Andrew doesn’t do “people off the telly”.
But if Andrew possessed a heart, there surely would be a place in it for Billie Piper. So a chance to see Doctor Who’s assistant’s stage debut in Christopher Hampton’s 1976 play Treats, at the Garrick theatre, proved just too irresistible.
Described as a darkly funny drama of interchanging relationships, Piper’s character Ann has to choose between her journalist ex, Dave (Kris Marshall that’s Kris with a K not Chris with a C, cos Kris with a K spells….) and current squeeze insipid, indecisive Patrick (Laurence Fox).
And that’s about it. They bicker, there’s a break up, she crys, they whinge (who wants to listen to people whinging?) but just who will Billie choose?
Did the Whingers care? Not a jot. Piper, in her stage debut, has a confident, natural acting style and love her face, which seems almost wholly composed of mouth and eyebrows. WEW are also partial to anyone who can do real tears, (though if the tabloids are to believed she’s had plenty of off-stage practise recently) it all seemed rather inconsequential.
Perhaps in the seventies it was radical, but even updated with mobiles, plasma screen TVs and mentions of al-Qaeda, it all seems rather dated. Laurence Boswell’s stilted direction fails to breathe life into this bland drama. We say drama, but there’s very little on stage at the Garrick. And judging by our resting laugh muscles and the audience’s response, little wit. Noel Coward dealt with it so much better in the triangular love-fest Design for Living (which had its London premiere on the same stage).
In circumstances like these the Whingers were left to provide their own amusement. Watching Marshall and Fox having to squeeze between the puzzling front stage drop and the proscenium arch, for a couple of exits, raised their flagging spirits. Phil perked up considerably when a TV was turned on, unusually with its screen pointing to the audience (one wonders how the characters in the play watch this strangely positioned screen). Phil’s hopes were raised into thinking he might catch some real drama in an old episode of Juliet Bravo. Andrew enjoyed watching the stage manager in the wings and then amused himself trying to decide if Billie was actually working the TV’s remote, or if it was operated by technicians. Yes it really was that dull.
Christopher (thats Chris with a C) Hampton must be eating well these days. He’s currently represented by his lauded (though not by us) version of The Seagull at the Royal Court and a revival of his Total Eclipse will soon be with us at the wonderful Menier Chocolate Factory. The Whingers noted a curiously sapphic loooking photograph of Hampton in the programme. Just when did Billie Jean King start writing plays?
The only radical thing about Treats is, seeing a Bill Kenwright production that doesn’t star Jenny Seagrove. It seems that now Kenwright is paying the Piper.