Review – The Hamilton Experience, Victoria Palace

Monday 15 January 2018

So what’s Hamilton about?

It’s about finger-wagging bossiness and treating audiences as a slight inconvenience. The theatrical equivalent of restaurants which are happy to profit from big group bookings but can’t cope unless you choose from the menu in advance.

It’s about telling their audience to get to the theatre an hour before the performance and telling them not to try and enter the theatre until their full party has arrived. WTF? We hadn’t been this irritated since we heard our last “See it. Say it. Sorted” tube announcement (let’s not even start on those voiced by children).

It’s about telling us to bring “photographic ID” (according to Ticketmaster’s missives) or “government issued photo ID” (according to the Hamilton website) – so which is it to be? Phil, who confused the government with TFL was only allowed to enter by one of the Victoria Palace wardens as he “looked honest” (note to ticket touts, model yourselves on Phil). Andrew was taking no chances; fearing he might be mistaken for a tout and not allowed to finger the ticket he forked out for a year ago (despite Phil having dealt with the traumas of booking) he promised to turn up with his passport, a utility bill and a letter signed by two Justices of the Peace.

It’s about Ticketmaster sending endless emails to clutter up our tidy inboxes. Even more messages if you were among the unlucky 16,000 who booked tickets, had your performance cancelled as the theatre refurbishment wasn’t completed and then had to keep three alternative dates open for weeks to find out if Ticketmaster had deigned to squeeze us in. Incidentally in the interests of gender equality could we have a Ticketmistress to dominate the subservient ticket purchasers too please?

So what were the seats like?

Well, we had good stalls seats when we booked initially but whilst attempting to pay for them the site crashed and we were told we were no longer allowed to select our own tickets. The site then chose vastly inferior tickets for us, which, when our performance was cancelled were again replaced with even more inferior ones. But we must consider ourselves lucky and touch our forelocks whilst licking the boots of our masters. Many didn’t get suitable replacement tickets at all. And if we were foolish enough to try and see it in New York we would be expected to part with up to $1150.

Since you asked, we ended up in Row J of a part of the theatre now known as “The Royal” (wasn’t that an ITV series with Wendy Craig?). Good uninterrupted sightlines though the seats a bit narrow and not enough leg room especially if you are the six feet four inch Brent.

How did they manage to reallocate anyone in the first place?

Wasn’t Hamilton supposed to be sold out? How were any of the 16,000 people re-ticketed? Were the producers deliberately holding back seats expecting the theatre not to be ready in time? Shame on you Cameron Mackintosh, your be-knighted arse has been sitting on our money for a year now.

So what is Hamilton really about?

It’s not about Lewis or Christina or even Diddy David sadly. This is the colour blind rap musical about a relatively obscure (over here at least) Alexander Hamilton the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean” (probably one of Trump’s “s***holes”) who grows to be a statesman, pamphleteer, significant American Founding Father, founding its financial system, American capitalism and the nation’s capital, whilst managing to be an a bit of shit in the process. Whew!  As a subject for musicalisation, it’s not exactly up there with the Von Trapp family is it?

Yes, but did you enjoy it?

After the over-blown hype, the stresses of not just booking tickets, but the indignity of queuing in the street just to enter a theatre, we’d been steered on a course to shout “emperor’s new clothes”. Even Book of Mormon didn’t have quite such a massive hurdle of expectation to jump. Hamilton fascism dictates that if you don’t love the show you’re somehow a lesser person who probably voted for Brexit. That we were more than quietly enthused after all the preceding brouhaha gives an indication of just how impressed we were. How disappointing is that?

So were you on board with Michelle Obama who gushed: “It was simply, as I tell everybody, the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life” ?

Hold on. We wouldn’t go quite that far. Has she never seen The Sound of Music or Xanadu?

We’re not partial to rap. And the only hip hop Phil can stomach was on the operating table. This show’s tin needs a new label. There’s a variety of styles of music going on here. Some of it is extremely catchy and the dense lyrics are frequently clever, funny and playful. Lin-Manuel Miranda Hart certainly knows how to come up with a nifty rhyme. Rumours that Miranda is the new Sondheim are greatly exaggerated; a financial hit on this kind of scale is something Sondheim could only dream of.

A bit of knowledge of the history wouldn’t hurt. Thomas Kail‘s production has a lot going on. It’s not a relaxing watch. David Korins’ relatively simple static setting of wooden walkways and ropes suggest an Oliver! Oom-Pah-Pah might be on the cards. It’s beautifully lit by Howell Binkley and the choreography by Andy Blankenbuehl is tight and witty and occasionally stunning, that’s if you can take your eyes off some of the tight period britches among the ensemble.

While you’re on that subject did anything else stand out?

Jason Pennycooke is a bundle of energetic fun as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. We didn’t get to see the much-heralded Jamael Westman in the title role. Presumably the poor dear suffers elainepaigeitis and can’t manage 8 shows a week so we had the “alternate”, Ash Hunter, though we were unaware of any announcement being made. He was perfectly accomplished but it might have been left to the charismatic Giles Terera as Aaron Burr, the man who killed Hamilton in a duel, to steal the show if it hadn’t been for Michael Jibson delivering his hilarious King George III and one of the two catchiest songs of the evening “You’ll Be Back”. The other big earworm being one of the show’s highlights the jazzy “The Room Where It Happens”.

Anything you didn’t like?

Despite being sung-through most of the dialogue is clear as a bell but we had trouble with a couple of cast members especially Rachelle Ann Go‘s initially shrill Mrs Hamilton (the women’s roles are pretty underwritten anyway). And there are occasional longeurs in both acts. Cutting about 20 minutes of the 2 hours 50 running time might not go amiss. But, and this is quite remarkable, the audience seemed spellbound. We didn’t spot a single device turned on, there was no sounds from sweeties being rustled and no one said a word apart from Andrew who mumbled into Phil’s lug hole for a lyric clarification.

And what of the Victoria Palace refurb?

Too many different patterns of carpet going on and the gaudily bright and over yellow lighting in the bars (especially the main bar in “The Royal”) has all the charm of an Azerbaijani brothel. This appropriately colour-blind lighting gives bar-proppers a delicate shade of jaundice.

Anything else to add?

Whilst we’re touching on that subject of colour blindness how about a musical with Brian Conley and Barbara Windsor as President and Mrs Obama? Now that just might turn out to be the the best piece of art in any form we’ve ever seen in our lives.

You done now?

Is Phil not alone in thinking the show’s poster is a work of graphic brilliance?

Oh go on then…



21 Responses to “Review – The Hamilton Experience, Victoria Palace”

  1. garethjames Says:

    So, when were you in an Azerbaijani brothel?!

  2. Richard Lee Says:

    Thank you for exposing the cynicism that lies behind what I imagine is a great show. Despite tickets being on sale for a year and an early assertion that the same script as Broadway would be used, there is still no date set for a single captioned performance. And while the refurbishment of the theatre may well have improved loops, and the sound desk techs may have remembered to feed the head mic’s through the show relay so voices are picked up directly through the loop, this is no guarantee that anyone dependent on hearing aids is going to get all of the quickfire dislogue/lyrics. So a captioned performance is essential. How anyone will know when that is due to happen though escapes me. Ticketmaster says I have to constantly check its website. They will not send out alerts. So, like Harry Potter’s captioned show, the allocation will sell out in minutes, not necessarily to anyone needing those seats, and unlucky caption users will have to wait a whole six months more for the next captioned show, which again, might be a secret. To put it in perspective, they usually set aside part of a circle, say 100-200 tickets. Taken as a percentage of the whole audience over a year, it’s about 0.1%. About 1 in 6 of the population has a hearing loss of some degree, so extrapolating that out to a theatre audience means… Well it just means that, like you, I despair at the cynicism of the machine that delivers this. The theatre industry could be the one place where empathy actually has a place but it seems not. I just hope all concerned are planning on not getting old (40% of over-50s develop some hearing loss; 50% if over-69s, etc…)
    PS Really enjoy your reviews. Some light in the darkness…

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Thank you. Ticketmaster hopelessly user unfriendly so I’m not surprised. Dreadful they won’t send alerts. Hopefully someone in a position to do something will read your comment and act on it.

    • Howard Says:

      I suspect they may not be keeping within the provisions of the disability discrimination legislation which says providers of goods, facilities and services must not treat you less favourably than they would treat a person who is not disabled. Sounds like you are being treated very much less favourably.

      • Richard Lee Says:

        They will claim that they have stated their intention to offer accessible performances: I’m afraid “How long, how long O Lord?” has no bearing on the Act’s provisions… But thanks for your note.

  3. Peter Davies Says:

    We are going tonight and the advance emails and your posting fill me with dread for the mechanics. Since the prices are also astronomic, we really hope that the performances make up for the hassle.

  4. Ellie Says:

    As usual your comments are hilarious. I feel sorry for any elderly or infirm theatre goers, as the climb to the Cheap seats are unbelievabley steep.

    I am only 5ft and there was no legal room at all. The shame was that I could not wait for half time to actually get up and stretch my legs. I am a regular theatre goer,and this is the only time as much as i enjoyed the performance, and like you booked a year in advance and had date changed have EVER felt like this.

    Carry on with your brilliant revues. They are so much fun to receive.


  5. Bryan Fleak Says:

    Paying for seats for big shows up to a year in advance is a pain. I can’t see how you can get round the touts other than the system they’re using though – especially if the figures being quoted for touted tickets are true. Mind you I can afford to be smug as I got my tickets for Feb by which time everything should be running smoothly.

    • I hear agencies charging £700 and possibly more. When is a tout not a tout?

      • Bryan Fleak Says:

        We hear these things but apparently these agencies do not have permission to sell on any tickets. The only access to the show is with the original purchaser – the tout would have to actually meet and walk in with the people they’ve touted to. Extreme perhaps but if it works it’s worth it.

  6. Sal Says:

    Clearly the opinionated Irish lady Mrs. O’Bama cited in this delightfully cogent whinge never saw Yootha Joyce in the sitcom George and Mildred on telly, or she would have revised her list of the greatest art forms – An economic point: while fat cats like Cam Mack rake in the pound notes as usual, the original cast of actors who helped to write Hamilton, while supposedly allotted a tiny profit sharing scheme, are hardly wealthy as a result:

  7. Paul Jerome Says:

    I saw Hamilton on the same night as the Whingers ( we really must check or diaries in future as I see them everywhere !) I gave the show 9 Out of 10 as I hated the fact that the musical number that closed Hamilton was a real Miss Saigon number ( and sung by a star of that show ) so I left the very gaudy theatre ( based on Danny La Rue’s front room ?) with her voice ringing in my ears and wondering where the helicopter was ! Otherwise I really enjoyed the evening.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Yeah, quite a crap ending and not the performer to close the show. Glad we’re agreed on the tacky refurb. What were they thinking?

  8. Sandown Says:

    Historically, Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies. He was sent to study at King’s College, New York (later re-named as Columbia University) and was originally a Tory and a loyalist.

    Hamilton was converted to the secessionist side by Aaron Burr, the man who eventually killed him in a duel — an outcome which does have its humorous aspect.

    New York stayed mostly loyal, so the rebels had to leave town in a hurry, but not before setting fire to scores of houses of loyal citizens, in a fit of pique.

    Eventually the secessionists won, mainly because of French intervention on their side — a process which bankrupted the French monarchy, and led to the Revolution and the cutting off of the French King’s head.

    Which also has its funny side, in retrospect.

    As for Mrs. Obama claiming “Hamilton, the Musical” as the best piece of art she has ever seen in her life — well, she would say that, wouldn’t she ? It’s just American propaganda.

  9. Billy Says:

    In more news from America, the land which both Whingers graced with their presence and appeared on a public television programme hosted by a grinning Goebbels of the far right, the Nigel Farage of Yank Theatre gossip, a certain Michael Riedel. This Riedel, a tremendous fan of the current occupant of the White House and everything he does, has branched out into talk radio, as one American commenter in a theatre chat blog across the pond sadly noted:
    It’s very disappointing to report that the great lover of all things theater, Mr. Riedel who I believed hosted all week for Mr. Berman, just spouts the typical Republican talking points.
    Just today he expressed how the Mueller investigation is a waste of time because he’s not been able prove collusion with the Russians yet. (Newsflash Michael, it’s not collusion that they’ll probably get 45 on but conspiracy, spread the word to your conservative ilk.) He compared the current investigation to Ken Starr’s Whitewater not missing his opportunity to you guessed it, disparage Hillary by saying that he was surprised they never got her on anything.
    He seems to think arming teachers are the way to go in the wake of the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. After bragging about his friendship with Bill Bratton, he begrudgingly reported on how Mr. Bratton feels arming teachers is “lunacy”!
    I’ve also heard him dismiss Kirstin Gillibrand and just today he said he loves DJT. FYI, just saying.
    This is offered in fair warning in case the blessed Whingers or anyone else for that matter, imagines going on any theatre programme associated with this excrescence in future.

  10. AJK Says:

    Went to see this last night and, reference the palaver of actually getting in, I had to be reminded that we had chosen to go in the first place. If it stops the touts then I suppose fair enough, but it does seem faintly absurd; it’s the theatre for heaven’s sake, not check in at Heathrow Airport. That said, what a great marketing coup to project such scarcity.

    The place was full of shall we say a less than diverse audience, whooping along before, during and after, and there is no doubt that, especially in the first half, there is a great gusto about Hamilton. Great tunes, clever lyrics stopping just short of being clever clever, and real pace to the spectacle, although to understand what was happening it was necessary to pay close attention to the lyrics, which was sometimes tiring. Some characters were clearer than others – Giles Terera (Aaron Burr) good; Jason Pennycooke (Lafayette) not so good.

    Hamilton himself (Jamael Westman) was a real stage presence and I look forward to his future projects. Likewise Giles Terera and as has been mentioned, scene-stealing Michael Jibson as the King. This last popular perhaps because he brought a welcome interjection of comedy into what was otherwise a fairly serious business.

    And great gusto aside, this was exposition after exposition after exposition. I hadn’t revised my American revolutionary history beforehand because, well, this is a work of art and it will tell me what I need to know. And indeed it did – but in such a pedestrian, plodding way. Hamilton did this…Hamilton did that…Hamilton said this…Someone Else said that. So by the end I knew the events in Hamilton’s life, but aside from being an immigrant, and wanting to grasp his opportunity, I didn’t know much at all else about him. What motivated him, where did he get his ideas, why did he push for the key issues that he is now so well known (!) for? No idea.

    The play described events in his life rather than created any character study which allowed us to understand why he did the things he did. Plus in the second half things got markedly flatter and veered into Andrew Lloyd-Webber territory with more ballads than rap, which quietened somewhat the whoopers in the audience.

    In sum, I’d rather have been able to flog the tickets at a handsome profit, stayed at home with a nice glass of wine, and looked up Hamilton on Wikipedia, while listening to Eminem and 50 Cent on loop.

  11. Julie Says:

    What an interesting and honest review of the process as well as the play. We booked last year for a performance in May. In the meantime my husband in whose name we booked being the only person in the household with photo ID passed away. I’ve had a devil of a job trying to get Ticketmaster to transfer the details into someone else’s name. After 2 months of phone calls, emails back and forth, closed enquiries, restarting of enquiry from scratch. Having to send them my husband’s death certificate and scans of my eldest daughters passport, we eventually have verbal confirmation only (they couldn’t possibly send a written confirmation email or otherwise) that they have accomplish the apparently gargantuan feat of transferring out tickets to someone else in the party.

    From your review and experience of other London theatres attending before I became disabled I might not even be able to watch the damn thing anyway. I’ve put on weight since I lost mobility and almost certainly won’t fit in the seat, despite when booking discussing accessible seating for someone who needs crutches to walk, and is of a hefty disposition. All in all the kids are really looking forward to the experience, I’m absolutely dreading it… Not the show the rest of it.

    • Richard Lee Says:

      That is awful. When it comes to access, theatre really excels at *not* being the empathetic, caring, hold-hands-we’re-all-in-this-together-for-a-better-world happy-clappy all-embracing communal experience it projects/pretends to be. In fact, it is quite, horribly, elitist & exploitative.
      I’m sorry for your treatment. Perhaps needs uncovering on social media, though I guess that can only make it drag on painfully for you. Or write direct to one of the producers like Sonia Friedman, if not directly then publicly, in The Stage.

      • Julie Says:

        Thank you for your reply. I agree there seems to be an elitist exploitative element to theatre. The way changes to bookings are handled seems quite awful. As to the accessibility of performances, If you fall into certain parameters live performances can be so fulfilling and an emotional experience, which can take you beyond the ‘intellectual’ exercise that home entertainment tends to be. Once you are outside of those ‘acceptable parameters’ venues for live entertainment becomes quite the minefield. If it wasn’t for not wanting to let my girls down I would probably not go. Without the moral support of my husband it’s quite a daunting prospect.

        I do feel these issues should be addressed, though obviously there are much worse things going on in the world, it doesn’t negate what might be seen as lesser issues. What I’ve experienced on this occasion is I’m sure echoed throughout all kinds of services. Sorry to prattle on so long and thank you for your empathy regarding my treatment. I may well take your suggestion to address the issue in one of the helpful ways you indicated.

  12. CWA Says:

    My first visit to the Victoria Palace since Billy Elliott and I liked what I saw of the theatre refurbishment and the staff seemed genuinely helpful and positive. As it was a warm evening the queuing process to get in wasn’t too painful but imagine going in December? And imagine this process for every theatre visit? It seems quite over the top. I did wonder what percentage of the theatre ticket price was going to Cameron’s redevelopment overdraft but given he’s co=producing probably not much. I have to say I wasn’t expecting to like this and I’m rather baffled that a musical about Hamilton is so popular with many younger fans who are seemingly going again and again and probably account for the whooping fraternity in the theatre who seemed to be on fire from the word go. There were some stand out performances and those are Giles Terera, Jack Butterworth who was standing in for Tarinn Callender (not announced) and er that’s it. The rest I found to be perfectly acceptable
    west end theatre musical stepford wives type performers efficient but unremarkable. I also didn’t get to see Jamael Westman (again unannounced) but Ash Hunter.
    The ticket prices are outrageous and I probably did better than most. I paid £100 for what was advertised as a restricted view ticket in the Royal Circle – it turned out to be front row aisle seat with about 5% of the stage unseen so I was pleased with the seat for what I’d paid. But the band is not large it’s a one set production and an average size musicals cast. How can 250 at weekends be justified ah but it’s not, I hear you say, it’s capitalism supply and demand.
    Many of the lyrics were very clever but out of 28 ? numbers only 5 or so stood out two of those for Terera again.
    Perfectly good evening at a musical but like Book of Mormon vastly overpraised.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: