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Published 2 October 2014

What’s it all about?

Four young aspiring writers, each of whom have paid $5,000 for the privilege of intimate – very intimate in some cases – seminars with a once acclaimed novelist, now a rock star editor. This is no Dead Poet’s Society copycat however; this teacher certainly has a way with words, the problem is profanities and condescension are his forte, flippant cruelty his masterpiece.

As the quartet intellectualise their art, debate the paths they should take to get noticed and rally against their mentor, unexpected alliances, relationships and underlying insecurities arise.

Who’s in it?

Explaining the limited availability of tickets, the spectacularly good Olivier Award winner Roger Allam leads both the class and the cast as the spiteful Leonard. A masterclass in the art of playing it low key, every time he saunters on for a scene you brace yourself for another sociopathic rant, all delivered with an emotionally vacant air that is as devastating as it is patronising.

In his firing line is Charlotte Wakefield, brilliantly deadpan as the neurotic Kate whose strength of hatred for the “female-hating” Kerouac is only matched by her unrequited love for Bryan Dick’s likeable everyman Martin. Rebecca Grant shines as the charismatic and fickle Izzy, the self-invented Betty Boop of the literary world, while Oliver Hembrough’s Douglas’ unconscious desperation is almost unbearable to watch.

What should I look out for?

The scene in which Wakefield’s melancholic Kate covertly assembles a Dorito, Häagen-Dazs and gherkin sandwich. And eats it.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Ian McKellen was sitting a few seats down. After the interval he asked if he could get past me. I successfully resisted replying “You shall not pass” thereby ensuring my dignity remains intact. Just.

In a nutshell?

“Oh Captain, my Captain, please stop referring to me with profanities and taking your subconscious insecurities out on me.”

What’s being said on Twitter?

@lizzie_bourne An acting & directing masterclass in #Seminar @Hamps_Theatre this eve & so lovely to have met fellow @Oxford_Drama grad @charitywakefld

@Jake_Brunger Brill first preview of Seminar @Hamps_Theatre tonight. Such a clear, funny, thought-provoking play.

Will I like it?

The biting, tortured and intellectually superior literary world of Theresa Rebeck’s creation may not be to everyone’s liking, but if words are you bag, then this may well spark your creative juices as well as many an interesting debate in the bar afterwards. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, sit back and squirm with recognition…

Seminar is playing at the Hampstead Theatre until 1 November. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.


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