February 22, 2016
There’s nothing better than heading out to the theatre and when it’s off West End, you have even more reason to smile for the plays are normally cheaper, offer better views, you can say you saw the plays before they reached the West End and you might even be up closer to the action than you ever imagined possible! That last point is certainly the case with The Meeting at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, but what was it like?
The set remains the same throughout – a good sized corporate office with a desk, sofa, some files and a floor-to-ceiling window – and to give you an idea of just how close the audience is, some visitors will actually find themselves encroaching onto the office carpet, such is the layout of the seats. This is definitely a positive; being so close to the action makes everything seem somehow more real and certainly draws one in.
The plot focuses on Stratton (who’s office provides the setting) and Cole, two colleagues who are waiting to meet Jack Holland in order to sign a contract that will presumably bring untold riches to themselves and their company. Alas, when it transpires that Jack won’t make it over an incident within his own building, the two men find themselves having to deal with his female deputy, Ellen, instead. They can’t believe their luck! Until they quickly discover that maybe she’ll turn out to be a far tougher nut to crack than her boss. With their own superior, Frank, breathing down their necks to seal the deal, can Stratton and Cole hold it together?
Andrew Payne’s play is one that begins brilliantly, instantly thrusting into this slightly boring world of corporate meetings and diary scheduling. The characters all appear to be relatively shallow in nature but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; because all four members of the cast are very much to be taken at face value, it allows the audience to focus on the more serious subjects held within the satire, with office politics and misogyny being just two. This strength can also be viewed as the play’s downfall if you choose to focus on it – there aren’t too many layers to the story but does there have to be?
It has to be said that the cast are all astonishingly good, most notably Malcolm Sinclair in his French-loving, slightly smarmy Frank. To be fair, he is the President of Equity, so this should not have come as a surprise. The remainder of the cast – Mark Hadfield, Rebecca Night and Sam Swainsbury are also extremely good and really hold the play together in its more contrived moments whilst ensuring the comedy shines through throughout. The chemistry of all four is superb and Denis Lawson needs to be applauded for his assured direction.
All in all, The Meeting at Hampstead Theatre is an extremely accomplished piece of work that excels for much of its running time and will certainly have you laughing throughout. That being said, there are moments that stretched the credibility a little too thin, despite the work of its wonderful cast and set, whom certainly make this another fabulous night out in London.
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By Henry Fosdike