Wednesday 11 October 2006

For once, West End Whingers can guarantee absolutely no plot spoilers in their review of the “unpredictable, funny and disturbing new play by Terry Johnson” (according to the Royal Court’s website).

There are two good reasons for this. One, the plot in the first act isn’t worthy of the word. Two, we didn’t see the second act.

For what it’s worth, the play centres around two sisters (sounds two-thirds Chekhovian, doesn’t it?) and some vague metaphors concerning a lost piano key (ooh, very Chekhovian) and a murmeration of starlings (there’s a whole riff on collective nouns as a substitute for sparkling dialogue, but don’t worry, it’s not relevant to anything).

So, the plot. Repressed daughter (Alicia Witt, Zoey in the long-forgotten sit-bomb Cybill) lives a spinsterish life in her MP father’s country pile with the brother of her father’s second wife or something when her tediously rebellious prodigal sister Louise (Kelly Reilly) returns home with the aim of sabotaging her father’s wedding to someone-or-other that he met on a reality TV show and then… Oh, we don’t know. Couldn’t care less about any of them and didn’t believe any of it.

Johnson has turned out some good work in the past (Cleo, Camping, Emmanuel and Dick, Dead Funny), but this play (well, the first half, anyway) is a turkey. It was written specially for Witt because she can actually play the piano, apparently. Can you believe that? Hey, Johnson – Andrew can rumba like a latin and Phil’s got a cycling proficiency certificate. Why don’t you write something for us? (But better than this)

Actually, Witt’s quite good, although we got the impression that most of her focus was on maintaining her English accent. Reilly (good in the past) has a very good theatrical track record (as do Oliver Cotton and Danny Webb) but there are only two dimensions to any of them. Johnson tires of the whole Chekhovian thing before the end of the first act and reverts to phalluses and acrobatics as he shifts up into his favoured pre-intermission shock-mode.

On the whole, it’s a charmless piece with one good gag (“I could never replace your mother” “Oh, I don’t know. If I dug her up you’d probably fit quite snugly in her grave” or something), and one 20-year-old gag (the one about wanting to walk down the aisle to the song from Robin Hood). But do go see this play if you like listening to lots and lots of words, watching people you don’t care about bickering or listening to people whining.

Value for money? Well, the set looks very West End (Phil reads that as a sign of the Royal Court’s hopes of a transfer) and the front row circle seats were just £15. But by the interval our quest for culture had given way to the call of the chianti. So we spent a further £15 on a bottle and spent the rest of the evening putting the theatrical world to rights in a restaurant off the King’s Road. God, we were so much more interesting.

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