Fredo's Theatre Group 
An archive of our reviews 2018 (Part Three) 
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St. Nicholas by Conor McPherson at the Donmar Dryden Street 
What's it about? A jaded theatre critic reminisces about his venture into darkness. 
What did it have going for it? Conor McPherson (writer); Brendan Coyle (actor); Simon Evens (director) – theatrical triumvirate extraordinaire! 
Did we enjoy it? In a year of great tales being told (The Inheritance, The Lehman Trilogy), here we have another by that master of storytelling Conor McPherson (The Weir, etc). It's a mountain of a tale for one actor to climb - two hours to hold us in awe. Set, appropriately site-specific, in the attic of the Donmar's Dryden Street building (Set design: Peter McKintosh), windows covered with old Dublin newspapers, candles glimmering among immersive decrepitude, Brendan Coyle's hypnotic monologue grips us with a seductive intensity. He admits at the start that as a boy he was afraid of the dark and imagined vampires out there; now he is as critical of himself as the theatre people he spitefully destroys with his words; he leaves his family and Dublin haunts to follow a favourite actress to London, but then he strays into the night; what he finds there is partly a nightmare friendship to haunt him (yes, there are vampires) but essentially a life-affirming tale to mesmerise us. The atmosphere created by the most subtle changes in light (Lighting Design: Matt Daw) and soundscape (Sound Design: Christopher Shutt) enhance every word – there's not a moment when the tension slackens or the mind wanders – this is total attention-demanding story-telling of the highest order, recalling those night-time tales we were read as a child, but here given the perspective of a life experienced and ultimately the hope of what life can offer.  
Our Rating: 5/5 
Would the Group have booked? We can't take the Group up into the Domar's attic but individually you would be glued to your seat. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Put your mind to it and you will reap its reward. 
Group Appeal: 4/5 
Hogarth’s Progress: The Art of Success and The Taste of the Town by Nick Dear, 
at the Rose Theatre, Kingston 
What's it about? The two plays, in a day-long double bill, trace Hogarth’s development as a young, struggling artist to his later life as a recognised member of the Royal Academy. 
What did it have going for it? We can’t resist a theatrical marathon, and we like to support the Rose Theatre. It’s an interesting subject, with a near-local connection to Kingston (Hogarth lived in Chiswick). And the cast – Keith Allen, Bryan Dick, Mark Umbers, Ruby Bentall and Sylvestra Le Touzel – would have sold out the Donmar, the Royal Court or the Dorfman. 
Did we enjoy it? The first play, The Art of Success, dates from 1986, and Nick Dear has returned to the life of Hogarth only very recently. Together, the two plays create vignettes from the artist’s career, rather like Hogarth himself did in The Rake’s Progress or Marriage a la Mode. They’re both lively plays (with a few longuers) considering the function of art and the volatile nature of critical appraisal. Dear doesn’t skimp on the debauchery of the times, either.  
Each play focuses on the creation of one work of art - in the first, Hogarth works on the portrait of a woman condemned to be hanged (a crackling performance from Jasmine Jones) and in the second, the failure of his ambitious work, Sigismunda. This device leads to a disquisition on the morality of the artist in using other peoples’ lives, and to the value placed on art by society. Bryan Dick is an appealing younger. Hogarth (how lovely to see a naked man’s body unblemished by tattoos!) and Keith Allen seizes the opportunity to show a more cynical, reprobate artist.  
The Taste of the Town contains two scenes destined to become classics: Emma Cunliffe and Sylvestra Le Touzel spar in a coffee-house as society ladies, and later Hogarth has a lengthy debate with Horace Walpole (an epicene Ian Hallard) on the nature of art. Director Anthony Banks and designer Andrew D Edwards presented a handsome and clear production that made good use of the Rose’s problematic space. 
Our Rating: 3.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? Kingston is a long way from Southend! 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, I think so, though I think they would have got slightly restless (as I did) with the prolonged final scene. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Addendum to Mike’s recent price watch: The Rose has an open space at the front of the stalls, where the audience can sit on cushions on the floor for a minimal admission fee. As Kingston is a university town, this is ideal for students or the unwaged. Yet every time I’ve been to the Rose, this space is occupied by fairly obviously comfortably-off people who think it’s wonderful to see a play for the lowest possible expenditure. 
Well, it isn’t. It costs money to create art (as Hogarth demonstrates) and actors and technicians must be paid. And the Rose Theatre is constantly under threat of closure from the Conservative members of the council (which currently has a LibDem majority). It’s an enterprising theatre, and could be even more so, given the support it deserves from the community. Skimping on the admission price does not invest in the long-term interests of the theatre, and shows that sector of the audience to be self-absorbed and cheap. "What fun to pretend we're poor students again" I don't think. 
Porgy & Bess by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin 
at the Coliseum (dress rehearsal) 
Whats it about? Set in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1920/30s, the black community of residents of Catfish Row, on the waterfront, live out a tough life with many dependent on the sea, either as fishermen or stevedores. Gambling and drug-taking feature large in the story with murder, betrayal and violence following as a result. The titular characters are Porgy, a crippled beggar, and Bess who is left to fend for herself when her man, Crown, murders a fellow craps player while high on drugs. Porgy offers a sanctuary to Bess but she finds it hard to resist Crown when he reappears or Sporting Life, a dope peddler, when he tries to entice her to join him. Throughout we hear the story of the principal characters through songs, many of which are very familiar (e.g. Summertime,  I Loves you, Porgy,  It Aint Necessarily So). 
What did it have going for it? This is a co-production by the English National Opera with the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and Dutch National Opera with most of the roles taken by American artists including Eric Greene as Porgy and Nicole Cabell as Bess. In addition John Wilson, yes, the John Wilson, is making his ENO debut as conductor. 
Did we enjoy it? We did and in that we were joined by several parties of school children in the upper circle who didnt hold back in their feelings! There is a proviso though. When this was written in 1935, George Gershwin described this as a folk opera, with new songs and spirituals, and it is, as they say of its time in the way the characters behave and the language they are required to use. In what we hope are more enlightened times, all of this now jars somewhat and can seem dreadfully patronising. Over the years many artists, such as Harry Belafonte, have turned down offers to perform a role and others have been critical of the degree of stereotyping portrayed. As a vehicle for some wonderful songs and performances it is very enjoyable but the way the underlying story is constructed, less so. However, seldom has the stage been so well used and we have the entire space used to create tenement buildings and a courtyard with skeleton structures allowing us to see inside each room. This creates an intimate atmosphere at times and gives added support to the unfolding story of each character or pairing. Despite this being a dress rehearsal, when artists may choose to conserve their voices, the calibre of the singing was superb.   
Our rating:4/5 
Would the Group have enjoyed it? They would and no matter how familiar, or not, one might be with the story of Porgy and Bess, the songs and the emotions roused by the story make an impact. 
Group Appeal: 4/5 
The Woods by Robert Alan Evans, at The Royal Court, Upstairs 
What's it about? A journey through breakdown, maybe. 
What did it have going for it? Lesley Sharp – I wish I could say more. 
Did we enjoy it?  If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise...or maybe a shock. And really I don't know what to make of this arboreal onslaught. Here we have a Before and After looming large, but before and after what – apocalypse, trauma, infanticide, breakdown? A deafening soundscape of crashing and rumbling and scraping punctuates brief scenes around a shack in the titular woods, with a child's toys hidden beneath leaves. Woman is shacked up with Boy; various other characters visit, all personified by Wolf. The clues slowly appear, very slowly appear, tediously and reluctantly appear. There's shouting, there's pain, there's occasional humour but it's mainly protracted obfuscation. There's a scene by a motorway and another in a pristine fitted kitchen with 'woods' in its cupboards. It's all a journey, maybe from madness, and maybe I got there in the end. Or maybe I didn't. Bravery awards to Lesley Sharp and Tom Mothersdale for persevering, and to us for surviving a very long 85 minutes. But I did enjoy the moment the shack burst into real flames. 
Our Rating: 1.5/5 (Mainly for the elaborate wooded set and the actors' conviction.) 
Would the Group have booked? No 
Would the group have enjoyed it? No 
Group Appeal: 0/5 
Pinter 2: The Lover and The Collection by Harold Pinter, 
at the Harold Pinter Theatre 
What's it about?  The Lover: A married couple enact a fantasy life in which she has a lover, and he has a mistress. The Collection: A man becomes obsessed with the idea that his wife slept with another man while on a business trip. The other man is in a gay relationship. His partner is enraged. As it’s Pinter, we never find out what’s real and what isn’t. Both plays feature unusual relationships which only gradually become apparent - yes, very 'Pinter'. 
What did it have going for it?  This is the second programme in the season of Harold Pinter’s shorter works, and we’re trying to collect the set. This one boasted David Suchet, Russell Tovey, Hayley Squires and John MacMillan in the cast. 
Did we enjoy it?  A qualified Yes. Both plays were presented as comedies: The Lover recalled the recent Home, I’m Darling in its garish setting and artificial style of playing, and I enjoyed it – but not as much as in an earlier production of this double-bill at the same address. The Collection was well cast but less focused in both style and presentation. Both plays, though they were entertaining and expertly performed, seemed to have less substance than when previously seen. 
Our Rating:  3/5 
Would the Group have booked?  I’m sure David Suchet would have been a draw. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? They’d probably have liked The Lover more than The Collection. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Stories by Nina Raine at the National: Dorfman Theatre 
What's it about? When you're a woman, 39, single, and feeling maternal, what are your options for having a baby? 
What did it have going for it? A new play by Nina Raine (author of Consent- National and West End) with the wonderful Claudie Blakely in the lead. 
Did we enjoy it? Tick tock, tick tock goes the biological clock – time is running out for becoming a mum and there's no man to oblige. Buy sperm on the internet, ask a friend, or advertise for a willing partner, and if so will the baby have the right genes? Or just give up that wish because life as a singleton can be so fancy free? It's not a laughing matter and yet Nina Raine has the knack of giving us much laughter while being able to turn in an instant to a heartfelt emotional situation. With Claudie Blakley in the lead, anguishing over her problem and her options, she is the perfect actor with warmth and charm to win us over (yes, even us men!) and make her problems ours too. As an outsider, it's an involving, educational (!) and entertaining pathway to tread, and we meet a variety of possible donors along the way. They are all played by the exceptional Sam Troughton, switching through earnest artist, raving popster, precious actor, ex-boyfriend, and gay would-be father,with amusing ease. Margot Leicester and Stephen Boxer are the older generation. It's a spare traverse staging with multifunctional cubes sliding on and off, slick and effective. You'll find plenty to engage and think about after, without feeling got at at all. And I mean that in a positive way even though others may think the subject warrants a more earnest approach – I disagree. This one's a must for anyone who ever did or didn't want offspring – and I mean you!  
Our Rating:   4/5 
Would the Group have booked? Possibly more women than men would anticipate (wrongly) that it's a play only for them whereas it has wide appeal. Certainly I recommend it.  
Would the group have enjoyed it? Totally...but it's only playing to the end of November. Let's hope for a well deserved transfer, but with seats aplenty still available this seems doubtful. 
Group Appeal:   4/5 
Wise Children adapted by Emma Rice from the novel by Angela Carter, at the Old Vic 
What's it about? Twin sisters celebrate their 75th birthday by looking back on their theatrical lives. 
What did it have going for it?  I'd watched a television documentary on Angela Carter recently, and made up my mind that she was obnoxious, opinionated and rude, but I read Wise Children anyway, and thought it was a real tour de force. We’d seen a video clip of a rehearsal of this production, which looked like fun. What could go wrong?  
Did we enjoy it? A resounding No! It was an unfunny mess. The story was impossible to follow. So much had been left out that the whole exercise seemed pointless, and we were left with a group of fairly charmless performers mugging their way through the songs. The songs were the best bit, but even they became tiresome. Where was the narrative dexterity, the wit, the verbal invention of the book? Mike said it made him angry; I was so bored I could barely summon up indifference. 
Our Rating:  2/5 because I’m feeling generous. 
Would the Group have booked? I think probably not. No-one enquired about it. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? I doubt it, though I have to admit that the audience responded well: there was laughter and applause and at the end, the four young women in front of us happily sang along to Girls Just Want To Have Fun. 
Group Appeal:   2/5 
Mike adds: While I'm still angry I feel I should add my own tuppenceworth. It's the style that's the killer and whereas Emma Rice got the tone right for Brief Encounter, here she's just indulging her obsessions with  class, gender, and vaudeville. This is panto for ten year olds, but added to the mix is end-of-pier smut, swearing and sentimentality for the Mrs Brown's Boys audience. Why is the male romantic lead played by a small woman with a stick-on moustache? Why the on-stage caravan, never referred to? Why are we supposed to find a foul-mouthed virago endearing? Despite perfunctory song'n'dance, cod Shakespeare plotlines, mime, puppets and drag, this tortuous biographical yarn rambles on far too long. My anger is for a lost opportunity and the cast's wasted talents. Girls may just want to have fun, but this guy was not amused.
Peter Pan – a musical adventure, score by Stiles and Drewe; an amateur production 
by the Southend Operatic and Dramatic Society, at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff. 
(This was the First Performance) 
What's it about? Oh you know that already, don't you? Unless, like Peter, you have not yet grown-up and still believe in fairies. As I do. 
What did it have going for it? A rarely produced musical based on J M Barrie's1904 play, and an am-dram society with an enthusiastic local following. 
Did we enjoy it? This is a story for kids, of course, always was and always will be. I even remember being taken to a stage production of the play when very young with I think Margaret Lockwood in tights as PP, then later to see the Disney animated film to which every later version is compared. This musical version adds a large number of tuneful songs to keep the grown-ups awake, while the production encouraged a certain wonder in the kids and exercised  their imaginations. They reacted with laughter in all the right places at the broad goings-on, bless-em, and certainly we adults were entertained by Andrew Walters' lively orchestra and some particularly good voices from the lead performers and chorus. 'Peter Pan' himself had youthful male charm as well as the right confidence – no traditional gender-swap there although some of the pirates were transitioning! The role of 'Father/Captain Hook' was especially well played with aplomb, and in Act Two 'Smee' proved himself a comedian able to pull off a jaunty song with ease.  I know am-dram societies have casting problems but it was not a good idea to cast and direct Tinkerbell as a lolloping oversized doll, who almost made me disbelieve in fairies. 'Tiger Lily' was lively, but her two listless handmaidens were not so handy. The Narrator/Older Wendy always hooked us with her gravitas and the clarity of her story-telling, and brought a welcome moist-eye of sentiment to the flash-forward ending, which we cynical  grown-ups do not always remember. Once the theatre had been hired, I assume little budget was left for the cut-out production, but it was adventurous to use limited projections and I wished they could have been used more – background clouds for the grounded flying sequence could have been good. This was the first performance/preview but with few signs of nerves and some enthusiastic dancing,  the audience of well-wishers gave it an appreciative reception. A few more performances and Peter Pan may have flown higher. You can still see the show's trailer on the SODS Facebook page and I commend the professionalism of how the trailer really does 'sell' the animated cast. 
Our Rating:   3/5 (on the Am-Dram scale) 
Would the Group have booked? Some of you did! 
Would the group have enjoyed it? It's always good to see familiar local faces in the cast. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 (on the Am-Dram scale) but ask the kids who never lie. 
Twelfth Night: A Musical Adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare, 
Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, 
Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub; at the Young Vic Theatre 
What's it about? It’s about falling in love with the wrong people and how it can all go right. It’s about having fun, and joy and laughter! 
What did it have going for it? It’s one of the first productions by the new Artistic Director of the Young Vic. This musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy was successful in New York. And here it’s been relocated to Notting Hill (or thereabouts) and a carnival spirit pervades. We’d heard good things… 
Did we enjoy it? We were guests of the Young Vic, but that didn’t influence us at all. In fact, I always have to overcome a slight resistance to musical Shakespeare, as there’s a certain look-how-clever-we-are self-consciousness about a lot of them. In this case, my misgivings evaporated instantly: how could one resist “If music be the food of love, play on” turned into a song'n'dance number? The show was colourful, funny and tuneful with the stage opened up to form a street with road running through the centre of the auditorium. Gabrielle Brooks was an irresistible Viola, and Natalie Dew melted effectively as Olivia fell in love. In lesser company, Gerard Carey’s Malvolio would easily have stolen the show with his top-hat and cane number, and he did indeed get most applause at the end. The dancers worked hard, and it was a pleasure to watch. Shakespeare, despite his play being reduced to 90 minutes straight through, would have been pleased. 
Our Rating:  4/5 
Would the Group have booked? If I’d known it was this good, I’d have offered it to them. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Without a doubt. 
Group Appeal:  4/5 
The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen, 
in a new version created by Robert Icke, at the Almeida Theatre 
What's it about? A callow idealist delves into the secrets and deceptions in the lives of his own family, and that of his friend. In doing so, he destroys everybody. 
What did it have going for it? It’s one of Ibsen’s great plays, and the Almeida usually does a good job in exploring masterpieces of world drama. The director Robert Icke has an individual style that doesn’t please everybody, though he did a good job on The Oresteia and Hamlet; sadly, his production of Mary Stuart didn’t survive some cast changes and the journey from Islington to the West End. 
Did we enjoy it? I was nervous of the words “new version” but I was quickly drawn in by the style of the production  - actors confronting the audience, a bare stage slowly becoming more naturalistic. The actors tell the story, as well as act it out, and interleave a critical commentary at certain moments as well (Jennifer tells me I have to use the word meta here!). When they step outside acting the play, they speak into a microphone – yes, I know it sounds ghastly, but it worked for Mike and me. 
Or at least it did in the first half of the play. By the time we got to the second and climactic section of the play, there were moments that I thought were misjudged: a scenic surprise; Gina’s confessional aside that she had slept with her seducer more than three times, and the indictment  against Ibsen for having abandoned his illegitimate child twenty years before he wrote this play (was this the judgement of Icke, or of the character in the play?) struck me as giving too many indications to the audience on how to react. A further device that Icke favours is the interpolation of a sentimental song towards the end of the play (cf Mary Stuart, Hamlet) – is this a distancing technique, or a nudge to get a reaction? Someone please tell him to stop!  
Nevertheless, the play stood up to all these interpolations, and Icke didn’t betray the play’s tough   message: mendacity is destructive, but so is unvarnished truth. Ibsen doesn’t compromise, and neither did this group of actors. None of them played for sympathy: all the men are deeply flawed and to an extent unlikeable, and the women have their failings as well. All credit to Kevin Harvey, Edward Hogg and Lyndsey Marshal for their forensic examination of their characters’ shortcomings.  
Our Rating:  4/5 
Would the Group have booked? Ibsen has been popular with our group, but they may not have known the actors – and familiarity sells. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Some of the meta-moments might have got in the way. 
Group Appeal:   3/5 
War Requiem by Benjamin Britten, at the LondonColiseum 
What's it about? A lament for the dead of all wars, but specifically the First and Second World Wars, based on the liturgy of the Latin Mass and its prayers for the repose of the souls of the deceased, interspersed with poems by Wilfred Owen. It was commissioned for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral (the original was destroyed by bombing in World war ll) from pacifist Benjamin Britten. 
What did it have going for it? This was a dress rehearsal of a new staging from the English National Opera’s Artistic Director Daniel Kramer, with designs by German artist Wolfgang Tillmans. performed by the combined forces of an 80-strong chorus, a children’s choir of 40 from Finchley Children's Music Group, the full ENO Orchestra, a chamber orchestra, and three soloists: Emma Bell, David Butt Phillip and Roderick Williams. 
Did we enjoy it? Inevitably, it’s a sober, if not sombre, piece. The keynote could be Owen’s poem Futilitywhich is set in the Lacrimosa section of the Dies Irae. This sums up Britten’s feelings as a pacifist about war, eventually distilled into the agony of Strange Meeting. The singing was exultant, and the staging constantly starkly beautiful., with a few directorial flourishes along the way. It was an appropriate commemoration in the month that marks the centenary of the war that didn’t end all wars. 
Our Rating:   4/5 
Would the Group have booked?  I’m not sure how many Britten fans we’ve got in our group. 
Would the group have enjoyed it?  I’m sure it would have gained respect. 
Group Appeal:   3/5 
Switzerland by Joanna Murray-Smith, at the Ambassadors Theatre 
What's it about? A young publisher visits Patricia Highsmith in her Swiss hideaway to persuade her to write another Ripley novel 
What did it have going for it? A thriller in the West End – that's unusual these days. So too is seeing Phyllis Logan back on stage after Downton Abbey. 
Did we enjoy it?  Was this to be something political, or even geographical? (How many plays can you name with a country in the title?) No, this was about the author of the famous Ripley novels which I have not read, though of course I saw the film of The Talented Mr Ripley. Fredo had told me Highsmith was a hard-drinking, hard-smoking,  aggressive lesbian, so it was no surprise to see Phyllis Logan being all of those things, plus irritable and irritating too. The surprise was discovering this was a thriller with a two-hander touch of Sleuth and of course a touch of Ripley as well. The young publisher, played impressively by Calum Finlay, sparred well with the unrecognisable Ms Logan and soon the play strayed into territory which....I must not spoil for those yet to see it. This was a studio production from Bath now relocated to the West End and looking a little lightweight, but certainly filling an audience need for the sort of entertainment that keeps you guessing. It won't have the staying power of Sleuth but I can see it being revived regularly out-of-town. 
Our Rating:   3/5 
Would the Group have booked? Phyllis Logan's name would help the box-office 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, in moderation, especially by Highsmith fans. 
Group Appeal:   3/5 
Pinter Four: Moonlight and Night School by Harold Pinter 
at the Harold Pinter Theatre 
What's it about?  In Moonlight  Andy is dying. Moments of lucidity are mingled with flashes of memory. In Night School Wally returns home from a spell in prison and finds that his aunts have let his room to a young woman who says she attends classes at night school – but what is she really up to? 
What did it have going for it?  This is the 4th programme in the season of Pinter plays presented by Jamie Lloyd, and the 3rd that we have seen. Don’t worry - we intend to collect the set. All the plays are luxuriously cast; this one boasts Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Brid Brennan, Peter Polycarpou and Al Weaver, all seizing the chance to strut their stuff in two very different plays. 
Did we enjoy it? This is the third production I have seen of Moonlight (1993), and though Lynsey Turner had directed it to bring out as much humour as possible from this play, I still found that it doesn’t easily give up whatever secrets it may have. It dates from a time when directors, actors and audiences were most indulgent to Pinter, and he was given licence to exercise his mannerisms of disjointed scenes and non-sequiturs. Would it have hurt to give the audience a bit more to lean on? Is it really profound, or am I expected to admire the emperor’s new clothes? 
Night School (1960) was written for television, and is a more engaging piece. It was performed with aplomb by the actors clearly having a good time (and who knew that Janie Dee and Brid Brennan could play Cockney?). It was very funny, with the humour emerging both from the characters and the dialogue – there was a surreal logic in the non-sequiturs here that reminded me of Joe Orton. The director was Ed Stambollouian, new to me, and a name to look out for. 
Our Rating: Moonlight- 3/5     Night School- 4/5 
Would the Group have booked?  The cast might have attracted them – but they didn’t book Pinter 1 and 3 in any number. (Mike adds - I suppose Pinter isn't Tina but there was a good audience in the theatre.) 
Would the group have enjoyed it?  I suspect it would have been an evening of two halves. 
Group Appeal:   3/5 
Caroline, or Change Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book & Lyrics by Tony Kushner, 
at the Playhouse Theatre 
What's it about?  It’s 1963. Caroline, the black maid in a Jewish household in Louisiana, is struggling to make ends meet. She’s a single parent with a rebellious teenage daughter. Her kindly employer tells Caroline to keep any change that she finds in the pockets when she is doing the laundry. But there are more changes taking place in the outside world, and all these changes – big and small – have an impact on Caroline’s life. 
What did it have going for it?  We were guests of Delfont Mackintosh. This production was highly praised at Hampstead Theatre, and the performance of Sharon D Clarke was singled out for rave reviews. I was interested to see the production by Michael Longhurst, incoming Artistic Director of the Donmar.  
Did we enjoy it?  We had seen the original production on Broadway, and then we’d seen it again when that production came to the National Theatre. My memory of it was that it was a show to respect rather than enjoy, and I’m afraid I didn’t change my mind. The various conceits of the show – a singing washing-machine, tumble drier and bus, not to mention the moon – are distracting, and I found it difficult to chart the development of Caroline as a character. Sharon D Clarke is a powerful performer, and she was strongly supported (the entire cast sang exceptionally well). At the end, the audience was enthusiastic, but I felt that the claims made for Caroline in the final minutes of the show hadn’t been earned. 
Our Rating:  3/5 
Would the Group have booked?  I think it’s a little off-beat. 
Would the group have enjoyed it?  Mmm, I’m not sure. 
Group Appeal:   2/5 
Seussical – The Musical Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Music by Stephen Flaherty, 
based on stories and characters by Dr Seuss, at Southwark Playhouse 
What's it about? The Cat in the Hat tells a tale or two about Horton the Elephant hearing a Who; he's tricked into hatching the egg of Maisie LaBird, while Gertrude McFuzz grows a tail that's absurd! Yes, really.  It rhymes throughout and, oh, it’s about 75 minutes long, without an interval – this makes me suspect that this is not the full show as seen on Broadway in 2000, but the junior scaled-down version which is very popular as a schools production. 
What did it have going for it? Lots of volume and verve, from an agile cast with nerve! The Cat in the Hat captivated the audience of mostly 6 and 7 year-olds from the start (we weren’t the only old people there, but we were outnumbered) and the colourful costumes and lighting and frenetic dancing kept them entranced (except for one little boy who protested so vehemently that he had to be taken out).  
Did we enjoy it? Mike and I had suggested to friends that this would be a suitable Christmas treat for their grand-children, but they booked a more expensive West End show instead. They should have taken our advice. The kids loved it. I struggled to follow the plot (see above) but did that really matter? It was the picture-book nature of the piece that counted. Southwark Playhouse produces amazing work on very limited budgets, and it was good to see children enjoying their afternoon out of school so much. We were very taken with a babe in arms (can’t have been more than 6 months) sitting opposite us whose eyes followed the dancers and made no criticism whatsoever. Thanks to our friend Jan for giving us the tickets. 
Our Rating: 3/5 
Would the Group have booked? It’s a children’s show, and very short, so I wouldn’t have offered it to the group, but even so… 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Yes, I think they would! 
Group Appeal:   3/5 
White Teeth  adapted by Stephen Sharkey from the novel by Zadie Smith, 
at the Kiln Theatre 
What's it about? A group of characters living around the Kilburn High Road in the period 1975 to 2000, their immigrant family histories, and very mixed relationships.  
What did it have going for it? A perfect subject for the Kiln Theatre, address - 269 Kilburn High Road. We also wanted to see the newly refurbished and controversially renamed Kiln Theatre, previously the Tricycle Theatre. 
Did we enjoy it? We were entertained and amused but somehow not quite as much as we wanted to be. The cast erupted onto the Kilburn High Road set with enthusiasm and were soon singing old and new songs (yes, it's a musical of sorts); their backgrounds and ancestry unfolded, but a sense of deja vu was in the air, possibly as we had recently seen the musical version of Twelfth Night and the similarly mixed-up family saga Wise Children. I know I shouldn't compare but my response was dulled by familiarity and this production just wasn't reaching the parts it wanted to. In this context White Teeth refers to both the dentist whose family saga is told at length, and the mixed racial couplings that form her background and give so much character to the Kilburn High Road. The cast excel themselves playing a variety of roles at different stages of their lives and it's a lively entertainment, but it should be more to uphold the book's praise and popularity. 
We were impressed by the refurbished theatre - comfortable seats; improved seating plan and sightlines; smart interior cafe and entrance coffee bar; and  pleasant staff - we shall enjoy going there again. 
Our Rating:   3/5 
Would the Group have booked? No big names in the cast but fans of the book might be interested to check it out. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Moderately so, like us. 
Group Appeal:   3/5 
Hadestown, Music, Lyrics and Book by Anais Mitchell, developed with Rachel Chavkin, 
at the National, Olivier Theatre 
What's it about? It's the old Orpheus and Eurydice myth, updated and retold in music and rhyme. 
What did it have going for it? This new musical had been hyped from New York with some good reviews from London, and we had enjoyed Reeve Carney (Orpheus) in the Christmas concert at the Cadogan Hall too. 
Did we enjoy it?  It opened well with a chicly functional revolving set, part bar and part recording studio, with a New Orleans feel to it and the band in place. The mostly young cast, a racial mix, set the tone for this update, and the two leads, back-packing students, him with guitar, certainly looked the part for this retelling of a familiar moral tale. And the rhymes and rhythms, and microphone wielding cast, lured us along the trail to the Underworld, I felt strangely left behind to admire the splendid set (Design: Rachel Hauck) and the amazing lighting effects (Lighting: Bradley King). Reeve Carney was in good voice as Orpheus, as was Eva Noblezada's Eurydice, but I thought she lacked charm and the magnetic love bond between the two was missing. Patrick Page brought the devil of a bass presence to the role of Hades, and a trio of Fates added sultry glamour as a chorus. The origin of Hadestown is a 2010 folk-opera concept album, a fusion of song styles to enjoy through headphones, but staging it meant that taking us down to Hell (helped by the Olivier's famous drum hydraulics) was left to our imagination in this lively concert-like performance. I enjoyed it; Fredo enjoyed it more; the youngish audience were ecstatic. Looking back, maybe I would appreciate a second viewing more – with its 'Once', the musical, similarity - knowing now what to expect. 
Our Rating:   3.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? The musically adventurous would not have wanted to miss it. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Possibly a two and four star response. 
Group Appeal:   3/5