Theatre Season: The Good, The Bad & The Overhyped


October in London means serious plays. This year we have Lucy Prebble’s ‘A Very Expensive Poison’ and Nancy Harris’s ‘Two Ladies’ leading plenty of state-of-the-art modern plays. I have tickets for those and ‘The Man in the White Suit’, based on my father’s favourite film (probably because he imagined himself in the lead, a backroom boffin forever in trouble). New theatres are appearing – not the usual damp railway tunnel-spaces either, but tech’d up smart venues.

Best of the last few years is the extraordinary Bridge Theatre, a success from the moment it opened its doors, with affordable seating, an amazing setting and movie-star appeal. Elsewhere things are looking less attractive. Too many London theatres feel like tiny-seated museums, their productions hampered by the the beautiful listed interiors that need to be preserved. The warhorses drag on. Agatha Christie’s ‘The Detective Did It’ is older than me and still playing, God knows to whom, as it can be seen in a hundred other countries.

‘Harry Potter and the Very Expensive Fan Fiction’ will be clogging up the Shaftesbury Theatre for centuries to come, even though the price of taking your family will clear out your bank account. Likewise, certain US shows will run forever as museum pieces, mainly because they have the unfair advantage of bottomless advertising coffers powered by giant corporations. Step forward ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Book of Mormon’ (A regional American comedy tartly described by Stephen Sondheim as ‘a good sophomore effort’, still advertised weekly on the most expensive sites in London), ‘Hamilton’ (stranded at the Victoria Palace Theatre in theatre’s no-man’s land, the equivalent of seeing ballet in Hoboken).

Then there’s ‘experience’ theatre – too much audience participation, flashing lights and ticker-tape used to paper over the cracks of poor productions. ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, ‘Great Gatsby’ and ‘Mamma Mia – The Experience’ appeal to childless Millennials who like fancy dress, according to the New Statesman.

Largely, though, all the old problems remain; the audiences are skewed older because who else can afford to go now? It feels like a dilettante’s occupation, something for champagne Socialists and old Tories to do on winter evenings. There comes a certain point when you’ve seen the key plays in repertories, and many you’d like to see can never be staged now because of their scale. Such a fate faces many plays by my favourite playwrights, Charles Wood and Peter Nichols, who explored unfashionable subjects on grand scales.

Yet whatever the bill of fare, there’s the unchanged thrill you get in midwinter, coming out from a good play, knowing there’s a glass of wine, a hot meal and a thumping discussion ahead to round off the night. I’m about to book my annual Christmas Eve treat, so any suggestions welcome…

11 comments on “Theatre Season: The Good, The Bad & The Overhyped”

  1. snowy says:

    It does look a little sparce in ‘That London’, the only thing that fits my rather odd tastes would be ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ at the Vaudville. [Even if it is completely terrible as a play it’s got some Magic tricks in it.]

    2 PM Matinee 24th Dec Tickets from £20, get in quick.

  2. Andrew Holme says:

    Another reason for this may be that theatre and dramatists are not part of our cultural conversation anymore. In these astonishing political times theatre seems to have regressed to safe, sure fire hits and yet more musicals. It was ever thus, I suppose. But if you look back over the post war decades – Royal Court explosion in the 50s, Peters Brook and Weiss in the 60s, the American ‘living theatre’ and Brenton, Edgar and Wilson in the 70s, Caryl Churchill then Sarah Kane in the 80s and 90s, where are today’s equivalents? They are out there it’s just that we’re not seeing and engaging with them on other mainstream media. Let’s face it, it is expensive to go to the theatre, I can afford it many cannot. Exception – the recent trilogy day at the Globe, Henry IV parts 1&2 and Henry V. Price, £12.50 for the three plays. Splendid!

  3. Jan says:

    I crossed from Euston to Waterloo by Northern line on Tuesday and saw adverts for a new theatre at WEMBLEY PARK! Couldn’t get over it. For goodness sake wots going on? There was always a lot of recording done for films, tv programmes and for CDs up in Wembley Park but a proper theatre that’s summat new.

    It’s going to be taken as a terrible loss to the world of amdram but there’s going to be no Panto at Bothenhampton Village Hall for Feb 2020. This loss will be keenly felt in the local community mainly because we served food and more pertinently booze in the interval. This was the only way to keep the buggers in their seats

    I still can’t w work out how to send these photos to you on this dreadful machine. I might just show you the bloody things next time I see you. It’s the only way forward I reckon.

  4. Roger says:

    “‘The Detective Did It’ is older than me and still playing, God knows to whom, as it can be seen in a hundred other countries.”
    Perhaps there are “Mousetrap” connoisseurs who travel the world comparing different productions.

  5. Andrew Holme says:

    Can we stop giving away the ending of ‘The Mousetrap’. I haven’t seen it yet!

  6. Theophylact says:

    There has to be a time limit on spoilers. It’s too late to hide what happened to Hector or to Agamemnon.

  7. snowy says:

    Hector was discovered standing over the dismembered corpse of Kiki the Frog, he claimed he had been driven to it by her constant habit of ‘popping over’ without invitation and a pathological hatred of gingham.

    At the trial his defence of ‘Temporary Insanity’ was undermined by the presence at the scene of a chaffing pan and a large quantity of garlic butter, but despite this he was sentenced to be ‘Detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ for a minimum of 14 years.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    Snowy – that’s hilarious. ‘Hector’s House’ always annoyed me, even as a kid. Why? Despite the title, his house was never seen, or mentioned. Everything took place in the garden. I’m surprised that Zaza the cat never hunted down and killed (and left parts of in a prominent place) Kiki the frog. As it was the 1960’s, Kiki was lucky not to have been caught by schoolboys, and (a) Inflated with a straw, or (b) had a ‘banger’ type firework inserted in her backside.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Local theatre putting on Rent this year, but given the housing problems that one will stand up well.
    We lost our rep company a few years ago so we’re having to rely on “amateur” groups. (Most of those groups have about a quarter of their members people who would be at least semi-professional anywhere else. Very few are “appearing by permission of” their professional associations.)
    I haven’t seen the Mousetrap either, but I agree that it’s been out there long enough to lose protection. So has Sleuth (which I have seen).

  10. Eliz Amber says:

    ‘The Book of Mormon’ is quite popular here in the mountain west, but that’s exactly the reviewer’s point. I’ve never seen it – unfortunately, it’s considered a bit too controversial for season ticket holders, and my BFF and theatre buddy isn’t interested in it.

  11. admin says:

    The Book of Mormon has one rude song in it, is pretty funny and ends at the intermission. The second half feels like a pile of old sketches chucked together to pad out the running time. Supposedly the Mormons have contributed toward it. The play did well in Utah.

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