Coronavirus – The show does go on

Theatres and cinemas throughout the UK, and in many other countries, are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This puts a lot of people out of work, with no knowing where their next penny is coming from.

It also leaves the punters, ie us, without any form of live entertainment. But the theatre and cinema businesses have not stood still. I’ve been compiling a list of theatre companies and other organisations who have set up a live streaming service, some for free. I will be watching a good deal of what’s on offer and posting the odd review. I will also try to update the list from time to time.

Happy viewing!

Mark Thomas :  Check-Up: Our NHS @ 70. Pay what you can. Till 28 March. The Arcola is in dire need of funds, so be generous!

DIGITAL THEATRE – – £9.99 per month. Digital Theatre have been filming live performances of West End shows and have a large catalogue. One hopes part of their subscription goes towards the people who made the shows.

LEXI – Showing today, 23 March, at 6.30pm. Also Mubi  A kind of arthouse cinema version of Netflix. First 3 months free, courtesy of Lexi, thereafter £9.99 per month.

The GLOBE THEATRE have an online streaming service for some of their past productions. £4.99 to rent, £7.99 to buy. 

The NATIONAL THEATRE is not offering a streaming service yet, but with their huge archive of NT Live productions no doubt this will come in due course.

THE STAGE – – has a comprehensive list of shows available on all sorts of devices. Personally I wouldn’t want to watch a play on my mobile via Instagram but no doubt a lot of people do.

I and You – Hampstead Theatre will make its 2018 production of I and You available to watch on Instagram. The play by US playwright Lauren Gunderson was directed by Edward Hall and starred Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Zach Wyatt. It was original filmed for IGTV in 2018 and will be released at 10am on March 23 [today] and be available until March 29.

Luke Wright – The poet, performer and playwright – winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award for his performance in  his 2015 play What I Learned From Johnny Bevan – will be performing a poetry set every night live on Twitter at 8pm.

Cyprus Avenue – First staged at the Royal Court, David Ireland’s play Cyprus Avenue was adapted for BBC Four in 2019, where it mixed stage performance with on-location footage in Belfast. It will be available for free for a month from March 27 via the Royal Court’s and the Space’s website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.

Timpson: The Musical – The Stage Edinburgh Award-winning company Gigglemug has made Timpson: The Musical available on YouTube. The Stage called it a “zany musical comedy that hits all the right notes.”

Patsy Trench
March 2020

Flesh and Bone

Sometimes you don’t quite know what you’re letting yourself in for.

I teach a month’s summer school course on theatre to overseas students under the auspices of Kingston University. I take them to a cross section of plays in the West End, the National, Globe and the fringe, and each year I choose one new play for what I call a close analysis, whereby they get to read the script beforehand and workshop the play and imagine how they would stage it, before seeing it.

This year I chose FLESH AND BONE on the strength of its reviews. A gritty, urban piece set on an East London estate, written in heightened, Shakespearean language and performed, said the critics, with gusto. Perfect, I thought, for my students to get a glimpse into a bit of true, gritty, East End London culture.

Flesh and Bone (unpolished theatre)

Unpolished Theatre

I booked the show and then bought the script at first opportunity, read it and thought – Whoops. I was expecting in-yer-face, and a good deal of profanity of course. What I wasn’t anticipating was the female character, Kelly (Olivia Brady), chatting up her granddad on a sex chat line (unknowingly I hasten to add), or the central male character Terrence (Elliot Warren) biting off the head of a rat.

So I presented the script to my young protégées (from the US and Australia and all female as it happens) with some trepidation. Would I stand accused of corrupting their delicate minds?

The first thing that astonished me was how much they loved the play on reading it, and even more so on seeing it performed – upstairs at the Soho Theatre, on a bare stage in front of black curtains, with no set and minimal props. The cast of five, including Olivia Brady and Elliot Warren, who created and directed it, deliver this piece of doubtful morality with such punch and commitment that not only is it screamingly funny, it is completely  – well mostly – inoffensive. Half-hearted it is not. On a steaming hot summer’s night in that confined space those five performers give the piece 150 percent, and the audience reacted accordingly.  It is a master class in how to deliver outrage and comedy with such conviction and seriousness as to disarm any kind of reservation one might have about its dubious content.

The performances were outstanding throughout, especially Alessandro Babalola as neighbour and drug dealer Jamal – huge and terrifying one moment, a puppy dog the next: another master class on how to hold an audience in the palm of your hand.

There were one or two quibbles: the actors could pay more attention to audience members seated in the side seats, rather than directing everything out front. And the rat massacre, the high spot of the whole play, was – especially following the beautifully choreographed fight – not as bold or as inventive as were hoping.

Those quibbles aside, this is an astounding evening. You even gets shots of Chopin and Strauss and Mozart. An altogether highly polished piece  of theatre from Unpolished Theatre.

Flesh & Bone runs until 21 July at the Soho Theatre




Tales of madness and sadness

Kingston summer school takes place over the month of July. My theatre group comprised twelve lively lads and lasses (mostly lasses), as always up for a thoroughly good time in this golden city of ours.

Our first show was Death of a Salesman, an RSC production starring Sir Antony Sher and Dame Harriet Walter. I was told on authority that some of the accents veered away from the Bronx on more than one occasion, but frankly the greatest play to emerge from America’s greatest playwright is such an astonishing piece of work it’s impossible not to be completely caught up in the trials and tribulations of the deluded, self-obsessed, deeply flawed Willy Loman.


Alice's Adventures

Les Enfants Terribles

The programme for Everyman at the National described Loman as a ‘modern Everyman’. This production at the Olivier generally got the thumbs-down from my students: a piece of sound and fury signifying not much, despite a powerful performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor. By comparison Alice’s Adventures Underground sent them into ecstasies. An ‘immersive’ show performed in The Vaults under Waterloo Station, you get to meet the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Knave of Hearts and – depending on whether you choose ‘Eat me’ or ‘Drink me’ – the Mock Turtle, the Duchess, and of course all members of the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the authoritarian Queen of Hearts. It is a complex show involving a whole team of (unseen) stage managers and a cast of thirty-something, brilliantly designed and utterly bonkers.

Lampedusa at the Soho by contrast focused on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, and featured – ingeniously in the circumstances, bearing in mind the enormity of the whole issue – two actors, in a blank space, eyeballing and haranguing us for 80 minutes on the appalling nature of their jobs: fishing bodies out of the Med, and collecting payments from the people of Leeds who can’t afford to repay their loans. It is a passionate piece, a bit of a hectoring lecture in the way it is executed, but nonetheless a timely reminder of how lucky we first-worlders are not to have to be cramming ourselves into unseaworthy boats or clambering on the roofs of Eurostar trains.



Bend it Like Beckham is what you might expect: a fun, glittery evening of Anglo-Asian kitsch with an old-fashioned, slightly thin plot but some great performances. And finally Measure for Measure at the Globe, done for the most part as farce, as in no depths to which the Globe will not stoop to get a laugh from its eager audience. That got the thumbs-up from my largely indifferent-to-Shakespeare group. So once again, thank you Globe Theatre for showing us the fun and accessible side of a difficult play like Measure.

Thank you too to Linda Walsh at the NT costume hire store in Kennington, who allowed us to tour – and to try on some of – their astonishing collection of clothes dating from prehistory to the future.

But above all thank you to my twelve enthusiastic, committed, fun-loving theatre lovers, who go so far to reassure me every year that the younger generation, given the chance (and affordable tickets), are every bit as passionate about theatre as we all used to be at their age; which promises well for the future.

Kingston class of 2015

Kingston class of 2015

The One Day of the Year

The One Day of the Year (

The One Day of the Year (

There’s only one thing wrong with the Finborough Theatre’s current production of Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year: the theatre it’s in is too small.

I don’t mean the production doesn’t fit the space, or that the theatre is uncomfortable, rather that this classic Australian play needs a far bigger audience. In fact I believe this very production should be on the stage of the National Theatre.

Fiona Press and Mark Little (

Fiona Press and Mark Little (

The One Day of the Year is possibly Australia’s best play, or certainly its best-known. So I was quite shocked to see it hasn’t been produced in London since 1961, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Is this yet another sign of the UK’s indifference to all things Australian?

The themes of the story are still current: Anzac Day in Australia is a big event. This year, being the 100th anniversary, was even bigger. I was in Australia at the time and the coverage was so intense that come the Day itself, rather like young Hughie in One Day, I felt I had had enough. Of course there are no Anzac diggers any more and very few  surviving veterans of WW2, but the event itself still sparks controversy: there are still people who believe, from the critics of the Tower of London poppies to the anti-Anzacs in Oz, that any commemoration of war is a glorification.

This is the central theme of Alan Seymour’s play. Alf is a WW2 veteran whose life since the war has been disappointing. Anzac Day is the lighlight of his year and gives him the excuse to attend the dawn parade before getting blind drunk on the streets of Sydney with his mates. Son Hughie, who is at university, is appalled, not just at his father’s drunkenness but at the public ‘celebration’ of what was one of the biggest disasters of WW1.

The Finborough production is riveting: the performances – Mark Little as Alf, James William Wright as Hughie, Paul Haley as Gallipolli veteran Wacka, Adele Querol as Joe’s posh girlfriend Jan and, in particular, Fiona Press as Alf’s wife and backbone of the family, Dot, are superb. It’s hard to imagine a better production all round.

Australia’s Arthur Miller

Alan Seymour (

Alan Seymour (

Alan Seymour, who died in March of this year, is known really only for this one play, his first. He takes no sides in his own argument, which is what makes his play so powerful. It reminded me many times as I was watching it last night of Arthur Miller – in particular his Death of a Salesman (disappointed father, stoic, loving, long-suffering wife) and All My Sons (flawed father, disillusioned sons, generational conflict). Like Miller, The One Day caused controversy at its Australian opening for daring to criticise elements of his own country. Like Miller, Seymour tells his story through flesh-and-blood characters, all of them flawed in one way or another, each of them demanding our sympathy.

I met Alan when he was working at the BBC here in London. He was tremendously helpful and encouraging when I was trying to become a TV scriptwriter. After he moved back to Australia I visited him whenever I was there at his beautiful Darlinghurst flat in Sydney. He was one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known, and one of the most self-deprecating. He once described his play as an ‘albatross’, but I think he’d have been very proud and delighted at this latest revival of it.

He would have been even prouder to see it on stage at the National Theatre, where it should be.

The weird, the wonderful and the violent

The weird

Golem (

               Golem (

1927 are weird, there is no other theatre company like them. They mix animation with live action and music, with a tinge of silent movie and clowning. Their latest, Golem, features various versions of the eponymous (and animated) central character who transforms himself from benign slave to controller, and turns the initially shy and harmless Robert into an aggressive, ambitious fashion slave. So yes it is a swipe at modern technology and some people have remarked on the heavy-handedness of the message, or even, with the students I was with recently, the rather tired subject matter. But to me 1927 are less about subject matter and more about visual invention, and nothing comes more visually inventive than 1927. The current show isn’t as tight as their previous one, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets – which was, in my view, perfect. But a slightly overlong production from 1927 is still a memorable experience.

Only one of them is live (

Only one of them is live (

Golem runs at the Young Vic Theatre until 31 January 2015.


The wonderful

Tim Piggott-Smith (theguardian)

Tim Piggott-Smith (theguardian)

King Charles III is simply wonderful, no less so on second viewing. The power of the Shakespearean language, jarring to begin with perhaps until you get used to it, adds to this big play a totally appropriate feeling of grandeur. It is an important play, it dares to question the purpose and the existence of the monarchy. It reminds us how our reigning monarch, the only monarch most of us have ever known, has kept herself and her opinions so completely under wraps: never uttering a controversial opinion (or any kind of opinion) on anything; never interfering in government, never attracting a moment’s scandal; arguably the most inscrutable public figure in history. So it is not far-fetched to assume that her successor, who’s not so averse to expressing his feelings in public, will not be so prepared to simply sign off on every parliamentary Act that is presented to him.

It is a bold, theatrical, thought-provoking and funny play, with resonances of Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. Definitely one for our times.

King Charles III is at Wyndham’s Theatre, also until 31 January.


The violent



Frantic Assembly’s Othello, at the Lyric Hammersmith, is nasty, brutish and short. There’s been some heavy editing here as not only does it run straight through for 100 minutes without an interval, for the first ten or so minutes we get no words at all. Rather we get Frantic’s familiarly physical scene- and character-setting, accompanied on this occasion by loud rock music (Hybrid). The set is a north country pub where a pool table represents everything from a battlefield (resonances of Black Watch) to the marital bed of Othello and Desdemona. The walls of the set bend and reshape themselves at will, or when someone – usually a pumped-up Iago or a drunk Cassio – bumps into them. The words, when they do come, are Shakespeare’s, spoken in dialect. It is a production for young people and young people comprised I’d say 98% of the audience on the night we saw it. They were quiet throughout and enthusiastically noisy at the end, so it worked for them.

Steven Miller (Iago), Leila Crerar (Emilia) and the Handkerchief (

Steven Miller (Iago), Leila Crerar (Emilia) and The Handkerchief (

Personally speaking I’ve always had problems with this play. Why is Iago so obsessively jealous of Othello? Why does Othello believe him so easily when he slanders Desdemona?  This production doesn’t solve those problems, in fact what it gains in furious, brutal  physicality – and shortness – it loses in character development, so that Othello himself, despite an affecting performance by Mark Ebulue, seems almost peripheral. But there are moments of pure Shakespeare, especially in Emilia’s powerful condemnation of Othello, delivered with heartbreaking passion by the track-suited Leila Crerar.

Othello is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 7 February 2015.

The ticket-buying jungle (updated)

I last blogged on buying theatre tickets in London over a year ago, so I thought it was time to check again to see if anything has changed.

I’d been listening to visiting students’ experiences booking tickets for shows online. Inevitably they began by Googling the show and more often than not they landed on a sponsored ad for a ticket agent selling tickets at a mark-up price.

Her Majesty's

                   Her Majesty’s Theatre

I am happy to say that if you Google a London show these days you are more likely to arrive at the show’s official site, which leads you to the official ticket agency for that show – very often the owner of the theatre. That’s the good news. The not so good – and surprising – news is that the official agent may not offer you the best deal.

I was looking to buy tickets for a date in November for two long-running shows, Phantom of the Opera and The Woman in Black. The results are printed below, but the conclusion I came to, which is not quite the same conclusion as last time, is that the important thing when booking tickets online is to SHOP AROUND.

Phantom of the Opera (




What is the best way to book a theatre ticket in London?

  • If you live here and have the time, visit the theatre itself and see if they offer deals. Many of them sell cut-price tickets on the day, or offer student or other discounts a couple of hours before the performance.
  • Visit the Official London Theatre tkts booth in Leicester Square. They sell tickets for West End shows at half price plus a booking fee, but you mostly have to buy them on the day. You can check availability on their website at WARNING: There are dozens of ticket agents in the Leicester Square area calling themselves ‘Official’, so you need to make sure you’re at the right place.

Tkts booth (

  • If you are booking online then SHOP AROUND for the best deal. Begin with the official site for the show, but you may find, as I did, that other ticket agents offer better deals.
  • Some outlets such as Time Out – – have special offers on shows.

NB: If you are booking for a show at the National Theatre, the Globe, the RSC or the Barbican, go to the theatre’s or the company’s website. Likewise for shows on the fringe.


How do I know if a ticket agent is legitimate?

  • Check to see if they are a member of STAR (Secure Tickets for Authorised Retailers – If not, this doesn’t mean they are disreputable, but you don’t necessarily know who you are dealing with. Most reputable agents will tell you what the face value of the ticket is and how much they are charging on top.
  • Most independent ticket agents will have similar offers, so BEWARE the sole agent who offers tickets for a totally sold-out show.
  • NEVER buy from anyone in the street, or outside the theatre itself. Ticket touts are the scourge of live events everywhere. If you are waiting in a queue for returns inside a theatre and someone offers you a spare ticket, check with a member of the theatre staff that it’s genuine before handing over your money.


So who is offering the best deal on tickets for Phantom and The Woman in Black for today, 24 October?

The official website for Phantom is See Tickets and a top price stalls ticket costs £71, which is £66.25 + £4.75 booking fee. The second price stalls ticket is £53, £48.75 + £4.25 booking fee.

The official website for The Woman in Black is The Ambassador Theatre, booking through But the best price for today’s ticket is through tkts, at £26.75 or £16.75 (plus a booking fee of £3 or £1). Atg has one ticket left in the stalls at £47.50 (£19.50 for students or £23 for seniors, no booking fee).

Some independent tickets agents such as have special offers in November for stalls tickets at £27.50, with no booking fee (Normal price £47). But they don’t tell you where you’ll be sitting.

There’s more information below:

GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS for The Woman in Black & Phantom
for Tuesday 11 November 2014

When Googling Phantom the official site comes up first, and booking through the site takes you to See Tickets or Ticketmaster.

The Woman in Black’s official booking site takes you to atgtickets.

The following four companies are independent agents charging a mark-up.
Phantom: Stalls row M, £63 (face value £50) + £2.50 postage.
TWIB: Stalls row D £60 (FV £47.50); stalls F (special offer) £28.99 (FV £47.50)  – as above.
Phantom: Stalls row O £67.50 + £2.50 postage (no face value)
TWIB: As above
Phantom: Stalls “second price”, no row number, £58 (£50 + £8 booking fee)
TWIB: Stalls top price £27.50 (no booking fee) (The Ambassador Theatre Group, official site for TWIB)
Phantom: (redirected to Stalls row Q £57 (£50 + £7.50 booking fee)
TWIB: Stalls F £47.50 + £3 transaction fee
Phantom: Stalls row P £53 (£48.75 face value + £4.25 booking fee)
TWIB: Stalls row D £52.25 (£46 face vlue + £6.25 booking fee)

If in doubt or need of more information or advice please CONTACT ME on and I will see if I can help.



THE AMBASSADORS THEATRE GROUP own the Apollo Victoria, Donmar, Duke of York’s, Fortune, Harold Pinter, Lyceum, Phoenix, Piccadilly, Playhouse, Savoy, Trafalgar Studios.


Lyceum Theatre

THE REALLY USEFUL COMPANY own the Adelphi, Cambridge, Her Majesty’s, Palladium, New London, Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

DELFONT MACKINTOSH own the Gielgud, Noel Coward, Novello, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, Queen’s, Wyndham’s.


NIMAX THEATRES LTD own the Garrick, Lyric, Apollo, Vaudeville, Palace and Duchess Theatres.

SIR STEPHEN WALEY COHEN owns the Victoria Palace & the Ambassadors Theatre.


Ambassador’s Theatre

THE OLD VIC THEATRE TRUST (Robert Bourne & Sally Greene) own the Old Vic & the Criterion Theatres.

Old Vic

Old Vic Theatre


Oh What a Lovely War

When I heard that the Theatre Royal in Stratford East was reviving the iconic show that premiered in that same theatre back in 1963 I had to buy a ticket right away, and that was over a year ago. I didn’t see the original production, so the opportunity to be able to sit in the same seats watching the same show folk were first watching fifty years ago was irresistible. My expectations were sky-high, and I was not disappointed.

Oh What programme 2014

Programme 2014

Oh What a Lovely War is the First World War done as an end-of-the-pier pierrot show. This means bawdy humour, national stereotypes, goosing and bad jokes, most of which we probably wouldn’t be able to get away with now. But all this is counterpointed by a banner stretched across the back wall filling us in with the progress of the war. So for instance while we’re watching characters dancing to the Twelfth Street Rag we are being told ‘November …Somme battle ends …Total loss 1,332,000 men … Gain nil’. So a bit of you is laughing your socks off and then suddenly being caught up short, which means your emotions are being put through such a wringer that at one point – especially towards the end of the first act when the Jerries and the Tommies sing carols and started chucking Christmas presents at one another – it becomes almost unbearable. I can’t remember when I last felt quite so emotionally battered in the theatre.

Programme 1963

Programme 1963

There have been complaints, from Michael Gove in particular (our education secretary, for overseas readers) that shows like Oh What a Lovely War and Blackadder present a distorted view of the war and undermine our soldiers’ bravery and heroism. It seems to me he is completely missing the point. The show goes nowhere towards glorifying war, quite the opposite, but nor does it neglect the fact that ordinary soldiers were anything other than astonishingly brave and remarkably heroic. However rather than presenting them as gung-ho heroes waving flags and singing patriotic songs we see a bunch of exhausted, muddy, disheartened and often badly wounded lads desperately trying to keep their spirits up by singing a bawdy song, knowing the next push will probably be their last. There is one scene where a bunch of French soldiers, resisting orders to advance as ‘lambs to the slaughter’, eventually do so and ‘baaa’ like sheep while being gunned down one by one.

As a chronical of war it may not be to an academic’s taste, and obviously not to an Education Secretary’s, but as a piece of theatre it is everything theatre should be. The ensemble cast is faultless. Joan Littlewood would have been proud.

Joan Littlewood (

Joan Littlewood (

Directed with great panache by Terry Johnson, it features among others Caroline Quentin – surprisingly good, I’ve never seen her on stage before – Saun Prendergast as a hilariously incomprehensible drill sergeant and Ian Bartholomew (last seen by me as a panto dame) as General Haig. Fabulous. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

It runs until 15 March at the Theatre Royal.


And here out of interest is Kenneth Tynan’s review of the original production, reprinted in The Guardian on 31 January:

Littlewood returns in triumph

It seems to me quite likely that when the annals of our theatre in the middle years of the twentieth century come to be written, one name will lead all the rest: that of Joan Littlewood. Others write plays, direct them or act in them: Miss Littlewood alone “makes theatre”.

 She has come back to Theatre Workshop, after two years’ lamented absence, with a triumph unimaginable anywhere but on a stage; it belongs uniquely to its birthplace – the bare boards that are Littlewood’s home ground, filled with the passion of Littlewood’s home team.

According to the programme, Oh What a Lovely War (Theatre Royal, Stratford East) was “written by Charles Chilton and the Members of the Cast”; it is further described as a “group production under the direction of Joan Littlewood”; but I must risk the lady’s fury by insisting that it is essentially a one-woman show. The big, tough, purposeful heart that beats throughout the evening belongs only to Joan. You feel that her actors have a common attitude towards more than acting, a shared vision that extends to life in general; it is thus, rather than by any rehearsal method or technique of staging, that true theatrical style is born.

The plot is history: nothing less than the First World War. The cast is decked out in the ruffs and white satin suits of a seaside pierrot show. We are to witness (the compere brightly confides) that famous extravaganza, “the War Game”, enacted by the entire company with musical interludes drawn from songs of the period. The proscenium sparkles with fairy lights; and a terrible counterpoint is soon set up between the romanticism of the lyrics, all gaiety and patriotic gusto, and the facts of carnage in France. Illustrated by stills of the trenches and news reports flickering across an electrified ribbon screen.

Between songs. and with minor costume adjustments – the addition of a tunic, a helmet, a Sam Browne belt – the cast perform a montage of brisk, laconic sketches, rooted in improvisation but stripped of all irrelevant detail. We glimpse a bayonet practice, conducted in lightning gibberish; a military ball, rippling with intrigue; a shooting party of international tycoons, blazing away at wildfowl while debating the relative merits of various neutral trade routes for exporting arms to the enemy; and the Christmas truce on the Western Front, which Miss Littlewood handles with utter disdain for sentimentality – the Tommies recoil with nausea from a gift of German cheese, and respond by lobbing an inedible Christmas pudding into the opposite trenches.

Meanwhile, the songs grow more bitter; the lunatic Haig has taken command, and the dead are rotting in mountains, monuments to his unswerving conceit. And still, indestructibly if not always suddenly, everyone bursts out singing.

In the second half, the show tends to repeat itself, as the war so tragically did: but by then Miss Littlewood’s passion has invaded one’s bloodstream, and after the final scene, in which a line of reluctant heroes advances on the audience, bleating like sheep in a slaughterhouse, one is ready to storm Buckingham Palace and burn down Knightsbridge barracks. The production brings off a double coup: it is revolutionary alike in content and form. And even those who mistrust revolution can hardly deny that it has the most memorable score in London.

The cast (an ensemble from which I invidiously select the names of Ann Beach, Murray Melvin, Victor Spinetti and Brian Murphy) behaves with the same relaxed audacity that Miss Littlewood captured on film in Sparrows Can’t Sing. I hope success will not doom her present troupe to the fate that immobilised its predecessors: indefinite incarceration in the dreaded West End.


The ticket-buying jungle (updated)

I first blogged about buying tickets for West End shows a year ago (see here). Recently ticket touts have been in the news for charging outrageous sums for sell-out shows so I thought it was time to take another look at what’s on offer.

As I said before as a theatre tour organiser I am usually booking group tickets, generally for students. This way I not only get special deals, depending on the show obviously, and availability, but I get to avoid booking fees. I also know who to deal with: I know that if you Google show tickets the chances are the first sites that come up will be sponsored ads, paid for by agencies who may charge a big mark-up fee. As a tour booker I deal exclusively with the theatre owners or with ticket agents such as See Tickets.

Last year I featured two long-running West End shows, Phantom of the Opera and The Woman in Black (both of which, as it happens, are still running). This time I’m going for two other hot shows, The Book of Mormon and the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon (


As it happens the first site (sponsored) that comes up on Google is the official show website: For Monday 3 February a premium seat in Row G of the Stalls will set me back £127.25, which includes a booking fee of £2.50 per ticket. In Row P it’s only £49.75 (including the booking fee). The booking agents are the theatre owners,

Through there is very limited availability for that date, but I could buy a ticket in Row G of the Stalls for £140, which is £125 plus a booking fee of £15. Box Office collection is another £2.85; so the total comes to £142.85, which is £15.60 more than I’d be paying through the official site.

The only other site I could find with availability on that same date was Here it costs £159.29 for an unspecified seat somewhere in the Stalls, which is £134.30 plus £24.99 booking fee. (They do say the ‘face value printed on ticket excluding fees: £125’.) There may be further fees on top, I didn’t want to go as far as having to log in.

Conclusion: Stick to the official site at – the owners of the theatre. It’s the cheapest option and they have the best availability. In fact this is such a no-brainer I am surprised some agents can find enough customers to keep them in business.


Tom Hiddleston (

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus (

It was this show that was on the news recently because according to the BBC one agent was charging £2,015 for a couple of tickets whose face value was £35 per ticket.

For Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse the official booking site is where you will see every performance is sold out. If you’d been quick enough you could have bought the most expensive seat in the house for £35 plus a £2.50 transaction fee, or the cheapest at £7.50, plus the transaction fee.

I couldn’t find any sites offering tickets for this show, not even for £2,015, which according to the BBC – – is what one site was charging for two tickets whose face value was £35 each. I did find a couple of sites that both buy and sell tickets, which I won’t name because I wouldn’t want to give them publicity. They are completely legitimate, unfortunately, but bearing in mind the Donmar is subsidised by the tax payer, and the top price is £35, and virtually every production there is sold out within minutes of the booking period opening, it does seem iniquitous that anyone other than the theatre itself is profiting so much from its own success.


Or if the show is sold out, GO TO THE THEATRE and ask about their returns policy, or whether they offer TICKETS ON THE DAY. The Book of Mormon for instance has a daily ballot so if you turn up at 10am you can put your name on a list and if you are lucky you will get a front row stalls seat for £20.

As I said before most ticket agencies are not breaking the law, even the ones with 1000% plus mark-ups. But except in exceptional circumstances there is no need to have anything to do with them.

Public Enemy

Last year the Young Vic produced a new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Carrie Cracknell. With its breakneck speed, aided quite a bit by the whirling set (Ian MacNeil) it managed to be both faithful to the original and utterly accessible to the 21st century viewer.

Now the Young Vic have done something similar with An Enemy of the People, which in its latest version by David Harrower has changed its name to Public Enemy and runs, again at speed, non-stop for 90 odd minutes without a break. The difference is that whereas A Doll’s House remained rooted in its original 1880s setting Public Enemy has been updated to what I took – bearing in mind the orange wallpaper and electric typewriter – to be the seventies.


The story of a doctor in a small Norwegian spa town who – curious to know why a handful of holidaymakers contracted diseases such as typhoid after taking the water decides to have it tested and discovers it is contaminated, even poisonous, due partly to a tannery owned by his father in law; only to find himself then ostracised and vilified by the entire town – should make  good sense to modern perceptions. But the problem with this adaptation (as I saw it) is that it doesn’t really sit comfortably in its new period. Perhaps it’s the adaptation itself that’s too faithful to the original. There is a good deal of speechifying, and people behave to one another in an almost formal way that in no way reflects my memory of the seventies. The clothes are indeterminate, and there’s a moment when the Stockmans’ elder boy sits rapt for a rather long time listening to a family friend playing the harmonica (in the seventies??). There’s no sign of a radio or TV nor of the two boys demanding to plonk themselves in front of it. In fact there is very little direct reference to the seventies  anywhere (other than the wallpaper and the electric typewriter), such as a burgeoning public awareness of the effect of man-made climate change.

That said the play zips along at a cracking pace and keeps a firm hold of our attention (or mine at any rate). It even implicates the audience at one point when Stockman, addressing us directly, challenges us to disagree with his premise that democracy doesn’t work because the majority of the people are stupid and incapable of making the ‘right’ decision, at which point we (I) realise he is actually bonkers. Whether or not this is faithful to the original – which I don’t have to hand – it’s a remarkable, and temporary, switch in the doctor’s character which rather distracts from and undermines the sympathy we’ve been led to feel towards him.

It’s still a cracking play though, with good performances all round, especially from Nick Fletcher as the doctor (Krogstad in Doll’s House) and Darrell D’Silva as his brother and enemy, the mayor. I just wondered if this adaptation might have worked better if, as with Doll’s House, it had kept to its original 1882 setting.

Patsy Trench

Yellowface at the Park Theatre

The Park Theatre

The Park Theatre

Round the back of Finsbury Park station is a brand new (two-week old) two-storey theatre, privately funded, with its own resident dog (a huge thing, the artistic director’s apparently) and containing two performance spaces. In the smaller space last night I saw a cracking play by an American writer called David Henry Hwang.

Yellowface, the inaugural production from a brand new company called Special Relationship Productions, is an autobiographical piece about a Chinese American playwright (Hwang) who as a student back in 1990 was in the front line of protestors objecting to Jonathan Pryce playing a Eurasian in Miss Saigon on Broadway. A few years later Hwang is having difficulty finding an Asian actor for his own play Face Value (which is about the Miss Saigon fiasco) and ends up casting a white actor who he and others are sort of tricked into believing has vague Siberian Jewish roots. When word gets out the actor is no more Asian than Jonathan Pryce he gets sacked, but goes on to embrace his new (false) identity anyway, playing the King in The King and I, inadvertently changing his name to Marcus Gee and even finding himself under investigation as an Asian-American for donating funds to Bill Clinton, before he winds up paying a lengthy visit to China and embracing its culture. Meanwhile Hwang himself gets embroiled in a kind of McCarthy-type Yellow Peril witch-hunt when his father, a passionate patriot of his adopted country, who runs an Asian-American bank on the west coast, is investigated for possible dodgy dealings before dying, broken-hearted, of cancer.

Kevin  Shen as the writer (from the programme)

Kevin Shen as the writer (from the programme)

The joy of this play is that the writer manages to tell a (largely true) story of important and serious goings-on in such an entertaining way. He pokes gentle fun at a profession bent on ‘ethnically authentic’ casting – like all Asians from Russia to Indonesia are and look the same – and where a casting director is forbidden by law to ask an actor where he or she comes from (she does it anyway); he points up the absurdity of a country where a Chinese immigrant who has so passionately embraced American culture is vilified for being a Chinese immigrant, and a Chinese nuclear scientist is (wrongly) held in solitary confinement for suspected espionage; and from these ingredients he concocts a thoughtful, thought-provoking, intelligent and hilarious two-hour play (plus a bit, it was a long interval).

Great performances too – if perhaps on occasion a tad too big for the small in-the-round (or strictly speaking in-the-square) theatre – especially from Ben Starr as the actor, making his first professional appearance on stage, Kevin Shen, likewise, as the writer, and Christy Meyer as the ‘Name withheld on Advice of Counsel’.

Much recommended.