Review – The Hamilton Experience, Victoria Palace

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…


Review – The Hamilton Experience, Victoria Palace