A HAMPSTEAD THEATRE PRODUCTION
By THERESA REBECK
Directed by TERRY JOHNSON
Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes including a 20 minute interval
£10 - £35 (See ticket information)
Life is complicated. People are complicated. If you can’t figure that out, you’ll never be much of a writer.
25 Sep - 1 Nov 2014
£10 - £35
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Four aspiring young writers have paid big bucks to seek wisdom at the feet of the fearsome Leonard – once a celebrated novelist, now a cantankerous editor, teacher and grandstanding chronicler of third-world war zones…
Under Leonard’s recklessly brilliant but brutally unorthodox tuition, competition for his approval is intense and the students clash. Alliances are made and broken, tactical schemes are hatched – how far are they willing to go to make it to the top?
Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck’s mordant comedy is a sparkling cocktail of ambition, power and lust – and one with an unexpected kick. Theresa is the creator of hit television series Smash and previous plays include Dead Accounts and Mauritius.
Terry Johnson returns to Hampstead Theatre following his critically acclaimed Hysterialast year starring Antony Sher. His other recent hits at Hampstead also include Race by David Mamet and Old Money starring Maureen Lipman.
Three time Olivier Award winner Roger Allam’s recent theatre credits include Henry IV Parts I & II, The Tempest (both Shakespeare’s Globe) and Uncle Vanya (Chichester Festival Theatre). Film includes The Iron Lady, Tamara Drewe and The Queen.
If you were running a creative writing class, Theresa Rebeck’s mordantly funny and terminally knowing comedy would be very far from the first play that you’d be keen for your group to study together. Receiving its UK premiere now in a production of wittily scathing but oddly approachable aplomb by Terry Johnson, the play focuses on the creative writing seminar from Purgatory.
Three ridiculously privileged New York kids, plus a talented lower-class friend, have paid $5 000 apiece for the honour of having regular visits to their Upper West Side apartment from the bullishly withering so-monstrous-he’s-camp writing guru, Leonard. This guy (magnificently played by Roger Allam) makes Simon Cowell sound like Uriah Heep.
Leonard was once a celebrated novelist. Now he’s an editor and war-chronicler who uses his name-dropping familiarity with international human rights abuses (he’s always just off the plane from eating “cabbage with a Chechnyan psychopath” or some such) as a further way of belittling his students, whose very “pussy” (as he calls it) and American-bound authorial rivalries (eg the number of rejections and acceptances from Yaddo,the swank writers’ colony) and connected sexual gamesmanship, are beautifully adumbrated by the young cast.
“The world we live in? It no longer exists,” Leonard declares, savage with globe-trotting experience-snobbery, so what’s the point of a story about an over-educated sexually inadequate girl with a defensive Jane Austen addiction?
Leonard has a distinctive way of reading a manuscript, or rather the first few pages of one, his swinging-dick divinatory powers not needing to press any further into the evidence. He scans it, allowing the leaves to drop to the floor like litter, either chortling approval or quoting from it with a distaste that could strip the entire enamel off Oprah Winfrey’s smile.
For the most part, Rebeck does well in striking that tricky balance between offering very brief instances of the students’ prose and Leonard’s pugilistic and prejudicial descriptions of the kind of writing he believes it represents (the perfect wannabe New Yorker story is “capable, graceful in places, a detached air of perplexed intelligence” according to his mocking typification).
Does our hero protest too much about honesty at all costs? “Writers in their natural state are about as civilized as feral cats…if you’re not honest who gives a shit what you’re writing.” Has he got any skeletons in the closet? It surely couldn’t be otherwise from the very outset.
But with a “revelation” in the second half of the play, we seem to be called on to be surprised that Leonard’s irresponsible asperities, however accurately targeted they may sometimes be, are generated by self-hatred.
It’s not often, though, that you come across so hyper-literate a comedy; its scrupulously weighed wordiness makes for a welcome change.
Paul Taylor, 2 October, 2014
Seminar, Hampstead Theatre, review: A hyper-literate comedy By Paul Taylor, Independent
This production marks the start of my fifth season at Hampstead.
We gave our online followers the opportunity to ask Roger Allam any questions they wanted – and the tweets came in thick and fast!
Hampstead Theatre is delighted to announce that due to demand for tickets, Seminar will extend by two weeks until 1 November 2014.
Tuesday – Saturday evenings
Full price: £32/£29/£15
Groups: For every 9 tickets get the 10th free
Previews, Mondays and matinees
Full price: £25/£22/£12
Seniors (matinees only): £18/£15
Groups: For every 9 tickets get the 10th free
*Under 26, Jobs Seekers allowance and Student concession seats are available in rows A, M & Q
Audio described performance:
17 October at 7.30pm, with a touch-tour at 6pm
14 October at 7.30pm, with a transcribed post show discussion