Andrew had been fortunate enough to enjoy both acts of Lady Be Good last week, but poor Phil has seen only half of each of the last three plays he’s attended.
There were two causes for cautious optimism.
- Benedictsson is a fascinating figure in Swedish culture – a frightfully modern 19th century writer upon whom Ibsen reputedly based the character of Hedda Gabler and who apparently inspired Strindberg to write Miss Julie. The Enchantment is part autobiographical, based on her affair with the influential Danish critic, scholar and – judging from the play – complete tosser Georg Brandes.
- The director of this production is Paul Miller whose Elling the Whingers lapped up.
But cautious optimism gave way to foreboding as they entered the dreadful Cottesloe Theatre which is surely one of the worst theatre spaces in the whole of London especially if – like the Whingers – you buy the cheap seats.
Anyway, no, it wasn’t traverse staging this time; it was theatre in the round – well, rectangle if you’re pedantic (and we are). What is it about designers that want to focus the audience’s attention on the crowd sitting across the stage as they yawn, scratch, read programmes and fumble in their bags? Is it because they know the play is going to be bad and they want to direct your gaze to something likely to be more interesting?
There was also some sort of projection on the “back” wall. Phil couldn’t work it out at all: was it a pug dog or a cauliflower or Casper the friendly ghost or was it someone displaying a deformed orifice?
Anyhoo, the Whingers’ spirits rose a tad when they noticed an on-stage stove with a sign on it warning that “This stove is hot”. Has the National been hit with lawsuits recently? After seeing an audience member come close to losing an eye in the excellent Saint Joan perhaps they are taking no chances. With Phil’s food on-stage thesis being rushed through to completion in order to avoid further plagiarism of it, he’s hoping to turn up at a theatre soon and see the sign “this production may contain nuts”.
Anyway, as if at an invisible signal the audience’s chatter stopped. For a moment, the production had the audience in the palm of its hand but unfortunately the play didn’t start so the chatter rose again.
The stove’s sign was removed. How would the latecomers know it was hot, mused Phil. He leaned over the balcony rail in anticipation of a potential lawsuit.
The play began but Phil could barely be expected to listen to the words as cake and biscuits were produced almost immediately. The stale looking cake (ready sliced – presumably to avoid the need for signs saying “these knives are sharp”) looked like it had been hanging around a while. But the stove was indeed an exciting new dimension as the kettle of water that had been sitting on it was used to make a pot of tea, generating genuine steam in the process
As the play trundled on the Whingers settled down to try and enjoy the aerial view of the back of Louise Strandberg’s (Nancy Carroll) head. This was a worthwhile task as it was a full 25 minutes before she pulled herself up off the sofa and they finally saw the leading lady’s face instead of her top knot.
A bouquet of flowers was brought on and Phil’s interest peaked again at the danger. What if a petal were to fall onto the stage or into the audience and someone were to slip on it? He hadn’t seen any warning signs about these. Could Nicholas Hytner be looking at a one and a half million pound lawsuit?
Anyway, the play was about a rather bohemian woman living in Paris who was in love with a magnetic lothario sculptor named Gustave.
Now, as the title of the play suggests, Gustave is meant to be charismatic – he is famed for seducing women and then dispensing with them. But with Zubin Varla‘s stilted posturing and his habit of inserting pauses into every line (“You could make a man … very happy”) the Whingers wondered if Harold Pinter had been drafted in as a “text … advisor” to re-punctuate all of Gustave’s lines.
Anyway, he certainly didn’t enchant the Whingers. This in spite of the fact that he describes himself as “restless and neurotic”causing Phil to why Andrew didn’t identify with the character instantly.
There was one moment of empathy: Gustave is described as “luring them in, then discards them”. This was one line Phil could identify with as Andrew is always luring him to the theatre and then discarding him at the interval.
In an attempt to distract themselves from the hideous whining and bickering on the stage, the Whingers began to study the audience opposite them. Heads were resting on hands, a woman in the front row tried to look at her watch without the actors noticing. Three out of five people in one row alone appeared to be asleep; John Simm would have been furious.
Two women across the stage sat very elegantly, trying valiantly to stay awake, their hair teased to within an inch of its life, Phil began to wonder where their third Beverly sister was.
Then Phil reflected how many people wear trainers to the theatre these days.
Occasionally the odd line would enter the Whingers’ consciousness – “What a vain idiot I was to give you my bust” brought forth guffaws from them, much to the annoyance of the audience members who were woken as a a result.
You can guess the rest. In fact, the Cottesloe’s cloakroom has probably never been busier during an interval. We counted 20 people leaving and the Whingers like to think that they have had a hand in liberating theatre-goers from the notion that if you’ve paid for your seat you have to sit through the whole thing, even if you are not enjoying it. This is not true. You can leave any time you like and although it’s better manners to wait for the interval there are some situations in which an even earlier exit is entirely justified.
The Whingers stood outside the entrance counting the people making a bid for freedom. Each face had a slight smile of blessed relief playing on it. They weren’t angry to leave; they were happy and thrilled at their own sense of empowerment.
And that, for the Whingers, was reward enough. A very successful evening.
- Phil was delighted to clock up his third Cusack sister in a month. One more and he has a full set. This one was Niamh. That leaves only Catherine left to collect to complete the set of Cyril Cusak’s daughters.