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The theatrical alternatives to spending 300 on Plaza Suite, Inverness-based theatremaker Jack MacGregor, and three shows to see…

Hello, and welcome to The Crush Bar, a newsletter about theatre written by Fergus Morgan.

This is the third issue of 2024 and it features: three theatrical alternatives to spending your life savings on a ticket to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite; an interview with Inverness-based writer and director Jack MacGregor, ahead of new play festival Spark at Eden Court; and your usual three show recommendations.

In case you missed it, here is the Tuesdays issue of Shouts And Murmurs, rounding up the weeks best theatre writing elsewhere, plus some other stuff:

Shouts and Murmurs – January 16, 2024

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Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite.

It detailed three alternative plans five shows in London, three in Scotland, or one in Amsterdam that you could do for less than the 183.80 you would have forked out to see James Norton crying for four hours.

Well, this January, Im afraid to say they are at it again, not that they ever really stopped. The top price ticket for the upcoming production of Neil Simons Plaza Suite starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick at the Savoy Theatre is an astronomical 300. Yes, you read that right. 300 for a single ticket to a single show.

Of course, this affronts me on an accessibility front: the pricier theatre tickets get, the less accessible and interesting the artform becomes. Beyond that, though, it baffles me on a value-for-money front. I get it. This is commercial theatre and producers want to squeeze as much money from a show as they can, but how can anyone pay 300 for a theatre show and think that they’ have got a good deal?

So, without further ado, here are three better, cheaper alternatives to spending 300 on seeing Plaza Suite. And, yes, I know there are some cheaper tickets on offer. Relax, its just a bit of fun

On Monday evening, you could get a decent ticket to see the National Theatres acclaimed musical adaptation of Roald Dahls The Witches for 66.

On Tuesday, you could get a good seat to see Mark Gatiss and Johnny Flynn in Jack Thornes The Motive And The Cue in the West End for 62.50.

On Wednesday, you could make sure you are on the Donmar Warehouse website at midday to snaffle up one of their 15 standing tickets to see David Tennant in Macbeth.

On Thursday afternoon, you could head to the Hampstead Theatre to see a matinee of Nina Raines revival of Tom Stoppards Rock n Roll for 45.

On Thursday evening, you could get the best seat in the house for Charlie Josephines Cowbois at the Royal Court for 50.50.

On Friday, you could keep your eye out for returns to see Luke Thallon and Anya Chalotra in Conor Macpherson and Elvis Costellos sublime Cold War at the Almeida Theatre. I just found one for 54.

That is six of the hottest shows in London right now, all for 293. Thats 7 less than you would have spent on seeing Plaza Suite. You could get yourself a creme egg to eat during every show and still have a few quid left.

On Friday afternoon, you could catch the 12:18 from London Kings Cross, arriving in Edinburgh at 16:41, which leaves you plenty of time to settle in before

On Friday evening, you could head to the Edinburgh Lyceum to see Forbes Masson in Gary McNairs one-man adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde. The best seat in the house would cost you 35.

On Saturday morning, you could head to the newly refurbished Scottish National Gallery, where you can see the annual Turner In January exhibition, plus a lot more, entirely for free.

At 11am, you could catch Hannah Laverys play Protest, which is meant for kids but works for adults, too, at the Traverse Theatre for 12.

On Saturday afternoon, you could head to the Royal Highland Centre, where Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma are doing Macbeth at the moment. You could get a ticket for 65.

Hopefully you would be back in town in time to catch the 17:55 train back from Waverley to Kings Cross, arriving at 22:26, and leaving you a whole Sunday before work starts again.

The trains would cost you 66.50 in total, assuming youve got a railcard, and you could find a pretty nice hotel for your remaining cash. If you stayed in the Holiday Inn in Murrayfield for 102, you would even have enough left over to go to the zoo!

If you skipped the zoo, though, the whole thing would cost you 280.50, leaving you 19.50 to spend on a nice tote bag from the National Gallery gift shop.

On Friday afternoon, you can catch the train to Stansted, then the 15:00 RyanAir flight to Dublin.

You would arrive in Ireland in time to catch Luke Casserlys remarkable interactive show Distillation on the Abbey Theatres Peacock Stage, costing you 23, or 19.70.

That evening, you could head to the Abbey Theatres main stage to catch Tom Creeds modern take on Brendan Behans The Quare Fellow. You can get a ticket for 15, or 13.

The following afternoon, you can try your luck in getting a return ticket for Stephen Rea in Samuel Becketts Krapps Last Tape at Project Arts Centre, which would cost you 35, or 30.

You can catch the 20:55 flight back to Stansted, then the train back into London, and be tucked up in bed before midnight.

The flights would cost youre a mere 26, the trains to and from Stanstead 22.80, and the bus in and out of Dublin City Centre 8, or 6.86.

You could stay the night in a superior room at the Hilton, with breakfast thrown in as well, for 119, bringing the total cost to 237.36. Take yourself out for a big lunch on Sunday or something with whats left.

Jack MacGregor

That last question in particular exercises Inverness-based writer and director Jack MacGregor. He was born and raised in the Highlands, but refuses to let his work be defined by that. His 2022 play Nightlands was set in post-Soviet Svalbard, his 2023 audio drama The Tamarind Tree during the last days of the Vietnam War, and his 2023 Fringe First-winning play Everything Under The Sun in modern-day Mali.

Its an entirely fair question, especially in the context of Everything Under The Sun, says MacGregor, when asked why he is drawn to geopolitical plays. Im a white writer writing about Africa. Just saying that sounds yknow. I am just interested in exploring these intercultural meeting points where values really get tested. Mali is a great example of that because you have these various imperial spheres meeting there. I think of myself as a bit of a local internationalist.

Sometimes, as a writer in the north of Scotland, Im placed into this category where I can only write a very specific kind of story, and that is just not the case, continues MacGregor. Its an unfair label to put on someone. You wouldnt expect a writer in Glasgow to always write about Glasgow. I think there is a strong internationalist tradition in Scottish literature that looks outward to the world.

The ambition of theatremakers based in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is on full display this weekend at the inaugural edition of Spark, a four-day festival for new plays that has been produced by Inverness-based company Dogstar Theatre, Inverness Eden Court Theatre, and Playwrights Studio Scotland, and that features a range of rehearsed readings, panel discussions, playwriting workshops, and ceilidhs. MacGregor, an associate artist with Dogstar, is heavily involved with it.

Im directing two extracts of plays from the writers ine King and George Gunn, and Ill be doing some panels, too, explains MacGregor. In regional Scottish theatre, there is a discontent that exists about the central belt lens through which a lot of theatre is made. I think it is fantastic that our two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, have such a strong theatrical culture, but I think our strength lies in our regional differences.

This festival is a chance to push back against that, he continues. It is a chance to calcify the artistic community here, and to make connections that will exist beyond the festival, and to build some cultural confidence in the Highlands and Islands from the ground up.

Theatre is the only place where ideas can be embodied, then deconstructed and interrogated

Born in 1996, MacGregor went to Culloden Academy, the only high school in the Highlands with a drama department. He saw shows and NTLive streams at Eden Court and knew he wanted to work in theatre by sixteen, going on to graduate from Inverness University Of The Highlands and Islands with a first-class degree in drama and performance and a masters in playwriting in 2021.

Alongside my falling in love with theatre came the more painful realisation that all the theatre I loved was very far away, MacGregor says. Very little of it comes to Inverness.

Since graduating, MacGregor has had two plays produced Nightlands with Dogstar Theatre in 2022 and Everything Under The Sun with Army@TheFringe in 2023 and created a range of other projects, from audio drama The Tamarind Tree, to COP26 solo show Amnesty, to fictional documentary UKVL Sutherland, which imagined the future of Scotlands space programme. He usually directs his own work, too.

It is tough, MacGregor says, to build a sustainable career in theatre based in Inverness, something he hopes Spark will start to change. He worked in retail for several years, then did grunt work in film including three months shooting No Time To Die in the Cairngorms, which funded a research trip to Svalbard and now lectures at his alma mater, the University of the Highlands and Islands.

If I can, I want to get to a place where I can just write, MacGregor says. Ive always been a writer. I always try to write every day. I think of it like forecasting. You are forecasting emotions and events and places and people. You are getting into concepts and putting them on their feet, letting them run and seeing what happens. And I think theatre is the only place you can really do that. I think theatre is the only place where ideas can be embodied, then deconstructed and interrogated.

Spark: The Highland New Play Festival runs at Eden Court, Inverness, until this Sunday. You can find more information here.

The Last One, The Hills Of California, and Till The Stars Come Down.

This is the second play from Cornish playwright Zoe Alker, and focuses on the consequences of coastal erosion and climate change in small seaside towns. It is directed by Imy Wyatt Corner – a former interviewee of this newsletter – and runs at the Arcola Theatre throughout next week. You can get tickets via the button below.

Book tickets here

Jez Butterworth has arguably produced the finest play of each of the last three decades in Mojo, Jerusalem and The Ferryman, while every show director Sam Mendes has touched in recent years has turned to gold. Their latest collaboration, The Hills Of California, starts performances next Saturday. There are not many details at the moment, apart from the fact that it is not set in California, but in Blackpool. Press night is not for a few weeks, but you can get a ticket to a preview via the button below.

Book tickets here

Directed by Bijan Sheibani, who previously staged Inua Ellams hit Barber Shop Chronicles, this new play from Beth Steel, writer of Wonderland, Labyrinth and The House Of Shades, is set during a wedding between a Polish man and a Mansfield girl. It is, Steel told Lyn Gardner in The Stage, about people on the cusp of change. You can get tickets to its run in the NTs Dorfman Theatre via the button below.

Book tickets here

That is it for this week. If you want to get in touch about anything raised in this issue – or anything at all, really – just reply to this newsletter or email me at [email protected]. Or you can find me on Twitter/X, where I am @FergusMorgan.

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