With their own diaries groaning and a deluge of theatrical openings looming the Whingers found the only way they could possibly fit everything promising in was to trek off to the Richmond Theatre to catch the appropriately monikered Simon Bent‘s stage adaptation of John Lahr‘s biography and Joe Orton‘s diaries, Prick Up Your Ears.
Chronicling playwright Orton’s rise to fame and his volatile relationship with Kenneth Halliwell Phil found distressing parallels not only with the Gallagher brothers but with the Whingers whose own meteoric ascent (albeit to nowhere and even then only in their heads) and similarly symbiotic alliance suggested some worrying parallels. Let’s just say Phil came out of the theatre and headed straight to Franchi’s to get a lock for his tool box and leave it at that, shall we?
The theatrical delights extended beyond the proscenium arch at the Saturday matinée and the Whingers were rolling in the aisles before a word had even been uttered on stage. The auditorium had darkened, the curtain had gone up, Kenneth Halliwell (Matt Lucas) was sitting on a bed on stage and an elderly man wandered to the front of the stalls and tried to locate his seat in row B.
Now either the latecomer didn’t realise the play had started or he simply didn’t care because his less than sotto voce utterances (“Where’s B 13?”, “It’s dark, I can’t see.”) forced Lucas to extemporise for several minutes, garnering rounds of applause from the audience.
The Whingers were so impressed they considered coming in late from the interval if that was all they needed to do to get an audience roaring with laughter. It is almost certainly the only way they will ever generate such enthusiastic applause. But sadly they would have been upstaged by Mr B 13 who remained standing talking to people in the row behind him as the curtain went up on act 2. Eventually he seated himself and proceeded to open (noisily, naturally) his packet of crisps, tucking into them until a woman in row A shushed him.
It would all have been most entertaining but in fact the Richmond audience was full of annoying, chatty, senior people who seemed to be incapable of not commenting on the action. You would think that the over-privileged denizens of Richmond would have been better brought up better, wouldn’t you? But you would be wrong. It was almost as bad as Oliver! It just goes to show that you can’t buy manners (a fact to which the alumni of Phil’s finish school bear testimony).
Anyway, that’s enough time spent reviewing of the audience.
The play is fine, very watchable (Bent also adapted one of the Whingers’ favourite outings from last year: Elling) and comes in at a pleasingly economical 2 hours 10 minutes. Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas does himself credit as Halliwell although he is more charismatic and sympathetic than anyone having read the biographies and diaries might expect. Counterintuitively he is more effective when portraying Halliwell’s darker side than his comedic moments.
Chris New (he of Bent) is a highly convincing Orton and definitely looks the part although when he dons a suit and smooths his hair forward to go and collect his Evening Standard award he reminded Phil of a young Larry Grayson (TV casting directors take note).
Gwen Taylor as the neighbour Mrs Corden gets all the best Ortonesque dialogue and savours every delicious non sequitur and Malapropism; some of her lines sound as much like Alan Bennett or Victoria Wood as Orton (“He put his hand on my knee under the table at the Golden Egg”). Are they all basically the same person?
Keeping the whole play in a single room (the windows are wisely placed on the fourth wall) of their Noel Road flat, increases the tension and claustrophobia of the couple’s odd relationship and helps build naturally to the inevitable and tragic conclusion.
Director Daniel Kramer keeps the pace up and designer Peter McKintosh gets to have a lot of fun with the set which was the talking point for most of the Richmond audience during the interval. Phi has been inspired to take scissors to his old Plays and Players magazine collection and is currently beavering away on a new look for Andrew’s digs.
The death by hammer blow is agreeably violent and bloody but the big mystery remains: why did Orton stay with Halliwell? Simon Bent’s suggestion is that Halliwell was essential to Orton’s writing. Still, the Whingers weren’t quite convinced. But then that, of course, is one of the great eternal mysteries of the Whingers too. Why is the one stolidly carrying the charisma-free deadweight of the other around?
Anyway, the cast received a very enthusiastic reception from the audience apart from Mr B 13 who upped and left before the curtain call was quite over. Orton would surely have approved.
Prick Up Your Ears plays Salford from 31st Aug to 5th Sept and Theatre Royal Brighton from 7th to 12th Sept before settling at the Comedy Theatre, London from 17th September. You can follow the production on Twitter if you are so disposed.