It isn’t always fun … theatre disappointments of 2019

I’ve seen just short of 200 productions across London this year, my busiest-ever theatre-going year. I’ve already shared with you my thirty favourite productions and thirty favourite performances of 2019, but what of those productions which didn’t quite come up to scratch?

These are the productions which really disappointed me this year, for a variety of reasons. Follow links for my reviews of these.

West End and National plays

Admissions (Trafalgar Studio 1)

This managed to be both boring and misguided, from a plot which on paper had a great deal of potential. A saving grace was being upgraded from a cheap seat at the back to a second price one near the front.

Hansard (National Theatre, Lyttelton)

This was a waste of the significant talents of Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan, in a meandering debut play which was a very pale imitation of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, set in the world of British politics.

A Very Expensive Poison (Old Vic)

A jaw-dropping folly from the usually reliable Lucy Prebble which mixed comic interludes with the story of the murder by poisoning of a Russian defector.

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other (National Theatre, Dorfman)

You had to enter a ballot for tickets, and then you were trapped in this nightmare with Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane, wondering what on earth you were watching. The kindest thing I can say about this is that it was weird, the most damning thing is that is was a bit of yawn.

West End musicals

Big: the Musical (Dominion Theatre)

With questionable song choices and missed opportunities, this musical may have had big ambitions, but felt very small in the cavernous Dominion. Happily I paid the cheap rate to sit up at the back: I would have felt even more cheated had I forked out for a place in the stalls.

Hamilton (Victoria Palace)

I went to see what all the fuss was about. Not much, as it turned out. The musical styles don’t fit together and I really didn’t care about the leading character. Over-rated.

Matilda (Cambridge Theatre)

I got a discounted ticket in the 2019 New Year Sale. I suppose it is a bit flashy and fun, but I felt the material was very thin and it needs a whole lot more magic to take flight.

On Your Feet (London Coliseum)

Gloria Estefan is not a saint, and this was not worth the amount of money we paid for a ticket.

Thriller Live

This just isn’t a musical but a very slick tribute concert. There’s a huge hole where Michael Jackson should be, and for me it never got beyond that.

Off-West End and wider London fringe

Bed Peace (Cockpit Theatre)

What should have been a tight and thoughtful commentary on John and Yoko’s sit-in for political peace felt muddled and had a singalong second half which was totally pointless.

The Bridges of Madison County (Menier Chocolate Factory)

A musical of one of my favourite films was something I really looked forward to, but it failed on almost every level, as well as being far too long and ponderous.

Friendsical (Ashcroft Playhouse, Croydon)

What was advertised as a parody musical really wasn’t, and it didn’t catch a fraction of the fun or complexity of the source sitcom.

The Importance of Being Earnest (Tabard Theatre)

There have been many interesting versions of this play, including a turn from David Suchet as Lady Bracknell and a framing device of elderly actors tackling the role. This was done straight and sadly the play was left creaking.

Peter Pan (Troubadour White City)

The National’s production was transported to the new Troubadour Theatre at White City, but didn’t seem to know whether it was for children or adults. It dragged along at a snail’s pace and just didn’t suit the space.

Preludes (Southwark Playhouse, Large)

I admired this, but I didn’t like it. Curiously the same composer is responsible for the fantastic Ghost Quartet over in Soho at the Boulevard.

Rust (Bush Theatre, Studio)

This wanted to be far more profound than it was and despite good performances, it lumbered along to a frustrating finish.

See you at the theatre in 2020!

3 thoughts on “It isn’t always fun … theatre disappointments of 2019

  1. Hansard really wasn’t very good. I saw it in the company of a distinguished veteran arts journalist, who had to restrain himself from booing! I wouldn’t quite go that far, but there’s something rather deceitful about it (especially its treatment of the character of the wife). Plotless, too, for the first hour – any seasoned theatregoer will be able to pick up what’s being unsaid very quickly, and we have to make do with admiring the new playwright’s allegedly dazzling waspish wit. Which, I am duty bound to report, much of the audience who surrounded us were happy to do.

    Thinking about the play since – much more than it deserved – the thing that’s vexed me most dramturgically is the poor quality of what we learn about the tragic son. Particularly – and you could say that this says something about my reserved view of familial love – whether the reaction of many mothers, upon discovering their 16 year-old son wearing their skirts and make-up would be to hug him and tell him how cherished he was.

    1. Yes, lazy writing and a really poor ending. On the alleged humour of the piece it seemed catnip to a certain type of audience, but it left me cold.

  2. Wow – You mentioned a few of the musicals EVERYONE around me mentioned as the ones to go watch. Hamilton is the one I constantly hear about but I didn’t really connect with what I saw of it, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one! How could anyone try to make The Bridges of Madison County into a musical- some things should just stay as a beloved piece of literature.

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