The Argument by William Boyd, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 19 March 2016

We love the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs. We love the upstairs too, of course, but we really have seen some cracking stuff downstairs.

This piece doesn’t really make the cut as “cracking stuff”. I enjoyed it more than Janie did; she found swathes of it irritating.

There’s not a great deal of plot. Young couple, compulsive arguers about nothing, fall out proper when the shrewish intellectual snob of a wife extracts a confession from the strangely timid yet BSD husband that he has been having an affair with some trollop through work.

Then wheel in the best friend of each spouse plus both of her parents and watch every plausible pairing (and some implausible ones) argue. Some scenes were genuinely laugh-out-loud funny; others were a little “smug sitcom” for our taste. What little plot there is progresses quite slowly and predictably.

It was good to see Michael Simkins (aka Fatty Batter – one of the funniest cricket books I have ever read) on the stage. Last time I saw him in person was at a county cricket match at Lord’s 10 years or so ago; he was with Michael Billington and we three chatted very pleasantly for a brief while.

Plenty of good acting on show, as is pretty much always the case down there at Hampstead. Indeed, in some ways it was the high quality of the acting that irritated Janie. The characters were all unlikable and the actors did a terrific job of projecting that unlike-ability. It is difficult for a play to work if you really don’t care much for any of the characters.

Still, we enjoyed our evening and in some ways the slight disappointment was based on the very high expectations we have now when visiting the Hampstead Theatre – what a huge leap forward from a few years ago when the whole place was in the creative doldrums. Edward Hall has done and is doing a cracking job there. We look forward to seeing the new Neil LaBute upstairs there in a few weeks’ time. I think we saw Mr LaBute himself crossing the Finchley Road while we were on the way to the theatre; quite possible as that upstairs show is still in preview. There’s another fellow we haven’t seen in person for a decade or so.

 

A Further Education by Will Mortimer, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 6 November 2015

Janie had a bit of a brainstorm ahead of this one, turning up ludicrously late for our arranged pre theatre meal at Harry’s having lost all track of time that afternoon.

Add to that confirmation in my mind that Harry Morgans has gone plummeting down hill since its recent take over (we have not returned since), we arrived at the Hampstead frazzled and just in time to get good seats together downstairs.

In short, bad start to the evening…

…but a good play.

It needs some belief-suspension on the part of the audience; I cannot envisage the bureaucracy in a modern era university enabling an interloper into classes…perhaps back in my day the scenario might just have been possible…but the bundle of issues that the slightly dodgy conceit throws up are interesting, as is the interaction between the characters.

I cannot find a stub for this one, so various “news stuff” will have to suffice – perhaps ahead of some archive rejigging at the Hampstead end:

Downstairs, so of course no formal reviews either.

Oughttobeclowns blogspot liked it. As did we.

Stella Gonet (hadn’t seen her on stage for years) in particular was excellent, but the whole cast was very good indeed.

Deserves more than a short run at the unreviewed (and now seemingly unarchived) Downstairs at Hampstead. Oh well.

 

Firebird by Phil Davies, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 2 October 2015

This was a very harrowing short piece, brilliantly done. Deservedly, this one got a transfer to Trafalgar Studios, so there is a good stub to be found with the production details, some interviews etc. We saw the original version at the Hampstead Downstairs, but it looks as though it was a straight transfer, same cast, same production team.

The play is basically about a young girl in Rochdale who is befriended and groomed by an older, Asian man with debts and bad friends. The Children’s Society collaborated on the work, by all accounts.

We saw it on a Friday evening after a poor early evening meal at Harry Morgans. We were talking about it all weekend; it raised such startling issues and was so well acted.

There were also reviews post transfer:

Many more reviews can be found if you google for them using Trafalgar rather than Hampstead.

36 Phone Calls by Jeremy Brock, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 11 July 2015

Another of those winners at the Hampstead Downstairs. A really excellent one man performance in which you witness a chap’s life unfurl through a few dozen phone calls conducted on his several different phones.

It reminded me a little of The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau, except the one person in 36 phone calls is a man rather than a woman and there are more calls and more devices in this new play – welcome to 21st century communications.

This excellent Hampstead Theatre stub provides all the resources you need if you want to know more about this play/production – click here.

Lee Ross was exceptionally good as the unravelling man, Martin.

I think we might have taken away some food from Harry Morgans after the show that time; the diary silent on the matter. But I do recall this play giving us plenty to chat about afterwards.

 

Deposit by Matt Hartley, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 27 March 2015

This was a good play, very well acted and produced. Another feather in the cap of the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Housing crisis again, but this time two couples decide to live on top of one another for a short while to save enough for the deposits that will progress both couples to the dream of their own home.

There were some plausibility issues with the economics of this scenario, especially in London. “Do the math” as our US cousins might put it.

Still, it was good thought-provoking stuff.

Janie liked it less than I did, but she was in the process of coming down with something, to such an extent that we ended up having to cancel our dinner with Gary and Margaret the next day – a very rare level of poorliness for Janie.

Excellent resource about this play/production on the Hampstead website – click here.

No formal reviews but lots of comments, mostly very positive, on the site.

Preceded by nosh at Harry Morgan, although I seem to recall Janie eating little because she was already feeling less than special in herself.

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 20 February 2015

Janie and I thought this was a really excellent play/production; once again the tiny Hampstead Theatre Downstairs proving to be one of the hottest tickets in town.

Sinéad Matthews is a very special up and coming actress. We first spotted her more than 10 years ago, in The Wild Duck at the Donmar, when she was but a nipper. I don’t think she only does plays named after species of fauna. We have subsequently seen her in Giving, again at the Hampstead Downstairs – click here.

Mercifully the Hampstead now has a good resource for each play/production – click here for The Wasp – as that downstairs space eschews formal reviews and I somehow mislaid the little leaflet thing they give out by way of a programme.

In a way this play is a classic revenge tragedy played out in modern terms in the present day. Perhaps some aspects of the coincidence seemed unlikely when you think deeply about the plot afterwards, but as the story plays out the evening was captivating.

Janie and I like these short plays – 90 minutes or so without an interval – when they are done well such plays/productions keep us gripped from start to finish and we feel thoroughly satisfied afterwards…sans bum ache.

The Wasp deservedly got a West End transfer later that year, but Sinéad Matthews didn’t transfer with it. Nevertheless:

I am pretty sure that Janie and I preceded our Friday evening trip to the Hampstead with a meal at Harry Morgans, so we got home early and thoroughly satisfied that evening.

In the Vale Of Health: Missing Dates by Simon Gray, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 16 May 2014

Janie and I both really like Simon Gray’s plays and we really like the Hampstead Downstairs.

So this project; taking all four of Simon Gray’s attempts to write about a quirky pair of brothers in The Vale of Health, seemed like something we should do in full.

We saw them in this sequence/timing:

  • 21 March 2014 – Japes;
  • 18 April 2014 – Japes Too;
  • 2 May 2014 – Michael;
  • 16 May 2014 – Missing Dates.

We’d often see the same faces in the audience again. One gentleman who sat next to us on the last night, we’d seen at least once before. I said to him that it would be like saying goodbye to close friends when this little season ended and he said, “that’s exactly what I was thinking”.

Very intimate plays, beautifully written (it’s Simon Gray after all) and very well acted/directed.

I’m cutting and pasting this same piece for all four evenings; the above and the links below basically apply to all four.

Here is a link to a search term that will find you Hampstead resources and (unusually for downstairs) reviews, as they transferred this little season upstairs afterwards, because it had done so well downstairs.

Here is a YouTube interview and stuff:

In the Vale Of Health: Michael by Simon Gray, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 2 May 2014

Janie and I both really like Simon Gray’s plays and we really like the Hampstead Downstairs.

So this project; taking all four of Simon Gray’s attempts to write about a quirky pair of brothers in The Vale of Health, seemed like something we should do in full.

We saw them in this sequence/timing:

  • 21 March 2014 – Japes;
  • 18 April 2014 – Japes Too;
  • 2 May 2014 – Michael;
  • 16 May 2014 – Missing Dates.

We’d often see the same faces in the audience again. One gentleman who sat next to us on the last night, we’d seen at least once before. I said to him that it would be like saying goodbye to close friends when this little season ended and he said, “that’s exactly what I was thinking”.

Very intimate plays, beautifully written (it’s Simon Gray after all) and very well acted/directed.

I’m cutting and pasting this same piece for all four evenings; the above and the links below basically apply to all four.

Here is a link to a search term that will find you Hampstead resources and (unusually for downstairs) reviews, as they transferred this little season upstairs afterwards, because it had done so well downstairs.

Here is a YouTube interview and stuff:

In the Vale Of Health: Japes Too by Simon Gray, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 18 April 2014

Janie and I both really like Simon Gray’s plays and we really like the Hampstead Downstairs.

So this project; taking all four of Simon Gray’s attempts to write about a quirky pair of brothers in The Vale of Health, seemed like something we should do in full.

We saw them in this sequence/timing:

  • 21 March 2014 – Japes;
  • 18 April 2014 – Japes Too;
  • 2 May 2014 – Michael;
  • 16 May 2014 – Missing Dates.

We’d often see the same faces in the audience again. One gentleman who sat next to us on the last night, we’d seen at least once before. I said to him that it would be like saying goodbye to close friends when this little season ended and he said, “that’s exactly what I was thinking”.

Very intimate plays, beautifully written (it’s Simon Gray after all) and very well acted/directed.

I’m cutting and pasting this same piece for all four evenings; the above and the links below basically apply to all four.

Here is a link to a search term that will find you Hampstead resources and (unusually for downstairs) reviews, as they transferred this little season upstairs afterwards, because it had done so well downstairs.

Here is a YouTube interview and stuff:

In the Vale Of Health: Japes by Simon Gray, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 21 March 2014

Janie and I both really like Simon Gray’s plays and we really like the Hampstead Downstairs.

So this project; taking all four of Simon Gray’s attempts to write about a quirky pair of brothers in The Vale of Health, seemed like something we should do in full.

We saw them in this sequence/timing:

  • 21 March 2014 – Japes;
  • 18 April 2014 – Japes Too;
  • 2 May 2014 – Michael;
  • 16 May 2014 – Missing Dates.

We’d often see the same faces in the audience again. One gentleman who sat next to us on the last night, we’d seen at least once before. I said to him that it would be like saying goodbye to close friends when this little season ended and he said, “that’s exactly what I was thinking”.

Very intimate plays, beautifully written (it’s Simon Gray after all) and very well acted/directed.

I’m cutting and pasting this same piece for all four evenings; the above and the links below basically apply to all four.

Here is a link to a search term that will find you Hampstead resources and (unusually for downstairs) reviews, as they transferred this little season upstairs afterwards, because it had done so well downstairs.

Here is a YouTube interview and stuff: