Given how late in the run it is, there seems to be no point in reviewing Seminar … except it’s such a genuinely enjoyable show that I think it would be criminal to just resign it to pleasant memories rather than put in a good word and see if maybe I can help build the momentum that gets it a transfer. And, well, looking at the Hampstead website, there is actually some availability, and, hey, isn’t that why you’re here, to see if you should go see a show or not? And I’m saying you should, if you enjoy a comedy and maybe a bit of poking fun.
Seminar is set in a New York apartment rented by a spoiled rich girl who thinks that with a little bit more investment, she (and a three carefully selected others) could actually kick up her/their game enough to become “real” writers. The idea is to pool together a large sum of money and get nearly-private tutoring by “Leonard” (Roger Allam), a formerly famous writer now turned copy editor.
The comedy, it turns out, is far more than just listening to Leonard savage each one of their heartfelt piles of crap (we never get to hear a world of what’s been written, just his commentary, which is a blessing and does wonders for pacing); rather, the giggles come from the dynamic of the four group members over the course of the seminar. We’ve got blond, schlumpy Kate (Charity Wakefield), who doesn’t want to embrace now much less the future and can’t let go of the novel she’s been nursing along for six years; arrogant Douglas (Oliver Hembrough), who with his giant ego and constantly changing palette of pastel socks seems to be the only person who’s really going to make it as a writer; Martin (Bryan Dick), the guy who really seems to be along for the ride as he never shows his writing to anyone; and Izzy (Rebecca Grant), who thinks that sex is the way to success and seems to be riding it for all she can. Each of them has mixed amounts of respect (mostly lack of) for the other participants; each of them slowly starts to come apart; and as their mental landscapes disintegrate, the claws come out … and it gets really fun.
In the midst of the psychodrama, I found there were actually some really intelligent discussions about writing happening, which, given that I went with a fellow writer, went over really, really well (the Jack Kerouac bit just killed me). And there was also some decent advice given about making a career in the field. Hollywood writing? It’s used as an insult but pulling in cash actually isn’t as filthy a choice to make as the four kids try to tell each other. And there are a lot of things you can try to be, as a writer, that aren’t Being Nabokov but are still making a career. And one of them is being a Leonard. At the end, he tries to sell us on the magic, but it’s stagey and a bit unbelievable; a bit what you’d expect of a Hollywood writer, which is what I think the author of this play (Theresa Rebeck) is. But you know what? I don’t want to see Uncle Vanya or a Pinter play every night. Sometimes I just want to go to the theater and have a good time and laugh so loud that I piss off the people sitting in front of me. This is the kind of play Seminar is: two hours of nicely crafted fun that is exactly what an intelligent audience member wants – stimulating, well acted, and not too full of itself. Roger Allam: a bit too one-note (“asshole”), but full of charisma and excellent in the role. Snap up a ticket while you still can.
(This review is for a performance that took place on October 15th, 2014. Seminar continues through November 1st. Thanks to OughtToBeClowns’s Twitter feed for the heads up.)