Faith Healer – The real thing. Donmar Warehouse

Brian Friels’s four monologues from three characters tell very different versions of the same events.

Stephen Dillane is utterly believable as Frank, the charismatic, self mocking, untrustworthy Faith Healer who may or may not have the gift of healing and if so, has no understanding of it. He holds the stage quietly yet compellingly, eyeballing the audience with a mix of irony and shiftiness. You wouldn’t want to get too involved with this man but you might not be able to resist given the chance.

FAITH HEALER by Friel

Stephen Dillane (thestage.co.uk)

Ron Cook plays his manager Teddy, perhaps the most interesting character of the three: on the surface all cockney swagger as he tells his story while chain-drinking (as in opening up a new bottle of pale ale before he finishes the last one). But underneath the bluster is a warm, truthful and partly broken heart.

Gina Mckee plays Grace, Frank’s girlfriend, struggling to hold herself together as she spills her heart out in her seedy bedsit. She is perhaps the least developed of the three characters – an occupational hazard you might say for a female so utterly dependent on a rogue like Frank.

Faith Healer Gina McKee (timeout.com)

Gina McKee (thestage.co.uk)

Faith Healer Ron cook (thestage.co.uk)

Ron Cook (thestage.co.uk)

The sum of all these disparate parts is an absorbing story of interdependence, and the fascinations and dangers of charisma and a gift that may or may not exist, but which both enchances and destroys the lives of two of them and ends in desolation for the third.

The acting and directing (Lyndsay Turner) is all round impeccable. The staging by Es Devlin changes completely for each monologue, including the floor – from plain wood for Frank to lino for Grace to carpet for Teddy. Inbetween scenes a curtain of rain falls, rather unnecessarily I felt.

That quibble aside, it is the nearest thing to a perfect show you’re likely to see anywhere. To quote another play by another playwright – it is the Real Thing. Get a ticket if you possibly can. (Nothing, even at the Donmar, is impossible.)

Faith Healer runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 20 August. ww.donmarwarehouse.com

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 (atgtickets.com)

(atgtickets.com)

As it happens the first site (sponsored) that comes up on Google is the official show website: http://www.bookofmormonlondon.com/home.php. 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, delfontmackintosh.com.

Through www.ticketmaster.co.uk 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 www.seatwave.com. 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 delfontmackintosh.co.uk – 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.

Coriolanus

Tom Hiddleston (tomhiddlestononline.net)

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus (tomhiddlestononline.net)

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 www.atgtickets.com 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 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-25849543 – 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.

The moral of the tale overall is ALWAYS BUY YOUR TICKET FROM THE SHOW’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE.

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.

The noblest Romans of them all

Cast of Julius Caesar (donmarwarehouse.com)

The cast of Julius Caesar (donmarwarehouse.com)

While waiting for the all-female production of Julius Caesar to begin at the Donmar last Saturday I was chatting to my next door neighbour (an actress) about Privates on Parade, which I saw recently, and she said she wouldn’t want to see a show that featured an almost all-male cast and only one part for a woman. That brought me up short rather, because the gender makeup of the cast has never really been something I’ve taken much account of when deciding what shows I want to see. (But then I am not an actress, not any longer; and fortunately I didn’t tell her one of the plays on my agenda for January is the all-male Globe production of Twelfth Night.)

In fact I sat down to Julius Caesar (director Phyllida Lloyd) with quite a few misgivings. An all-female Julius Caesar of all plays – why? Set in a woman’s prison – double why??  (That said I thought the all-female Richard III at the Globe a few years ago was a deal better than the all-male version of the same play I saw there this summer.)

The first ten minutes or so did not nothing to dispel those misgivings. The show begins with an awful lot of noise, and these women in grey track suits running up and down the stairs, banging tin trays, gesturing and yelling in a decidedly butch manner and kowtowing to the woman in the beret, who shouts louder than any of them.

Frances Barber (donmarwarehouse.com)

Frances Barber & followers (donmarwarehouse.com)

However once the play itself began things begin to fall into place. The woman in the beret is Caesar, of course (Frances Barber), and the pale, gaunt one is Brutus (Harriet Walter). From then on it was, pretty much, plain sailing.

It’s not so much that I forgot they were women – despite some ultra masculine haircuts and posturing I never felt these women were pretending to be men; the gender issue wasn’t an issue. What I did get from this production, more I think than I ever have from any previous version, was the strength of friendship, in particular between the muscular, energetic Cassius (Jenny Jules) and the pale, doubting Brutus, and between Brutus and Mark Anthony (Cush Jumbo) – whose transformation from headstrong, callow youth to canny politician reminded me rather of young Hal/Henry V.

Jenny Jules (Cassius)

Jenny Jules (Cassius)

On occasion (not too often) we are reminded that this is a prison production, when fight scenes get out of hand and sirens sound and prison warders appear through a heavy clanging door and slam on the lights; and on another occasion when Brutus/Harriet Walter, annoyed at the suppressed giggling outside his tent while he is remonstrating with Cassius, breaks off to hiss through the gap in the canvas – ‘Will you shut the f*** up!’.

Harriet Walter (Brutus)

Harriet Walter (Brutus)

But oddly enough rather than annoyingly interrupting the flow these interjections add another layer to the proceedings, by reminding us that these are professional actors playing prisoners playing Romans. So when the girl playing a pregnant Portia mysteriously retains her bump when doubling as Octavius this is because it is the prisoner who is pregnant, rather than Portia. (I admit this had to be explained to me.)  And because the multi-tasking cast, some of whom played instruments, remain on stage for much of the action you are never quite sure whether it is the ghost of Caesar lurking in the background during the battle scenes, or the prisoner in the beret.

Cush-Jumbo

Cush Jumbo (Mark Anthony)

So I have to say my misgivings were totally allayed. This is one of the clearest, most beautifully spoken and – above all – most moving  versions of Julius Caesar I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a few); perhaps it was because of the all-female cast, but I think more likely it was that we were simply watching acting of the highest order.

*****

PS: More on Peter Nichols. Passion Play is opening at the Duke of York’s Theatre in May, starring Zoe Wanamaker. It was always my suggestion that the Globe name their second theatre after its creator, her father Sam Wanamaker. So someone is listening to me after all!