Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man was even more exciting than ever, and our two groups were exhilarated by it, but, sadly, on the day of its final performance, the leading dancer Jonathan Ollivier was killed in a road accident on his way to the theatre.
If life weren’t already unpredictable, the Mayor and Transport for London have conspired to make our journeys more difficult. It's the construction of a cycle lane along Upper Thames Street and the Embankment that has caused all the problems. We have had to leave early on occasion to ensure that we reach the theatres in time. We’ll have to review this arrangement in 2016.
This gives me my cue to thank Cook’s Coaches and the excellent drivers who look after us so well. Others who make our enterprise possible are the helpful box-offices and agencies, and they are the heroes that you don’t know but on whom Mike and I depend: Chris and team at the Donmar, Joanne and team at Hampstead, Joe at the Royal Court, all at Delfont Mackintosh and Ambassadors Theatre Group.
The biggest thanks come last. I’m sure many people thought I might take early retirement this year, when I drew a lot of attention to myself, and it looked as though the show might come off the road. Mike and I would not have been able to continue during that difficult period without the willing and reliable help of Sue Webster who immediately stepped into my shoes and kept the coaches going without a moment’s hesitation. There are few people we could have asked to do this, and we are immensely grateful to Sue for all her help.
In addition, I can’t let the opportunity pass by to thank all of our customers for their continued support, and especially for the overwhelming concern and care that we were given at that difficult time.
And personally, I must acknowledge my debt to A&E at Southend and the miracle-workers at Basildon Cardio-thoracic Centre. I’m still here!
It’s been a year to remember!
Let us know what you remember!
(You can find a list of all the shows we have seen in 2015 by clicking HERE.)
Now please remind yourselves and tell us by email what impressed you most this last year. If your mind goes blank but you really liked whatsit in that play with an interval at the theatre up near you-know-where (that's me, says Mike)...well, give us a clue!