Posts Tagged ‘Roger Allam’

Mini-review – Seminar – Hampstead Theater

October 17, 2014

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.)

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Review – La Cage Aux Folles – Playhouse Theatre

July 31, 2009

On Friday I had the magnificent opportunity to see a well-reviewed play with a topic/theme I found intriguing at the WORLD’s best price ever. Let me be clear about what a screaming deal I am talking about: I saw the Menier’s production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Playhouse, from the third row, for the stellar sum of £5.

To be honest, rather than giving a rip about my review, I think more of you are going to be interested in how I pulled this trick off. It’s all due to joining the Ambassadors Theatre’s mailing list. They have a regular email alert with sort of unimpressive deals, £25 for shows normally £45 or so, which I ignore because it’s not such a good deal. But then this email came out saying “Quick! £5 for first 10 tickets to each show of La Cage for the next month!” And there I was with the email nice and hot in my hand and I was at my keyboard and work was quiet AND I had been planning on seeing this show for ages but just hadn’t done it because I wasn’t willing to cross the £20 price zone and voila magic happened. Seriously.

I’d been planning on seeing this show for ages but was pissed off because the “best seats available for $25” deals all came with a little * and a note at the bottom of the page saying, “*Well, no, not really the best seats, just the seats we’re going to call the best available, because we don’t want to sell you the other seats. You’ll note ‘best’ is ‘really not very good.’ Tough.”

At any rate, I’d almost bought seats a couple of times, and this time I jumped like a spider had just landed on my leg. WHAM. Four seats, 20 quid, HUZZAH! And then I had to wait.

So, after not having seen this show for nearly 7 months since I’d originally been thinking about going to it, how was it, really? Sad to say, I found it unpleasant for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with the Cagelles, most of whom I wanted to take home with me (or be taken home by). No, it was the script, and the acting, that bugged me. First, Philip Quast (Georges) and Roger Allam (Albin) were … so camp it was positively panto. It felt like straight guys trying to act like how English comedy musical audiences would expect gay characters to be. And then there was the black “maid.” Nolan Frederick may have been an understudy (it seemed like half the cast was), but this wrist flapping, bubbly, squeeing and oohing black man to me was every worst stereotype of a black servant turned gay. I couldn’t believe he found this role within the scope of his dignity to play. I mean, I’ve met plenty of queeny black men in my life but they’ve never felt scraping and servile. It was like being stuck in some horrible revue written by the BNP. Did no one notice how bad it was?

Finally, and there’s nothing to be done about it (other than a major update), but I could not swallow the primary “twist” of the script, that Georges would allow his son to bully him into kicking his life partner out of the house they shared, even for a night. What The F**k. It’s just not done, and I don’t care if it was the 70s. He wouldn’t have put his mother or granny on the street for the night, how could he possibly be okay with doing it with someone he supposedly loved, even for one evening? IT WAS THE HOUSE THEY BOTH OWNED, YOU CAN’T KICK THE OTHER PERSON OUT. And for the son, Jean Michel (Ben Deery), well, he came off as so slimey and unsympathetic that it killed rather a lot of the “comedy,” but it was ultimately Georges betrayal that killed the fun in this comedy. I couldn’t get over the hump of this person being so horrible to his partner and I wasn’t really able to get my funny bone tickled during the show, even when the horrible in-laws-to-be showed up. The songs were kind of nice, I did enjoy all of the numbers with the Cagelles and the big silly scene at the restaurant, I really liked when Georges was wooing Albin at the seaside restaurant, but too much bothered me for me to really enjoy this show.

Here’s what I think. This show should be set to England (to get rid of the comedy element of 9 cast members with English accents and only one with French) and the show should be rewritten so “George” does NOT agree to kick “Al” out, but does agree to pretend to be married to “Gene’s” birth mother (Gene of course never asking for anything so caddish as to have Al turned out of his home). Then we could do the rest of the laughs without the pallor of heartlessness and selfishness that turned La Cage for me. While I can’t say it was a bad show, the way it plays now I found it was a far cry from the light evening of comedy and fun I was expecting.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 24th, 2009. La Cage is booking through 2010. FYI, John Barrowman is taking over as Albin/Zasa come September 14th.)

Pre-show anticipation – Matthew Bourne’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray” – the excitement is building! – and discount tickets for Peony Pavillion

June 2, 2008

I actually broke down and bought my tickets for Portrait of Dorian Gray today. I’m not going to be able to make it Edinburgh to see it as part of the Fringe (that weekend was already booked), but the September London presentation at Sadler’s Wells is a must. I will now be seeing it on Wednesday, September 3rd, and I’m excited! It’s also now the theatrical event that’s booked furthest ahead on my calendar. Tickets for most of the main floor were already sold, which I think is pretty impressive.

Oddly, this all came about because I was rebooking my tickets for The Peony Pavillion, since a fabulous deal came my way – £15 stalls seats for any show, if you use the promotion code pcdchineseopera . For all of the people who’ve come to this blog looking for info on authentic Chinese cultural presentations, I’d like to encourage you to see this show – it should be top of the line and it’s not the thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. Go go go (both of you)!

I also booked tickets for the Sara Baras flamenco show in mid-July (also at Sadlers Wells), and I’m kind of wondering about seeing the English National Ballet’s show at the Royal Festival Hall in early July. It’s got choreography by three people I’ve never heard of before, but it’s also butting right up against my departure date for the York Early Music festival, so I might be too pressed to catch it. Sadly, I’ve never been particularly electrified by any performance I’ve seen by ENB, so this is also making me think I shouldn’t go … but maybe this time things would be … different.

Closer in, I’ve got a pile of tickets accumulating in anticipation of my uncle’s arrival next week – the Marguerite the Musical set, a quartet of Revenger’s Tragedy at a delicious £10 a pop, a trio for Romersholm at the Almeida (I never see discount tickets there – makes me think they must do a better job at picking the right shows for the right length of time, or maybe they’ve done a good job of cultivating a steady audience) … now all I need is to have those silly Powder Her Face tickets jump in my hand for the Sunday June 15th performance, and somehow get a few for the Edith Bagnold’s Chalk Garden at the Donmar on Wednesday June 11th – but it looks sadly like they are sold out and you can forget my doing standing room for anything these days. Perhaps Afterlife at the National will prove an acceptable substitute, but with my luck it won’t even be on that day.

In a final note, I am still beating myself up for not ordering my Jordi Savall tickets for the York Early Music Festival early enough, and am praying to the gods of returned tickets to show me some mercy on this – he’s the whole reason I’m going!