WelsfordTheatre visits followed by a chat over a cup/glass of something in a nearby café. We also meet periodically in a pub/café in Islington to discuss the plays we have seen in more detail.

Group Coordinator: Sue Welsford (click to contact)

Theatre visits normally about once a month. Often choosing midweek matinees when we can get 'senior' concessions and reasonable group rates. Discussions every six weeks or so.

We go to a range of theatres: local (for example Arcola and the Park Theatre), subsidised (for example the National) and West End (often to see transfers from small 'off West End' theatres).

Theatre Visit Programme
The full lookahead date information is now visible in Beacon, the Members' System. The link to Beacon for iU3A members is here. Once you've clicked there, sign in with your personal details; then on the Home page click on 'Calendar of meetings and events'. You'll see all groups listed there, or at the top line next to 'Group', in the gap select the drop-down menu arrow; scroll down to Theatre Visits; click that, then only the dates for Theatre Visits willl be shown.

Although tickets are booked and allocated months in advance, we often have a few ‘returns’ from members.  So if you are particularly interested in seeing any of the plays list in the calendar, do email and we can put you on the waiting list.  We welcome suggestions from group members for future visits.

Theatre Visit Discussions
Discussion group
We also have a discussion meeting every two months when we discuss the plays we have seen in that period.

See Beacon, the Members' System, for the dates for these discussions, which are put on the calendar.

Our Recent Theatre Visits
The March visit was to see Leopoldstadt, by ToLeopoldstadt March 2020m Stoppard, which is set in Vienna and opens on a happy scene of Christmas celebration. It is 1899. The family are decorating the Tree. There is much talk between the various groups, revealing that this is a professional, secular Jewish family, at peace with themselves and one another. As the play progresses towards World Wars One and then Two, we see the horrors that awaited Jewish families at the hands of the Nazis. The Stoppard wit is constantly present, though, lighting up the action and the dialogue. The actors present the play superbly, and the sets quietly support the changing story.

Leopoldstadt is based on the playwright’s own life. His mother had escaped the Nazis, bringing young Tom to England, where she remarried, saying merely that there was some Jewish blood in the family. In his fifties Stoppard was contacted by an unknown Czech cousin, who told him their story, including the fate of many of them in death camps.

Tom Stoppard says this may be his last play. What a privilege to have seen it. (Jan Whelan)

The February visit was to Park Theatre to see theLa Cage aux Folles Feb 2020 first English version of the 1970s’ La Cage aux Folles [The Play], by Jean Poiret, translated by Simon Callow. It was great on a miserable grey wet afternoon in North London to find ourselves on the French Riviera in the middle of a classic French farce. The action takes place in a glorious sea-view apartment above the drag club ‘La Cage aux Folles’ when chaos ensues after Laurent, the rather conventional son of Georges, the owner, and Georges’s male partner Albin (Madame Zaza, the star of the cabaret) announces that his fiancée and her ultra right-wing Christian parents are coming to visit. He insists that all evidence of their flamboyant lifestyle be removed and in the second Act we see that the flat has been turned into something resembling a monastery with crucifixes and portraits of clerical figures — though the crockery depicting erotic ancient Greek scenes somehow gets past Laurent’s notice and causes much puzzlement to the visitors round the dining table. As in all farces, there are endless complications and confusions but eventually all ends well.

The January theatre visit was to see a welcome revival of Shelagh DelanA taste of Honey Jan 2020ey’s A Taste of Honey, with an interesting range of characters brought to the stage. The central focus is on the relationship between the mother and daughter. The mother, Helen, found her caring role difficult. Had she found that her mother similarly did not provide her with a strong caring role model? In fact the caring role was supplied by the gay man, a part which is still unusual on the stage. Someone in our discussion group said that the male characters were not developed, but I think the character of Geoff could have developed after the play ends, so giving us food for thought after we have seen the play. Is he able to assert himself and go back into the life of daughter Jo and her baby? Given that Helen, the mother, is a ‘flaky’ character, it is likely that after she disappears from the scene again, her responsibilities to Jo and the baby breaking down, Geoff will have a chance to step in.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Delaney is the unsentimental view of working-class people that
she gives us. In spite of very tough conditions they are able to laugh and see the funny side of their circumstances; this gives them a dignity, particularly Helen. When she says ‘I certainly supervised my own downfall’, we see agency and irony, which is there again when Jo says ‘why marry your husband?’ and Helen replies ‘At the time I had nothing better to do’. The usual reasons for marrying take a back seat. Helen is able to reflect upon herself when she says ‘The extent of my credulity always depends on my alcoholic intake.’ We see another innovative ability of Delaney when Jo is attracted to the black boyfriend. At this stage in the play there is no focus on race, but the focus is on what he does and what he has done in the past. There is no mention of skin colour, just his brown eyes and curly hair. This is a refreshing take on ‘inter-racial’ relations, which is only addressed when Helen is horrified with the idea of a black grandchild and what the neighbours will say.

In our discussion people felt that the vulnerability of Jo and Geoff was not conveyed by the actors in this stage production and that the film adaptation showed this more successfully — a fair point, although the anger of Jo is given appropriate voice. People also remarked on the jazz that was very much part of the staging: they felt this broke up the tension that was experienced by the mother/daughter relationship: true, but I would have preferred the jazz group to have been staged so that they were part of the background, rather than on the stage as if they were part of the audience. I noticed that at times the jazz players were not finding it amusing, when I was amused by what was being said. Here we have the problem of not being able to suspend disbelief.

Jeanette Winterson helps to explain why Delaney failed to become a successful playwright, in spite of her initial success at 19. She did not have the easy ‘entrée’ into ‘artistic male bonding’ enjoyed by
male playwrights, who were able to exchange ideas with fellow writers, directors and theatre critics. Although Delaney was helped by Joan Littlewood, her ability to become part of a writers' group was not realised. As Winterson says: ‘Joan Littlewood did her best to help but she couldn’t give Shelagh what gender and class made impossible: a community of equals'. (Susan Caffrey)

In December the iU3A Theatre Group escNoises Off Dec 2019aped from the dystopia of our times and had a Really Good Laugh at Michael Frayn’s Noises Off at the Garrick.

The play is in three stages, beginning with our watching a second-rate touring company at rehearsal, then turning inside out so we see the same scene being mimed from backstage. Finally there is a disastrous “live” performance with the cast all being overwhelmed by instances in their private lives. All the ingredients of a traditional farce are there: plenty of slapstick and splendid vulgarity: actors fall down; trousers fall down; lacy knickers and suspenders are worn. There are smutty references and double entendres. All very fast and funny, and an excellent preparation for the pantomime. Directed with attention to perfection of timing, this is a play about bad timing: wrong entrances, wrong doors, wrong people, missed chances, missed sardines. Yes, it is about “Life”, but laughing at itself and at our unawareness.

My favourite identification was the emphasis on the way inanimate objects can become hostile: telephone wires, door locks, curtains. (See Dickens, and David Copperfield, when he is unable to eat his dinner because the two lamb chops on the plate have a life of their own and are working against him.) The most delicious example of this came near the end when the bossiest character is trying to get control of the play and actors. But alas for her dignity: her skirt has got caught up in her knickers.

Nostalgia Note:  Does anyone remember Many Years Ago (!) queuing, sitting on a stool, an hour before the performance, outside the gallery entrance, to get a seat in the gods. 2/6 I think? (Susan Archer)

Our November trip to see Touching the Void proTouching The Void Nov 2019vided a gripping afternoon, brilliantly acted, holding the audience at the edge of their seats as a literally “do or die” drama unfolded, with a climbing disaster and major injuries to the central character, in an utterly remote part of the Andes mountains, with no hope of help. By skilfully using flips back and forward and presenting some of them in the form of a dream by the injured stranded climber, the play showed us what prompts and even compels such people to undertake these massively risky challenges, how it affects those around them, and the utter determination and will to survive when things go wrong. The suspense was so great and so well done that a portion of the audience thought the play had finished, and started applauding, assuming a different ending from the actual one, which happened five minutes later. All in all, a triumph!  (Jan Filochowski)

Our October visit was to see Fiddler on the Roof, aFiddler on the Roof Oct 2019 classic Broadway musical from 1964 based on stories by the great Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem. It turns a few of the stories into a Broadway musical full of humour, pathos and brilliant choreography, originally done by Jerome Robbins but now with additional choreography from Matt Cole. The book is by Joseph Stein, a leading Broadway librettist who won the Tony Award for his book for Fiddler. The music and lyrics are by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, for which they jointly won the Tony for Best Musical of 1964. It is one of the most popular musicals of the 20th century and has enjoyed success in every corner of the world.

This production by Trevor Nunn is one of the best I have seen, except of course for the original, directed by Jerome Robbins, which I saw with the great musical actor Zero Mostel when I was 18 (he played the role over 2000 times). Another actor who made Tevye his main bread earner was Topol, who played it in London, in the film of 1971 and in a revival in London for a total of 3500 performances. To me, Andy Nyman is on their level giving us a humourous, poignant but powerful Tevye, totally unsentimental, to whom 'Tradition' is the most important thing in his life. A superb performance by our great musical star Maria Friedman as Golde, his wife, makes her sympathetic, warm, strong but also not sentimental. The first act is vivid and lively and the second act is more sombre, leading us to the sad end when all the inhabitants must leave their village of Anatevka.

Most of the group adored the show, though there were a few negative comments, possibly from some of the group who are not great fans of musicals and felt the humour in the first act was too frivolous. To me, that is the Jewish way of dealing with a sad and tragic life in the stetl and is perfectly in keeping with the original stories. This a show that really earns a 5 star review. (Howard Lichterman)

The September visit was to see 'The NigNight of the Iguana Sept 2019ht of the Iguana' by Tennessee Williams.

In August, we travelled to Chichester
in ideal weathOklahoma Aug 2019er (no rain!) to see the musical Oklahoma! at the Chichester Festival Theatre, a lovely venue near a restaurant where some of the group had a very enjoyable lunch.

The 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! was based on the Riggs play Green Grow the Lilacs, which is today rarely performed, while Oklahoma! is an acclaimed and popular American musical
. A recent production in the States took home best revival at the 2019 Tony Awards, beating Kiss Me Kate.

Among the unforgettable songs are 'Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’, 'The Surrey With The Fringe On Top' and the show-stopper ‘Oklahoma'. The choreography was brilliant, with a wide range of dance and movement from fight scenes to ballet. The sound system and the orchestra were excellent, the performers, all two dozen of them, were convincing, and the stage set was ideal.

It is one of those musicals where the actors are full of energy and enthusiasm and one comes out of the theatre humming the tunes. (Janice Bewley and Hilary Sands)

The July visit was to Bridge Theatre to seMND
                    July 2019e A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

My heart sank when a group of singers dressed like refugees from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale entered the performing area and processed through bemused promenading audience members, singing a dirge-like song. ‘Shall I slip out now, while no-one in the group is looking?’, I thought to myself, ‘I have a seat at the end of a row as usual …’ What a mistake that would have been!

These days ‘colour-blind’ and ‘gender-blind’ casting has become the norm in many theatre productions but Nicholas Hytner’s production gave a more nuanced take on this. Actors Gwendoline Christie and Oliver Chris doubled the roles of Hippolyta/Titania and Theseus/Oberon as usual, but in a fascinating directorial decision, Hippolyta had been given Oberon’s lines and vice-versa. Christie’s physical presence made this believable — she was no slight, sylph-like being but an imposing figure who commanded the stage. And I loved the resulting Oberon-Bottom pairing: one was not sure who was more surprised or delighted by Bottom’s ‘translation’!

The rest of the casting offered many pleasures from the genuinely (for once!) funny mechanicals, especially Quince with her clip-board; the dungaree-clad Snug and Snout; and the four lovers, as they hurtled from bed to bed and partnership to partnership. The amazing aerial acrobatics of the apparently circus-trained fairies kept one’s attention through the play and the interval but, and I may be in the minority, I found David Moorst’s Puck very irritating.

The production was again a promenade performance, with the set — largely beds of course — being reconfigured throughout the play, the audience marshalled around it. Having also seen the earlier promenade production of Julius Caesar where the audience were integral to the production I didn’t get the same feeling here — but they were certainly having a great time!

I’ve seen plenty of productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream over the years but this one is certainly up with Peter Brook’s seminal ‘white box’ RSC production of 1970 in my personal ranking. (Liz Simpson)

In June the group returned to the Orange Tree Theatre While the Sun Shines June 2019in Richmond to see Terence Rattigan‘s play While the Sun Shines, which was a great success when first staged in 1943; by all accounts it is also well received by 2019 audiences.

The play is based on an ingenious plot including a few misunderstandings or mix-ups and characters that may appear stereotypes at first: The Earl of Harpenden (Bobby) a typical stiff-upper-lip, wealthy, English member of the nobility whose reactions to shattering news seem limited to “oh!”; Joe, the muscular, confident and gauche American airman, ever so impressed by English nobility titles (“I slept with an earl!”; “What shall I call you? Duke?”); Colbert, the small, moustached over-romantic, passionate French Lieutenant with an accent straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo; The Duke of Ayr and Stirling, impoverished gambler from Dad’s Army; Lady Elizabeth, his demure daughter, betrothed to Bobby; Mabel Crum, the good-hearted tart who turns out to be a shrewd business woman. And the butler, just proper.

The action takes place in the Earl’s apartment at The Albany, the morning after the night before. The butler goes into the bedroom to wake Bobby and the ball starts running. All those misunderstandings have clear and simple explanations: after a night of drinking — was Bobby on his stag night? —  Joe has somehow crashed into Bobby’s bed! Next to appear is the demure Lady Elizabeth, who has come for her wedding the next day. She seems to have spent most of the night on the train in conversation with the French Lieutenant she has invited to stay at Bobby’s apartment. Bobby has to leave and Elizabeth is left alone in the apartment. Joe mistakes her for another of Bobby’s friends and makes a makes a pass at her, not to her displeasure. Now Colbert enters; he has fallen for the Lady and is trying to convince her she is not really in love with the man she’s about to marry and he hopes to win her over. Now, to make the situation more complicated, the Duke visits; he wants to settle some financial matters with the Earl before the wedding. Then enters Mabel, who had been invited for a drink to keep company to the American soldier, very charming and sexy. Later on in the play, when Bobby hears of Elizabeth’s change of mind about marriage, he will propose to her.

So will she accept? Who will Elizabeth choose between: the French Lieutenant or the American airman? Sorry, no spoiler at this point!

Of course not everybody is on stage at the same time. There is this convenient place called “the kitchen” where various people hide at strategic moments, allowing action in the main room, creating very entertaining silly situations, which works very well in this small theatre: you feel as if you
too are in that apartment and it helps connection with the characters, who are all very well acted, particularly Mabel Crum.

I am not so sure the play is that dated after all. The recipe works: a background of war, soldiers who behave like big boys, a mix of intrigue, mistaken identity, and enough innuendos, some of them sexual, add some ambiguity and you get a situation where (as someone says in the play) “England has again managed to muddle it up”. That has been my impression over the past couple of years.

Don’t worry, there is a happy denouement.  In the play anyway. (Gilbert Vieri)

Our first June visit was to the Park Theatre, Finsbury The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson June 2019Park. Topped and tailed musically by “Should I stay or should I go?” and “You can’t always get what you want”, The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson is a drama comedy of two halves, the first loosely based on events leading up to the Brexit referendum of 2016 and the second pure fantasy from the mind of its author, Jonathan Maitland, looking into his crystal ball ten years from now. I came to this play with fairly low expectations, having read only one of several negative reviews and I wish I could say I found it as funny as the playwright himself suggested in his pre-performance talk. Comparing notes with fellow theatre-goers during the interval, I clearly wasn’t the only person who was underwhelmed by the first act, despite the best efforts of the cast led by the brilliant Will Barton, who impersonates Johnson to a T. The conceit of former political party leaders appearing as spectres to influence Johnson in his decision to advocate remaining in or leaving the EU, while imaginative, fell rather flat.

Things definitely got better in Act 2, with much more audience reaction and many more laughs at how things have turned out in 2029 for the now knighted Boris Johnson and pious clergyman Michael Gove. Unsurprisingly Johnson’s making yet another bid for the leadership of the Tory party, but his inability not to succumb to temptation has caught up with him, yet again, as his misdemeanours are about to be exposed in a sensational new biography… (Celia Ballantyne)

The May theatre visit was to the National to see Top Girls May 2019Top Girls. Caryl Churchill gives us a historical perspective on selected women through the ages and from varying cultures. There is a dinner party, where they have a chance to tell their stories; a common theme is their relationship to their offspring. This is largely managed by the men in their lives. We see women’s difficulty managing their fertility in a patriarchal society.

The play moves to contemporary life and the social climber ‘heroine’ Marlene, whose baby does not fit into her executive world: this world,
rather than the domestic sphere, provides the background for her exploits. The wife of her male competitor is given short shrift when she asks Marlene to step aside in favour of her husband. This scene exemplifies the ‘go getting’ and perhaps cruel side to Marlene. However, many men in a similar situation would not hesitate to follow that course of action.

Marlene’s ideology is based on the individual who can travel through life unencumbered, and the depiction of the times is of relevance today. Caryl Churchill was basing her play on Thatcher’s Britain and we need to look at that world from our perspective. That is why I feel it was appropriate that the National Theatre revived this play, so that a new younger audience are able to experience and discuss it. This means they can address the parallels of our own time and the time of the writing of the play. (Susan Caffrey)

The April theatre visit was to see The PriceThe Price April 2019 by Arthur Miller.

In March the Theatre Group went to see HomeHome I'm Darling Apr 2019, I’m Darling, a new play written by Laura Wade. It opens on to a set of a house decorated in 1950s style, where the main character Judy is preparing breakfast whilst her husband Johnny is upstairs getting ready for work. We are lulled into thinking this is a period piece as Judy sends Johnny off with his lunch box and waves him goodbye at the door and then starts to tidy up, in her swirly 50s striped dress, all to a 50s rock and roll soundtrack, but we then see her bring out a laptop from a drawer and the illusion is dispelled. The story tells of Judy and Johnny’s choice to live a perfect 50s lifestyle, she as a housewife at home keeping everything in place, wearing her apron, emptying new packets of groceries into old containers, and dressing in several changes of vintage petticoat-enhanced 50s dresses as the scenes change.

The story raises issues about the roles of men and women in their relationships at home and at work, about the value of having a ‘perfect’ life, and the division of household chores. We are introduced to Johnny’s female boss, whom he is attracted to, and to Judy’s mother Sylvia who actually did live through the 50s but not as Judy is interpreting them. Sylvia gives an outline of the life she knew with the hardships of women not being treated as equals to men. Through various scenes we see the strain of keeping up the perfect 50s life, and how it has caused friction between what they each want from their lifestyle choice, and also financial issues impacting on them with only one wage. At one point Johnny asks of Judy ‘ ..and what is it you do all day..’ to which the audience gave a collective intake of breath, indicating a very different set of values today! The final scene relives the breakfast of the first scene, but with breakfast preparation shared by the couple, and Judy dressed for her job as they both leave to go out for work.

The play was entertaining and thought-provoking with comedy used to highlight the issues being raised about gender equality and relationships and women in the workplace. The costumes were colourful and the characters were very well played. Those of us who met afterwards for a chat reminisced about the 1950s but agree we wouldn’t like to relive them! (Brenda Hood)

In February we went to see Company withCompany Feb 2019 high expectations after reading rave reviews, and the memory of a visit to an excellent production of ‘Follies’, another Sondheim classic, fresh in our minds from a few months ago. We were certainly not disappointed, although at its premiere in 1970 no one could have imagined that nearly 50 years later the central male character would have been reimagined as a woman. It works superbly, and Sondheim himself gave approval to the reversal, which makes total sense as Bobbie’s married friends urge her to settle down and marry at her 35th birthday party as her biological clock ticks away.

Marianne Elliott the director and the designer give it a dreamlike quality with a touch of Alice in Wonderland, with a set of sliding rooms that almost float like her birthday balloons. The songs are well sung and performed in an innovative way, especially in the case of ‘Barcelona’ and Getting Married Today’, and the performances are universally superb with Rosalie Craig as Bobbie, taking you into her mind with her wonderful facial expressions, and Patti LuPone and Richard Fleeshman also having standout numbers in what is a sensational production all round. (Daphne Steele)

For the second January 2019 visit 35 members Double Dealer Jan 2019of the theatre group went to see William Congreve's restoration comedy The Double Dealer at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Although some of us got a bit confused with what was happening because of the quick repartee and the doubling up of parts (Zoe Waites played both Cynthia and Lady Touchwood — to a very high standard), most of us had a really enjoyable afternoon. The play was well acted, directed, well paced, funny and had just the right number of sharp asides to the audience. In fact, some of our members were a bit surprised when a member of the cast sat beside them, or addressed a remark to them!

I would certainly recommend this play to anyone — but swot up on what it's about before you go! (Pat McGinley)

The first January 2019 visit was to theUncle Vanya Jan 2019 Hampstead Theatre to see Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in a new version written and directed by Terry Johnson. He used contemporary
language, but not gratingly so, in a beautifully lit and costumed 1890s Chekhovian setting — the family estate in a forest of silver birches. It was pleasing to have each set change revealed at the raising of the gauzy curtain rather than watching shadowy stagehands shifting furniture and props.

The only other production of this play that I have seen was many years ago with Donald Sinden as an elderly, shouty, tiresome Vanya. To see Vanya played by an actor of the right age, Alan Cox, made the inevitability of wasted years ahead more poignant and ironic.

I thought all the performances were excellent, not least the understudy playing glamorous Yeliena. The actors brought out the strengths and very human weaknesses of Chekhov’s characters, often with comic effect, particularly in the second half. I came away with an overall sense of the sad waste of unfulfilled lives, missed opportunities and a refusal to see what was blindingly obvious. At least nobody shot themselves — that gun in the cellar had me worried until the very end. (Tricia Bury)

The December visit was to see the National Theatre prodAnthony and Cleopatra Dec 2018uction of Shakespeare’s Anthony & Cleopatra. Overall, it was an excellent production with outstanding performances in the two leading roles (Ralph Fiennes as Anthony and Sophie Okonedo as Cleopatra) and some very good supporting roles. The director was Simon Godwin and he balanced the intertwined relationship of the lovers in Egypt with that of the political developments in the Mediterranean very effectively. The set was designed by Hildegard Bechtler, who used two sides of the revolving stage of the Olivier Theatre to contrast Egypt, with its sunken pools, with the military settings of Rome. Evie Gurney designed the costumes: the contrasts between Egypt and Rome and the colour coding of military factions supported the production. The musicians (guitar, cello, woodwind and percussion) enhanced the performance. Outstanding features of the production were the clarity and coherence of the language and the strength and complexity of the two main characters. Cleopatra was portrayed as quick-witted, fiery, sexy and witty though perhaps less of the political person she must have been. We saw glimpses of Anthony as he had been: the great commander and ruler of the Eastern Mediterranean; we saw him as a boozy middle-aged, besotted lover and his tragic self-realisation and decline after the Battle of Actium. They were complex portrayals that developed through the play, which was exciting and thought-provoking.  (Margaret Caistor)

The October visit was toThe Jungle Oct 2018 the Playhouse Theatre to see The Jungle, a play by two young writers, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, a work of fiction based on their work running the Good Chance Theatre at  the unofficial Calais refugee camp, which became known as the Jungle. The play achieved the difficult task of creating a  coherent and powerful piece of political theatre out of the chaos and problematic reality of the Jungle, by concentrating  on few key characters and focusing on events leading to the destruction of the camp by French police in October 2016. 

Islington U3A had seats in the front row of the dress circle known for the purposes  of this production as the Cliffs of Dover. The rest of the auditorium below had been converted into the Jungle’s Afghan café. The action took place on long raised walkways placed like café tables among the audience on the ground floor, as we looked down from the cliffs of Dover. It was a memorable and moving theatrical experience. (Antonia Benedek)

The September visit was to The Bridge to see Allelujah!, in which Alan Bennett, at 84, presents a thought-provoking, verging on alarming, play about life for a group of similar-aged patients in a northern ‘birth to death’ community hospital threatened with closure.

Characteristic of Bennett’s style,
not all is doom and gloom: the staff and patients have launched a media campaign to keep the hospital open, and we are treated to witty and wise song and dance routines from a cast with a wealth of acting experience, not to mention vim and vigour.

Bennett doesn’t stint on covering all the bases with themes ranging from our beloved NHS, elderly care, the precarious position of immigrant staff, corruption, privatisation, compensation culture, bullying, and the ward sister obsessed with cleanliness and order who compulsively relieves the state of its burden by helping along her patients to ‘not live too long’.

The Bridge Theatre worked quite well for this play although some seats are definitely better placed than others for both sight and sound. The actors who stood out for me were the retired teacher waiting for a visit from his former pupil, and the Asian doctor who is trying to imbue some compassion into this flawed, wobbling but still standing National Health Service. Allelujah! (Jeanne Phillips)

Our Summer Outing in August, on oneMe and My Girl Aug2018 of the only wet days of the long hot summer, was down to Chichester to see the musical Me and My Girl at the Festival Theatre.

The July visit was to Tartuffe: having studied ‘Tartuffe' byTartuffe poster Molière for A level French 50+ years ago I was quite keen to see this 2018 version, but was very disappointed. Although 
Tartuffe is beautifully written in French it doesn't work if you modernize Molière, and the constant change backwards and forwards to English did not help. The English translation seems too modern, too colloquial: if not in the original French it should be a good English translation.

The minimalist scenery was interesting with the other room in the house seen on a large PC screen at the back of the stage. The French actress Audrey Fleurot, whom many will recognise as the beautiful lawyer in the TV series Spiral, was well cast as Elmire and her costumes were gorgeous. She did in fact switch effortlessly between the two languages, as did many of the other cast. Of particular note was Olivia Ross (Mariane), but I still ask if it was really necessary.

Stage direction seemed somewhat lacking and for much of the time the cast just stood around. Paul Anderson played Tartuffe well, but bore little resemblance to Molière's Tartuffe. This Tartuffe would not have upset anyone but the family, whereas Molière's was a bigot claiming to be religious when he was in fact an impostor. Identifying Tartuffe with Donald Trump in the final scene was just ludicrous in my opinion: too much poetic licence.

The majority of the group were also quite unimpressed with this production. (Roberta Levinson)

Brief EncounterThe June theatre visit was to see Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, adapted by Emma Rice. It appears to have been rather a marmite event — members seemed either to love it or hate it. 

Absolute HellOur May visit was to see Absolute Hell at the National Theatre. It was first produced in 1952 as The Pink Room, and was heavily criticised by critics and the public as out of touch with post-war optimism and insulting to the British people, with its depiction of feckless wasters and loutish debauchery in a Soho club. But a revised version in 1987 was warmly received, and revived at the National Theatre first in 1995 and again now. To an extent it is still a play of its time, depicting convincingly how the characters were trying to escape the reality of their lives — both personal crises and the last days of the Second World War. The testimony of a military officer returning from having seen the recently liberated concentration camps provides one of the most dramatic jolts in the play, the brutality of the real world contrasting pointedly with the self-obsessed posing and promiscuity at the club. The play is perhaps less a conventional drama than a series of striking tableaux; there is little
narrative or development of character, but rather many memorable vignettes illustrating the various players’ uninhibited attempts at escapism, and their interactions. Despite its dramatic limitations, this is a powerful study of how people try to deal with serious levels of stress on many fronts, delivered with sympathy and understanding. (Jeremy Stickings)

Our first April visit was Caoline or Change Apr 18to Hampstead Theatre to see Caroline, or Change. Sharon D Clarke rightly holds centre stage as the eponymous hard-working exploited maid working for a Jewish family in 1960s Louisiana. Caroline is single-handedly trying to bring up her family of four children on 30 dollars a month with old-fashioned respect for family values when her new mistress tells her that she can keep the loose change swilling around in the pockets of the clothes she loads into the washing machine each day. Although the gesture is casually and kindly meant, it offends Caroline’s sense of dignity and self-worth. The Jewish family is represented sympathetically while taking Caroline for granted and having no appreciation of her situation. The second wife (Caroline’s mistress) and her parents, New York liberals, contrast with the old style Southern husband.

The musical explores 60s America with depth and sophistication with Clarke giving a sublime performance enhanced by her extraordinary voice. With a book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, this sung-through musical shows America with a hunger for equality; her friend Dottie is in night school and her daughter Emmie is politically engaged. Caroline, however, resists the mood of upheaval surging around her. It’s a thought-provoking, exuberant portrayal of a country on the brink of radical change.

The set economically depicts the upper level of the house and Caroline’s basement domain inhabited by animated kitchen appliances. I particularly admired the Supremes-like trio representing the sounds of Caroline’s radio. Written by Tony Kushner in 2003 and directed by Michael Longford with a rich score by Jeanine Tesori incorporating many styles of music, Caroline or Change is a terrific show with the dynamic Sharon D. Clarke as its star. (Jill Coningham)

Another April visit was to the Park Theatre to see Pressure, whPressureApr18ich will be transferring to the West End later this year. Who’d have thought that a play about the vagaries of the British weather could be so riveting? But the subject of this play wasn’t any old weather forecast — as we were reminded several times, hundreds of thousands of lives depended on it. All the action takes place in a hastily-prepared room which was to become the nerve centre of the meteorological forecast for the English Channel on D-Day 1944.

Arriving on Friday 2nd June 1944 in glorious sunshine, crack Scottish meteorologist Dr James Stagg, played superbly by the play’s writer, David Haig, immediately establishes himself as an intense, humourless, meticulous man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. However, given that it’s General Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) who is calling the shots and wholly reliant on knowing the weather conditions for Monday 5th June, he insists on involving his own forecaster, Krick (Philip Cairns), who claims, on seemingly flimsy evidence, that the weather is set fair. The two forecasters are never going to agree, hence one of the pressures of the title.

As if opposition from his American counterpart is not enough, Stagg is also on edge at the imminent arrival of his second child when his wife’s first birth had been so fraught with difficulty. Just when you think you’ll be engulfed by the intensity, Haig comes up with one-liners so funny you laugh out loud. Pressure is a hugely involving play which takes you on an emotional roller-coaster. (Celia Ballantyne)

The Birthday PartyIn March we went to the charming Harold Pinter Theatre to see The Birthday Party, Pinter's second full length play. The play is set in one room of a boarding house. All the action takes place in this one room, but the direction is so skilful that the room acquires different atmospheres throughout the play, and the simple set was a credit to the stage manager.

The peace and tranquillity of the boarding house is turned into turmoil when two unexpected and uncharacteristic guests suddenly arrive to stay. The action centres around Stanley, a longstanding resident of the boarding house, and there is a birthday party thrown for him. However, the party results in total chaos and horror. We never find out exactly why the unexpected guests have come, and are left wondering right until the curtain falls. The level of suspense is extraordinary.

The six characters are perfectly cast and each of their performances is West End acting at its very best.
It was a privilege to see this wonderful production and when we met afterwards to discuss the play we all agreed it was terrific, and we would really recommend it! (Sarah Ninian)

Long Journey Into NightFebruary
Long Day's Journey into Night: All Mary Tyrone yearns for is a “proper home”, to replace the shabby beach house in which she has spent her lonely summers in the company of her miserly husband James, her philandering older son Jamie and her TB-infected younger one, Edmund. During a roller-coaster three-hour plus bravura performance, throughout one long day’s journey into the night, we, together with the foursome on stage, live through a lifetime of disappointment, intense love, loss and a yearning for salvation.

A Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play completed in the early 40s but first performed after his death, is currently playing at the Wyndham Theatre, with Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in the lead. In meticulous and intimate detail, the stories of this family and its four principals unravel. We, the fly-on-the-wall audience, peel away one layer at a time to descend further into their familial and individual depths of guilt and sadness at lost opportunities.

The elephant in the room, setting the tone and moving the action forward, is Mary’s addiction to morphine. She is back from a sanatorium and treatment, and everyone on stage mentions how well she looks and behaves: an expression of hope that dissipates as the reality of her addiction becomes clearer, first to her sons and husband and, ultimately and despairingly, to herself.

Lesley Manville’s towering performance is breathtaking, and she dominates the stage portraying a victim with a steely backbone, and a loving mother who is utterly self-absorbed by her own fate of loss and abandonment. Lesley Manville is the consummate tragic heroine; whose story moves us profoundly to reflect on our lives too. She moves effortlessly from self-pity to self-delusion; from shrill accusations of her husband for neglecting their union and her health, to an eleagiac and tender description of falling completely and utterly in love. Jeremy Irons’ presence on stage is elegant; he moves with the effortless grace of a born actor (a role he also portrays on stage, except that O’Neill accuses him of “selling out” his craft for the attraction of money). He is the consummate artist with the power to portray different people at the same time, depending on the interlocutor. He is tender and accusatory toward his wife, their love for each other is palpable, but his disgust at her relapse and at the life they lead together is also obvious and very raw. Irons is utterly contemptuous of his older son, but very caring and apologetic when it comes to Oliver and his ill health. His nuanced performance is a perfect counterpart to Manville’s. Between them, they dance a story of a life that has produced two immobilized sons, one by drink and licentiousness and the other by confusion and disease.

In a very similar manner to Albee’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this play carried me in a maelstrom of emotions and deep empathy unto the stage. I was present in the room, I could feel the excitement of their first meeting, I was afraid to remain alone with the demon of more morphine for company… in short, I was there every step of the way. Thanks to O’Neill, the amazing acting ensemble, and the IU3A Theatre Group, this was an experience of a lifetime. (Edna Kissman)

 Cell matesThe January visit of the Theatre Visits Group was to Hampstead Theatre to see Simon Gray’s play Cell Mates, infamous as the play from which Stephen Fry fled whilst having a breakdown. It details the story, and aftermath, of George Blake, a convicted Soviet spy, from Wormwood Scrubs to a life in exile in Moscow. Blake befriends another prisoner, an Irishman Sean Bourke, who edits the prison newspaper and who, after his own release, engineers Blake’s escape; the pair end up in Moscow in the custody of the KGB living in a flat with a housekeeper. The set is organised to make clear that the pair have swapped one set of cells for another. Gray uses the device of having them dictate their memoirs to fill in the detail of their story, while the action on stage reflects the pair’s very different emotional responses to their new imprisonment far from home.

Cell Mates started life as a radio play and is a wordy and slow-moving drama apart from a few cartoonish episodes with the very accommodating and sympathetic KGB agents. Essentially it is a play about betrayal; Blake betrays country and family and finally it is revealed that his friend has been virtually imprisoned in Moscow by Blake’s wish to keep his friend with him. One’s sympathies are with Sean, who is kind and accommodating to the whims of the older man but who drowns his sorrow at the waste of his life in a bottle. I am glad I saw it but it has not really improved with age and one wonders what the 95-year-old Blake, still living in Moscow, thinks about the mutation of his dream world into the Russia of Putin. (Rosie Walden)

FolliesOur December visit was to the National Theatre to see Follies by Stephen Sondheim, which is now considered a masterpiece. It is ostensibly an evening party given in 1971 by the old theatre impresario for all his Follies girls from 1918 - 1941, when the Follies closed. Most of them haven't seen each other for at least 30 years so the excitement amongst them all is palpable. The story settles on two married couples, Sally and Buddy, and Phyllis and Ben. When they all met up in 1941 the girls were roomates at the theatre and the boys were their dates. It all seemed to be going along smoothly, except that Sally realised she loved Ben and not Buddy, whom she subsequently married. Over the following 30 years Sally and Buddy lived the life of a salesman, travelling and settling in city after city, winding up eventually in Phoenix, Arizona. But Sally is not happy and longs for the Ben she lost to Phyllis. Meanwhile Ben and Phyliis have become a smart, sophisticated NY couple, he working for the UN and various Foundations and she educating herself at the Museums of NY. But real love seems to be gone.

Meanwhile the stage is covered with ghosts of the showgirls all dressed up in their finery, and the earlier foursome of Ben, Phyllis, Buddy and Sally. They never, of course, really meet up but there is an essence of memories in the air. This is one of the most chilling aspects of the show and takes us back to a time which is past and can no longer really be recaptured.

There are two types of songs: the Pastiche songs where the ex-Follies girls think back to their time in the Follies, and the book songs, which the two couples sing as a way of furthering their story. Follies has no interval — 2 hours and 20 minutes straight through. There are great production numbers and solo songs and the show is perfectly cast with not a weak link in them. At the end, some of the group came up to me and said 'why didn't you tell us it was so sad?' Nevertheless, the work of a master. (Howard Lichterman)

The November visit was to Oslo at theOslo Harold Pinter Theatre. The play gave one an insight into the conflicts which arose and continue to arise between the Israelis and the Palestinians, at the same time showing the difficulties for the Norwegian government when mounting the ‘backdoor’ strategy in the early 90s. After low level negotiations by economists on both sides, diplomatic negotiations were eventually made possible. A Norwegian social scientist was responsible for orchestrating the talks; he did this in order to show how his theory could work in the management of conflict. For him face-to-face negotiations were a key element in the strategy, because the protagonists would understand the personal circumstances of the other side. His wife ‘moved on’ the talks with her diplomatic skill.

The humour was often bitter, for example when a joke about a tortured bear showed the power of Mossad. A tour de force was accomplished by the actor who played an Israeli diplomat, mimicking Arafat. The short-term failures and interruptions brought out the human frailties, including various eruptions on both sides. For us, as the audience, there is a poignancy, because we know there is still no peace, although some achievements were made via the Oslo accord. (Susan Caffrey)

What ShadowsIn October the theatre group saw the Park Theatre's production of Chris Hannan's play What Shadows. Is Enoch Powell's later life worthy of attention? Only perhaps because of his 1968 speech prophesying that immigration would bring disaster. Delivered with uncanny verisimilitude by Ian McDiarmid playing Powell, the speech forms the play's central moment. But it should be met with a serious rebuttal. This, sadly, never really occurs. The task should have been performed by one of the cast's white protagonists. Instead, it is left to the lone black female character, who is undermined by being set up to doubt the basis of her own anger. Powell is given too easy a pass. The play frequently confuses concern over loss of identity and prejudice with racism and its crucial component of power. With some fine performances, the piece is a clever attempt to rehabilitate a disappointed egoist who chose to seek notoriety at the expense of those least well-placed to reply. (Chris Hignett)

LootOur annual iU3A visit in September to the Park Theatre to see Joe Orton’s Loot attracted a very large party of members, many of whom were revisiting the play 50+ years after its opening. This venue always enhances our enjoyment: the welcome; the explanatory talk beforehand; the intimacy of the theatre. Many of us had memories of the play, and the general agreement seemed to be that it was no longer 'outrageous'. My memories go back to the 1970 film, which I saw with my mother! I am sure she was outraged by the criticism of the Catholic Church. My recollections are of feeling threatened, of dark and sinister threads. I did not feel this at the Park until well into the second act. It was, though, an excellent production, strong on farce. But I missed some of Inspector Truscott's speeches — an essential part of Orton's message — as overpresented, at speed, I felt. But I was still very disturbed by the farcical treatment of the 'corpse' made all the more pointed by being played by an actual person. Joe Orton, who described the content of ‘Loot’ as being "the essential me" wrote the part of Inspector Truscott for his friend Kenneth Williams, who played the part in the opening production — originally titled Funeral Games — at Cambridge, and which was a flop. Williams realised he was miscast, and it is interesting to read his Diaries on the subject of Loot: 

Loot1"10th Feb 1965 — We rehearsed on the rewrites all day; Trying to find an ending; Trial and error game; 3 weeks to rehearse; 19th Feb 1965 — opening show went like a suet pudding. Playing this stuff is like trying to catch bath water."

Williams and Orton remained close friends however. They would lunch together in Lyons (remember Lyons?), though he resented the play's ensuing successful run. Years later, in 1980, Kenneth Williams wrote in his diary:  "I re-read the copy of the play which Joe gave me. Can't help wishing it had a better tag line, but certainly I think the final moment should have Dennis and Hal exchanging a conspiratorial nod and wink when Fay kneels in reverence." And so, a bow to Joe Orton and Kenneth Williams. (Susan Archer)

Lady DayJuly
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill told the story of Billie Holiday’s tragic life through music and words. It took us through Billie’s history of prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism, racism, imprisonment for narcotics offences and ill-treatment by the men she loved. The production was set in a small bar in Philadelphia, shortly before Billie Holiday died of cirrhosis and heart failure. Audra McDonald performed a range of Billie’s songs, including a standout performance of 'Strange Fruit’. This sombre, brave song from 1939 movingly tells of the horror of lynchings in the deep south of the USA. Nobody sang this song like Billie. Audra McDonald came close. The tables on the stage and in the first rows of the stalls, along with the excellent trio on piano, bass and drums, conjured the atmosphere of a small bar. I am a big fan of Billie Holiday and was surprised and impressed by the way in which Audra McDonald, an operatically trained soprano, captured Billie Holiday’s broken, destroyed voice. Standing ovations all round. (Maggie Howell)

On the TownIn June we paid our annual visit to the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park to see On the Town. The Park has become expert at musicals these days and we are rarely disappointed. This delightful and exuberant musical dates from 1944 and is the first musical composed by Leonard Bernstein, at the time assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. It has been revived a number of times over the decades and was turned into a film in 1949 with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.

This revival used mostly a young cast who danced their socks off, maybe a little too much dancing v. story? The only star that I thought had the full measure of the times (after all these sailors had only one day in NY and might later be killed in the war), was Danny Mac as Gaby. Though all the others each gave something of their own to their characters. To see how times have changed, a ballet for two originally for a lonely sailor and a dream version of Ivy Smith, MissTurnstiles, was updated to a pas de deux between two men ... well it is 2017! There are some great numbers, some of the lyrics of which we will discuss at the next theatre discussion on 6 July. (Howard Lichterman)

Occupational HazardsThe May theatre visit was to Hampstead Theatre to see Occupational Hazards by Stephen Brown. This play was based on Rory Stewart’s 330 page account of his nine-month involvement in the administration of post-Saddam Iraq, working in two provinces in Southern Iraq. The book with its hundreds of characters was distilled into a play lasting about 100 minutes and with a cast of ten actors. There was a terrific performance from Henry Lloyd-Hughes as the idealistic Stewart and the set with its  sliding concrete walls and flickering neon lighting seemed suitably harsh and desert-like. One member of the group wrote that she thought that the ‘play was brilliant — thought-provoking, strong acting and very imaginative staging …'.

I did wonder whether it would have worked better as a radio play and notice that subsequently it was broadcast on BBC Radio ‘s Theatre on 4. (Sue Welsford)

For our April visit we saw Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie Glass Menageriedirected by John Tiffany. This was a multi-award nominated, top quality production and cast. The lighting and sound were understated and quietly effective. The direction was sensitive and the cast delivered sound performances of Tennessee Williams’s launchpad autobiographical play, first staged in 1944 and telling the poignant story of the Winfield family’s attempts in St Louis to survive and hang on to their social status after hard times. The mutually dependent family triangle is well played with the characteristic emotional highs and lows and Williams’s prose beautifully delivered. I enjoyed the first act and Cherry Jones’s southern matriarch was impressive. It wasn’t until the second half, with the arrival of The Gentleman Caller, that the play finally delivered real poignancy and Laura and Jim’s scene lit up the stage, by candlelight. Kate O’Flynn as poor Laura was movingly convincing.
I did feel that there was something missing from this performance but, not knowing the play very well, I couldn’t really put my finger on what exactly that was. (Jeanie Phillips)

TravestiesMarch: It was no surprise that this delightful production of Travesties at the Menier would subsequently transfer to the West End. Forty years after its initial debut, Tom Stoppard could make only the smallest of adjustments to this bubbly intellectual farce, which has lost nothing of its relevance to the world of today. Within a brilliant cast, Tom Hollander is truly outstanding, playing the central role of Henry Carr, who in his dotage has amnesiac fantasies about being a major player in the events of 1917, in contrast to the reality of having been simply a minor official in the British Consulate in Zurich. In actual fact, his role as Algernon in James Joyce's amateur production of The Importance of Being Earnest, led to the play becoming the external framework of Travesties and the source of much of the comedy. News of the 1917 Russian Revolution found Lenin and his women still in Zurich, from whence he was soon to board his secret train through Germany, back home. Not quite simultaneously, Tzara, founder of "Dada" leading to surrealism, appeared in Zurich, but his incorporation into the structure of the story together with Joyce and Lenin creates a perfect backdrop for the dramatic questioning of all that contributes to History, Art and Politics. The Apollo, which first opened its doors in 1901 is a most charming example of a Victorian musical theatre and added much to the pleasure of our visit. (John Schrader)

In February a good number of us arrived at the Old Vic TheArtatre to see Yasmina Reza's play Art, translated by Christopher Hampton. Apart from going weak at the knees at the prospect of seeing Rufus Sewell live I had no expectations, having never seen the original production. Pretentious Serge, humourless Marc and jokey Yvan form a seemingly ill-matched trio of friends who've hit their midlife crisis and whose friendship threatens to fall apart, set off by Serge's acquisition of an (almost) pure white painting for an astronomical sum of money. Serious and laugh-out-loud by turns, this 20-year-old play still resonates with today's audience and 90 minutes flew by, helped by the superb cast of Rufus Sewell, Paul Ritter and Tim Key. Stand-out moments included Yvan's increasingly hysterical explanation as to why he'd arrived late for dinner (wedding planning, anyone?) and the seeming death throes of their friendship when the three men consume a bowl of olives with all the camaraderie of a firing squad. You could have heard a pin (or pip) drop. (Celia Ballantyne)

AmadeusOur first visit of 2017 in January visit was to see Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus (first produced in 1979) at the National Theatre. The production made excellent use of the stage facilities of the Olivier Theatre. The introduction of musicians on to the stage both supported the singers of extracts from Mozart’s operas and integrated the music with the play very well. The ensemble acting was very good and there was an outstanding performance from Lucian Msamati as Salieri. The play is very well crafted and provided entertainment of a high quality. In addition, two important issues were raised: the first was by Salieri when he reflected that although he had led a moral life and worked hard to develop his musical gifts from God his compositions would never match the genius of Mozart. His anger with God and the decisions he made after this realisation structure the second half of the play. The second issue was that of the relevance of the private lives of artists to their work. The afternoon was very enjoyable both for the quality of theatre and for the ideas that we were left thinking about. (Margaret Caistor)

For a record of our visits in 2016 please see the reports here.
For a record of our visits in 2014-15 please see the reports here.

site designed by Gill Hopkins 
logo designed Tattersal Hammarling & Silk
registered charity number 1157067