Review – The Hothouse, National Theatre

Wednesday 18 July 2007

The Whingers have developed a wizzo new approach to theatre-going experience which can halve the misery, save you money and has the bonus of freeing up additional wine time.

Why boffins haven’t come up with it before is a mystery.

It’s very simple. This recipe serves two people (Write it down!):

  1. Buy only one ticket for the show.
  2. One of your party (let’s call him “Act 1-er”) endures the first half of the show while the other sips Merlot on the National’s terrace under a bright, balmy summer sky.
  3. You meet up again for a drink in the interval during which the Act 1-er briefs the Act 2-er the salient points (this usually takes under 30 seconds, less if it’s Pinter)
  4. Repeat step 2 for Act 2 but with the roles reversed
  5. Meet up for a drink afterwards. Act 2-er updates Act 1-er. Then – as customarily – a discussion to debate the evening’s deficiencies and flaws in general.

And there you have it.

Of course the downside of this approach would be that both members of the party would miss out if it turned out to be an excellent production of an enjoyable play but – be honest – how often does that happen in the West End?

Anyway, this new technique was serendipitously stumbled upon by the Whingers last night at the last preview of the National Theatre’s production of The Hothouse by Harold Pinter.

Phil had been suddenly detained on the day by some knitting emergency or other and didn’t get to the theatre on time, leaving Andrew (who has only seen this and this by Pinter recently. Oh, and this) to plump his own cushions for a lengthy doze.

So when he eventually arrived, Phil parked himself happily outside the National with his Sudoku, a pen and a glass of wine; a more thoughtful companion might have purchased an extra one in anticipation of his friend wanting one at the interval, but that’s a whole other blog post which has been seething up for months..

Anyway, Andrew emerged from the theatre just before the interval and within 11 seconds (told you) had brought Phil up to speed on the story so far:

It’s set in England in the 1950s in a mysterious institution full of patients who are known only by their numbers. One recently died, one got pregnant. Two of the mysterious staff torture one of the newer members of staff.

In the interests of a bit of colour, Andrew volunteered a few “insights” (as he insists on terming everything he utters):

  1. He enjoyed the 1950s setting, design, jazzy music and costumes and the snow.
  2. The performances were all rather good.
  3. A lot of it was quite funny.

It was at this point that the aforementioned play-share scheme was conceived but before it could be put into practice Andrew dredged up from his feeble memory banks a few more “insights”:

  1. He had initially been somewhat alarmed by an audience member four seats away in the front row who apparently had Tourette’s Syndrome and kept shouting things out.
  2. His alarm turned to delight on realising that the woman was, in fact, the prompt and was shouting out Stephen Moore‘s lines for him.
  3. From Andrew’s seat (and presumably many others towards the front and stage right) all of the torture scene in the upstairs room at the end of the first act was completely concealed from his view.

In fact, this was why Andrew had left before the interval: a rather pitiful attempt to start a mass walkout in protest was thwarted when nobody followed him. The second part of his plan – to complain to the front of house management and demand his money back – proved to be a similarly damp squib as his route to the desk took him past the Lyttleton bar and he was distracted by the drink and forgot all about it.

But with such thrilling ineptitude on display, Phil insisted that both Whingers attend the second half. Sadly, there was no lady prompt and no scene in the upstairs room which left Phil pondering (yet again) on the state of Andrew’s mind.

Nevertheless, Phil was enthralled for the first 15 minutes: good set, good performances and funny and he picked it up straight away and didn’t feel he’d missed a thing (he hadn’t really).

Things just got even better for him with one of the most exciting live-food-on-stage events of the year: a christmas cake was produced from a tin. It even had icing and a plastic reindeer on the top.

Grabbing Andrew’s notepad to take notes for his thesis, a tussle nearly ensued but was luckily defused when all their questions were answered: Was it a real cake? Was it edible? Yes, and yes. Stephen Moore produced a sword, sliced it through the middle and then proceeded to eat it. The National Theatre’s bakery is clearly on overtime.

The performances were quite fine, although the funny bits were funnier than the menacing bits were menacing. Stephen Moore’s sitcom-inspired portrayal of the institutes’s hapless and confused director was particularly amusing.

Phil also enjoyed the set – the imposing concrete edifice in which the visitors are abused and the director doesn’t seem to care about them put Phil in mind of somewhere; where could it be? Oh, that’s right. He was sitting in it.

But when all’s said and done, Pinter’s fabled comedy and mystery and menace and obstinacy about letting the audience know what’s going on always leaves the Whingers feeling that the evening has been rather inconsequential. Not only that, but tiresome – as if there’s a joke among the fireworks that only Pinter is in on. And it’s probably not even that good a joke.

So they remain in the dark as to why he is always referred to as “Britain’s greatest living playwright”. In fact, he’s been up-graded by the National Theatre whose website asserts that he is “generally regarded as the world‘s greatest living dramatist.”

Well, anyway, with The Hothouse coming hot on the heels of revivals of Betrayal at the Donmar Warehouse and The Dumb Waiter at the Trafalgar Studios and Pinter’s People at the Theatre Royal Haymarket the Whingers feel that enough is enough. We’ve got the idea and maybe it would be good to leave any future revivals until a retrospective after the man’s death. We hope he has many, many, many more years in him yet.


Yet another enjoyable evening out with City Slicker (whose review we await breathlessly) and her friend Chris. City Slicker took a leaf out of Andrew’s book during the second act and had a little nap. Theatre is so much more enjoyable if you endure it with friends. It’s probably related to that old saying “misery loves company” in some way.

4 Responses to “Review – The Hothouse, National Theatre”

  1. City Slicker Says:

    Great post.

    I (not my liver) is looking forward to the next outing already!

  2. CS: Didn’t we agree never to mention our livers? I thought we understood one another.

  3. City Slicker Says:

    You know when I wrote that I thought the same thing!! My humble apologies. Not only are you right, but I was the ever more foolish. Never again. Please forgive me

  4. Nishant Says:

    Nice review!

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