Posts tagged ‘the stage’

1 March, 2010

Lyn Gardner fully expects to be replaced by Katie Price

Written for The Collective Review, 1 March 2010

The national newspapers’ habit of replacing their retired head theatre critics with columnists and political sketchwriters is pretty worrying for those of us on the bottom rungs of the theatre criticism career ladder, as I pointed out in January, when The Times announced Libby Purves would be replacing Benedict Nightingale in their top spot.

Well, it turns out up-and-comers like me aren’t the only ones concerned by the trend:  some of the country’s most influential theatre critics also expressed reservations about the appointments last Friday, at Theatre Critics In The Spotlight, a panel discussion hosted by The Student Workshop of Royal Holloway, University of London (pictured).

Even before the panel hosts – Royal Holloway lecturer and Variety theatre critic Karen Fricker, and Student Workshop Creative Learning Officer Sheryl Hill – formally posed the question, panellist Mark Shenton – critic for the Sunday Express and daily blogger for The Stage – repeatedly brought up the topic.

In Shenton’s view, the trend is a cost-saving measure, symptomatic of the problems facing the newspaper and media industry as a whole.  His fellow panellist Kate Bassett, lead critic for the Independent on Sunday, pithily summarised those problems, saying, “Newspapers don’t know how to make money any more”.

Shenton explained that papers could avoid paying an extra salary by simply adding theatre criticism to the duties of an existing member of staff, adding that editors no longer consider theatre criticism to be a full-time occupation.

Ian Shuttleworth of the Financial Times recalled – enlighteningly, for those of us relatively new to the business – the appointment of former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Michael Portillo as theatre critic for the New Statesman, which he considers to be the beginning of the trend.  Worryingly, he also pointed out that his own promotion to lead critic at the FT is the only instance in living memory of a retiring lead critic being replaced by their number two at the same paper – most second-stringers have to defect to a different publication in order to secure a top slot.

Lyn Gardner, critic and blogger for The Guardian, concluded the discussion with this bleak yet matter-of-fact premonition of the industry’s future:  “I fully expect my job will one day be done by Katie Price”.

25 February, 2010

Sunflower House

Jessica Sedler in Sunflower House

Jessica Sedler in Sunflower House. Image by Gabriella Restelli

Tristan Bates Theatre, Feb 22 – Mar 13 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The subject matter of East German playwright Anne Rabe’s Sunflower House is potentially revelatory, challenging received wisdom about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the state of post-unification Germany to which the majority of Britons subscribe. Unfortunately, the challenging and the revelatory are rendered banal by problematic presentation.

The play concerns a middle-class family living in an East German Plattenbausiedlung, or prefabricated high-rise estate, next door to the Sunflower House, which in 1992 was the site of a riot. Micha, the son (Sam Fordham), is filming a documentary about the estate – and specifically his immediate family, mother Jutta (Jayne Denny) and pregnant sister Klara (Jessica Sedler) – as his audition for film school.

Though Micha has a very specific vision for his film (“Nazi City – a film about my family”), he’s unable to stop the story of the Sunflower House riot, as well as revelations about his Stasi informant father, from bleeding through in his subjects’ testimony. The metaphor is no less potent for being obvious: Micha repeatedly demands realism and truth, but censors his subjects when their truth diverges from his vision.

Filmmaking, though, is a famously tedious process, and even a theatricalised version of it makes for dull viewing. Micha’s camera is real and functional, feeding live to an onstage TV, which necessitates a lot of camera business – adjusting focus, positioning the tripod, angling the thing – which, though performed in character, is purely logistical rather than dramatic.

Documentary filmmaking in particular is a typically static affair, and so Sunflower House is composed largely of people sitting or standing still – forced to remain within the camera’s blinkered field of view – and delivering exposition without much action. Displaying the camera’s feed on the TV makes for some interesting close-ups and multi-angle views not usually achievable in theatre, but they’re still close-ups and multiple angles of static performers prosaically delivering exposition.

To her credit, director Lydia Ziemke fights valiantly to inject some energy and movement into proceedings. Often the filming is not the only action happening onstage (though it is always the focus). In one scene the camera becomes the objective in a game of keep-away between Micha and Klara – Fordham and Sedler are at their most convincing when having fun with the pair’s playful sibling rivalry.

Then there are the few camera-free scenes. One, captioned “Advantageous Accidents”, proves simultaneously that Rabe is capable of writing action without dialogue, that Jayne Denny – who, despite a strong vocal performance, suffers from a generally uncertain, unfocused physicality – is capable of dramatically engaging economy of movement, and that Ziemke is capable of deft, wry theatricality; but that the talent of everyone involved is fatally fettered by Micha’s camera.

Written by Anne Rabe (translated by Philip Thorne)

Crew includes Lydia Ziemke (director), Martina von Holn and Karoline Young (designers) and Chris Perlin (graphic & video design)

Cast includes Jayne Denny (Jutta), Sam Fordham (Michael) and Jessica Sedler (Klara)

Need a second opinion?

18 February, 2010

Mercury Fur

3-4 Picton Place, 17 February – 13 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Theatre Delicatessen couldn’t conceivably have picked a more ideal play with which to kick off their latest found-space residency. Mercury Fur is a perfect fit for a bold young company (provided it’s staged with maturity), as well as for the space, a disused office block just off Oxford Street – though it may not be exactly the right play for the moment.

Accessed via a fire escape overlooking a bleak concrete non-space hemmed in by buildings, the space is dingy, litter-strewn and neglected – but the soft furnishings remain intact (if grubby), a solitary unbroken china bowl is discovered amongst the empty crisp packets, and a dark, weighty wooden bookcase endures against one wall. It’s a setting immediately evocative of the play’s alternate London: of affluence and prosperity run rapidly to ruin.

Hastily tidied and swept, the space becomes the setting for a rich city worker’s sick wish-fulfilment, organised by a group of youths in exchange for the means to their own survival. The young cast – especially leading duo Matt Granados and Chris Urch as tight-knit brothers Elliot and Darren – fearlessly harness and ride Ridley’s powerful dialogue, embracing the thought-provoking contradiction between their determination not only to survive but to protect one another, and the means they’re willing to use to achieve that end.

This is the play’s first major London revival since it opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2005. Having since arguably passed into canon, it’s unlikely to cause as much of a stir this time around; and though Ridley’s near-hopeless future may chime with the national mood of doom and gloom, the breakdown of civilisation via widespread habitual hallucinogenic drug abuse is hardly the apocalypse du jour. We only have ourselves to blame for the crises we face at the turn of the teenies (climate change and the credit crunch), while outside agency plus human nature plus time is the formula for the end in Mercury Fur.

Hence, while in no way sidelining or shying away from the violence, Delicatessen place heavy emphasis on the role of Elliot: the de facto guardian of humanity’s culture, mythology and history, by dint of being the only non-user in the group, and therefore the only one that remembers the world as we know it. The childlike eagerness of Darren and Naz (an incongruously innocent-seeming Mikey Bharj) for tales of life before the fall, and the delight Elliot takes in the telling, provide the only threads of hope that either the characters or the audience can grasp.

It’s evidence that the controversy that greeted its premiere was not all Mercury Fur had to offer; even with its shocks somewhat blunted by foreknowledge, it just takes the right company in the right space to reveal the heart behind the horrors.

Written by Philip Ridley

Crew includes Frances Loy (director), William Reynolds (designer/lighting), Fergus Waldron (sound design), Anna von Eicken (costume design) and Roger Bartlett (fight director)

Cast includes Debra Baker (Duchess), Mikey Bharj (Naz), Matt Granados (Elliot), Isaac Jones (Lola), Jack Sweeney (Party Piece), Chris Urch (Darren), Tom Vickers (Party Guest) and Ben Wigzell (Spinx)

Need a second opinion?

9 February, 2010


Cock Tavern Theatre, 30 January – 20 February 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Couples fall to pieces on stage all the time, but it’s a rare production that can tease something charming and sweet from the inevitable collapse. That the Cock Tavern’s new production of Jon Fosse’s Nightsongs is such a production is beyond doubt; the question is whether director Hamish MacDougall had to twist against Fosse’s script to make it so.

Fosse’s play – here translated by Gregory Motton – is one in which much is said, and much repeated, but little is expressed. What drives the nameless central couple apart is a lack of communication disguised under an overabundance of speech: loops and spirals of small talk and the same old grievances aired again and again.

Credit is due to MacDougall and to Rosalind Steele (the Young Woman) for bringing out the poetic quality of those recurring phrases. Handled badly, a poetic refrain can be indistinguishable from a backtrack to cover a fluffed line, but Steele makes the Young Woman’s frequent recourse to safe, familiar conversational territory an essential ingredient of her personality.

In contrast, the Young Man (Peter James) rarely speaks. The couple – once high school sweethearts, now live-in lovers with a newborn son – are such a classic example of opposites attracting that it’s easy to see why their relationship is doomed, but hard not to root for them to stay together.

That he is so quiet neatly accommodates her need to speak and to repeat – yet his reticence drives her mad. His agoraphobia allows her to socialise knowing he won’t leave the baby – but he’s as leery of the baby as of everyone else, and she can’t relax knowing he’s waiting up for her. Their personalities complement one another, but their temperaments are incompatible. Their very tragicomic contradictions make them a believable and, what’s more, endearing couple.

Less convincing is Steele’s onstage chemistry with Andrew Steele as the Young Woman’s “lover” Baste. That’s not necessarily to the production’s detriment: that the Young Woman’s declarations of “fondness” for Baste ring so hollow is just further comic proof that, despite their differences, she and the Young Man are made for each other. Baste, then, has been press-ganged into the flat by the Young Woman more as a kick up the pants for the Young Man than as a realistic alternative to him.

The only problem with this interpretation (MacDougall’s?) is that Andrew Steele’s awkward, round-shouldered shuffling is at odds with Baste’s lines: they indicate a genuine wish to spirit away the Young Woman, whereas Mr Steele’s performance indicates – in keeping with this production’s celebration of the central couple – that he would rather be absolutely anywhere else.

In the end, these small discrepancies are worth ignoring, because examining the central couple’s charms as much as their flaws makes for an enjoyable, smile-out-loud production – and lends the surprise ending a whole extra layer of bewildering pathos.

Written by Jon Fosse (translated by Gregory Motton)

Crew includes Hamish MacDougall (director), Jemima Carter-Lewis (designer), Steve Lowe (lighting designer) and Ben Loft (sound designer)

Cast includes Stephanie Beattie (Mother), Peter James (Young Man), Julian Lamoral-Roberts (Father), Andrew Steele (Baste) and Rosalind Steele (Young Woman)

Need a second opinion?

25 January, 2010


Tabard Theatre, 19 January – 6 February 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The stated purpose of Threesome is to shock. In that way it’s a lot like its central characters, Poppy and Bella, a pair of vapid rich bitches whose only desires in life are money and celebrity. Fame, fortune and shock value are all meaningless unless sought in the service of a greater goal; and with no greater goal in sight (despite high-falutin’ programme notes bemoaning “the infantilisation of a generation”), Threesome is just that: meaningless.

What’s worse is that despite having no purpose other than to horrify and disgust, the play is tame in almost every respect.

The premise is farce by numbers, predictable from start to finish. The girls have zero money (having maxed out Daddy’s credit cards on Gucci shoes), zero food for their upcoming dinner party, zero common sense and one generous (and generously proportioned) online stalker. It’s not a difficult equation to balance.

Interesting characters can make a predictable story easier to endure, but Poppy and Bella aren’t just stereotypes, they’re both the same stereotype. Colin the mouthbreathing internet lothario isn’t so much a character as a selection of kinks and quirks hanging on a straw man. The cast play it the only sensible way – like, totally OTT, dahling – but nothing they can do can make their characters likeable, relatable or even believably human.

There are sex toys, but only of the innocent high-street novelty variety – furry handcuffs, edible underwear, a vibrator. There is sex, but it’s censored behind the back of the sofa. There is dismemberment, but it’s conducted entirely offstage. There is cannibalism, but not of anything resembling a human body part (the only obscene thing about the sequence is the amount of mustard he puts on it).

What is offensive about the play is its attitude towards its female characters. Though Colin is largely a figure of fun, Freddie Lancaster’s performance is at times genuinely threatening, and there’s a deeply uncomfortable sequence in which he throttles a clearly terrified Poppy and forces her to strip. We’re expected to find this funny because, y’know, she wouldn’t be in that situation if she hadn’t been so materialistic and naïve; but that’s the dramatic equivalent of standing in the dock protesting, “She was asking for it, your honour – she was wearing hot pants.”

It’s difficult to know who’s to blame: Hal Iggulden, co-author of the phenomenally successful Dangerous Book for Boys, is credited as the playwright, but the programme claims in the same sentence that Threesome was “devised by the company”. It’s a contradiction that may well work in Iggulden’s favour; if I were him, I’d want to distance myself from this show as quickly and completely as possible.

Written by Hal Iggulden (or was it?)

Crew includes Harry Nicholls (director), Sarah Oxley (set designer) and Grace d’Etienne (wardrobe)

Cast includes Rachel Chambers (Poppy), Freddie Lancaster (Colin), Shirley Leigh-Wood Oakes (Bella – understudying for Rita Walters), and Ed Stephens (Luke)

Need a second opinion?

4 December, 2009

Jiggery Pokery: A Homage to Charles Hawtrey

Amanda Lawrence in Jiggery Pokery

Amanda Lawrence in Jiggery Pokery. Image by Sadie Lee

Battersea Arts Centre, 1 – 19 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

My opinion might not count for much in this situation, since my knowledge of Charles Hawtrey is limited to an afternoon spent watching videos of him on YouTube, but I think it’s safe to say that in this one-woman show, Amanda Lawrence’s revivification of the troubled Carry On actor, is spot on (though her Sidney James could use work).

There’s already a remarkable physical resemblance on which to found this living portrait. With her hair untidily pinned back and the addition of a severe pair of wire-rimmed glasses, the likeness is complete. Add to that the morosely downturned edges of the mouth, the gawky physicality, the distinctively pneumatic method of smoking a cigarette, and a captivating and lifelike presence is born.

Not that Lawrence is limited to playing Hawtrey (though this imitation is, as it should be, the show’s crowning glory). The programme lists a cast of nearly sixty, every one played by Lawrence in under 90 minutes; on one occasion she plays all three participants in a rapid-fire conversation, frantically tying, untying and re-tying the bandanna that denotes the headmistress of Hawtrey’s schooldays.

A single prop or costume item, a voice and a subtle alteration to Lawrence’s physicality are all that’s required to demarcate the majority of the roles. The speed of her transitions from role to role are one major source of the show’s humour, the other being material from Hawtrey’s many cinematic outings, including his early Will Hay pictures and several of the Carry On films.

In fact, the borrowed Carry On dialogue serves its best dramatic purpose when inserted incongruously into particularly unamusing episodes from Hawtrey’s private life, including the descent of his mother into dementia and his own unglamorous death. Re-enacting bawdy lines from Carry On Doctor as he writhes in agony in a hospital bed reflects both his love-hate relationship with the films that made him famous and the tragicomic duality of his life as a whole: a much-loved comic gem in public, but a bitter, unpopular drunk in private.

Jiggery Pokery is a success on both a theatrical and an emotional level. It’s a reminder of just how much can be achieved onstage through the craft of a single talented performer, but also an homage to a complicated individual that manages to be neither sentimental nor judgmental.

Written by Paul Hunter and Amanda Lawrence

Crew includes Paul Hunter (director), Billy Hiscoke (stage manager), Cathy Wren (designer) and Jules Maxwell (composer)

Cast includes Amanda Lawrence (Charles Hawtrey, amongst others)

Need a second opinion?

18 November, 2009


Greenwich Playhouse, 17 November – 6 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Sell A Door Theatre’s performance-led production has nothing particular to add to Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange. There’s no enlightening reinterpretation, no fresh context or frame to refresh the nine-year-old text. But there doesn’t need to be. Penhall’s acerbic examination of race and mental health issues within the NHS and 21st century Britain at large feels as current as it did at the turn of the millennium.

Clearly recognising this, the company allow the text to do the talking, and provide three assured performances through which it can do so. Designer Emily Barratt keeps the staging curt – chairs, a water cooler and the requisite bowl of oranges on a pedestal – allowing the cast maximum space to perform (and, helpfully, the wide performance area of the Greenwich Playhouse lends itself to irate or nervous pacing).

Tarl Caple is engagingly earnest as psychiatrist Bruce Flaherty, whether digging for the causes of his patient’s episodes or defending his own professional integrity. Pete Collis is an ebullient Dr Robert Smith, likeable enough to encourage reasoned consideration of views that would have someone less charismatic painted rapidly as a stereotypical middle-management villain, more concerned with targets and beds than patient welfare. The pair seem to draw energy from one another, exciting the production’s energy levels whenever they butt heads, and both earn their climactic bouts of scenery-chewing several times over.

As Christopher, the young man that (the two colleagues disagree) is either schizophrenic, borderline neurotic/psychotic or simply black, Peter Muruako curveballs between skittishness and threatening self-assurance, and manages the exhausting task of maintaining a discernible emotional justification that strings his discrete actions together into a believable performance.

Unreal blue and orange lighting states accompanied by the sound of tinnitus evoke moments of pathos and bathos that highlight the dubious veracity of Christopher’s claims (or fantasies). Otherwise this is Penhall’s text presented unadorned, with nary a gimmick nor a flawed performance to distract from it.

Written by Joe Penhall

Crew includes David Hutchinson (director), Emily Barratt (designer) and Jamie Haining (lighting designer)

Cast includes Tarl Caple (Dr Bruce Flaherty), Pete Collis (Dr Robert Smith) and Peter Muruako (Christopher)

Need a second opinion?

17 November, 2009

Public Property

Trafalgar Studios, 16 November – 5 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

At first glance, Public Property is a boilerplate Trafalgar Studio 2 production. Recognisable faces: check (Robert Daws, Nigel Harman and even Stephen Fry, phoning it in via vid-cameo). Humour that doesn’t tax the brain: check (sight gags and comic situational escalation best enjoyed after a glass of wine in the bar). Skilled but slightly overly wordy scriptwriting: check (courtesy of Sam Peter Jackson).

On closer inspection, however, this is something of a rare find: a play about three gay men in which the characters’ sexuality is almost incidental, an extra thematic layer rather than the piece’s raison d’être.

Daws is celebrated newsreader Geoffrey Hammond, who throws himself on the mercy of his ruthless publicist, Larry De Vries (Harman) after being caught by paparrazzi in flagrante delicto with 16-year-old Jamie (Steven Webb). Geoff does protest once or twice that the press wouldn’t be interested if Jamie had been a girl, but the play is more concerned with celebrity, PR and fickle public goodwill than “LGBTQ issues”. Geoff knows, despite his protestations of innocence, that this incident matters more to his reputation than any number of broadcasting gongs, and even Larry is branded repeatedly by his lowest point: the media only remembers him for being booted off the judging panel of a failed reality show.

It’s often difficult to feel any sympathy towards Geoff, who really has only his own indiscretion to blame for his downfall, but Daws does an excellent job of showing the desperation behind the bluster, and his raw vulnerability when talking to or about his offstage lover Paul provides the production’s tenderest moments. Harman is believable whether smooth-talking and in control or plain incredulous at his client’s behaviour, though he flips a little too easily between the two modes, and reacts so little to mentions of Larry’s debts and vices that they seem more a throwaway subplot than an integral part of the character’s backstory.

Jackson’s script, too, is generally sound, though a bit baggy towards the end of Act One, and overly reliant on the repeat-repeat louder-shout-shout-pause formula for writing arguments. Like most Studio 2 shows, Public Property has its flaws, but is still a satisfying enough night out; and it boasts the additional merit of sidestepping the damaging and judgmental “gay play” label which, given its premise, it could easily have been slapped with.

Written by Sam Peter Jackson

Crew includes Hanna Berrigan (director) and Helen Goddard (designer)

Cast includes Robert Daws (Geoffrey Hammond), Nigel Harman (Larry De Vries) and Steven Webb (Jamie Sullivan)

Need a second opinion?

2 October, 2009

The Author

Royal Court Theatre, 23 Sept – 24 October 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

Tim Crouch ’s The Author is a bitter little pill, too heavily sugared and something of a kill or cure.

Up until the final 15 minutes it’s a curiosity, an experiment for experimentation’s sake. We, the audience, are both stage and set dressing. Adrian, the archetypal gushing theatre enthusiast, speaks up from among our ranks, encouraging conversation, an exchange of views. Other performers, including Crouch himself, playing himself, reveal themselves in our midst one by one. Between them they recount a story surrounding a fictional production staged by Crouch.

Except they aren’t just relating their experiences of this notional production: an in-yer-face affair crammed with violence and abuse that has caused audience members both to walk and to pass out. They’re apologising for their part in it. Apologising to us, the audience, because theatre makers are beholden to their audiences. They need us, the consumers of their art, to understand their intentions and to forgive them.

And until those final 15 minutes that’s all The Author is: an acknowledgement of the absolute power the audience wields, seasoned with interrogations of the audience’s ingrained reluctance to exercise that power, to intervene in events onstage, however reprehensible they find them. It’s all necessary to prime us for what comes next, but it takes its sweet time doing so, and in the meantime it all feels a bit insular, a bit inconsequential, even a bit masturbatory: the mores of the theatre being discussed, by theatre makers, through the medium of theatre, using a fictional piece of theatre as an allegory, to theatregoers.

Then comes the turnaround, and in those final 15 minutes The Author is revealed for what it has really been all along: a daring act of self-flagellation by Crouch on behalf of provocative art and controversial artists. Personally present, without the ablative armour of a fictional character, and having questioned for over an hour why audiences choose not to act against onstage villainy, the playwright reveals himself as the worst kind of villain, or at least the most easily demonised. There’s nothing insular or inconsequential about his closing monologue, delivered to a pitch-dark auditorium – and yes, people sitting close to him do plead with him to stop, though not forcefully enough for him actually to do so.

The medicinal value of this bitter little pill remains to be seen. If next month The Stage reports mass walk-outs and stage invasions at Sarah Kane revivals, we’ll know it had some effect; but I suspect the thick sugary coating may well interfere with the active ingredients, and a few patients will undoubtedly refuse to swallow the pill at all.

Written by Tim Crouch

Crew includes Karl James and a smith (directors), Matt Drury (lighting designer) and Ben & Max Ringham (music & sound designers)

Cast includes Tim Crouch, Adrian Howells, Vic Llewellyn and Esther Smith (themselves)

Need a second opinion?

24 September, 2009

Mother Courage and Her Children

National Theatre, 16 September – 8 December 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

The prospect of staging Brecht’s work on the Olivier Stage is similar to the prospect of flying an aeroplane backwards. Though in theory the vehicle is a tool designed to go where you tell it to, in practice there are certain manoeuvres it’s structurally unsuited to perform.

Brecht dictated that his plays be staged with no frills. But any director given the run of the Olivier can be forgiven for wanting to actually use the facilities on offer. It isn’t yielding to temptation, it’s making the most of a rare opportunity.

Like a glass-panelled clock, Deborah Warner’s Mother Courage and Her Children doesn’t just choose not to conceal its inner workings, it displays them, inviting the audience to marvel at the way the pieces fit together. During one musical number Courage (Fiona Shaw) drags an ASM, already quite visible at the edge of one wing, fully onto the stage, where she dances briefly with the announcer (who also dances little jigs in the scene changes), and during the interval the second act’s placards fly in and out, in and out, as if the winches are being tested.

Not trusting the audience to be satisfied with the real backstage goings-on of a National Theatre production, Warner treats us to a self-conscious, theatricalised version of them. What we see is more bustling and disorganised than backstage in any theatre I’ve worked in; a theatre workers’ self-portrait that magnifies every insignificant pimple.

Revealing the production’s nuts and bolts works as Brecht intended, removing the emotional smokescreen that prevents critical engagement with the play; but theatricalising and calling attention to the backstage business just replaces the smokescreen with blinkers, creating a parallel drama that competes with the more important one centre stage.

Written by Beltolt Brecht (translated by Tony Kushner)

Crew includes Deborah Warner (director), Duke Special (songs) and Mel Mercier (musicscape)

Cast includes Stephen Kennedy (The Chaplain) Martin Marquez (The Cook), Harry Melling (Swiss Cheese), Charlotte Randle (Yvette), Clifford Samuel (Eilif), Fiona Shaw (Mother Courage) and Sophie Stone (Kattrin)

Need a second opinion?