Review – All About My Mother, The Old Vic, London

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Poor Mr Spacey. We’ve given that man some shtick in the past. The last time the West End Whingers dropped by the Old Vic to see some tripe or other (was it The Entertainer?; we’re sure it wasn’t as long ago as Resurrection Blues) we found ourselves wholly preoccupied with trying to make mental notes to remember to get him some lubricant for Christmas so that he can oil the horribly creaky (we remember now – it was Gaslight!) seats in the Old Vic.

Clearly Kev has taken us at our word as he hasn’t bothered to buy any 2-in-1, presumably safe in the knowledge that the expense would be frivolous and probably making a note to attend to it between Christmas and New Year when he can get Stephen Fry to give him a hand.

Or possibly he did buy some but he just hasn’t gotten around to it (did he ever see to that roof by the way?) judging by the ambient sounds at last night’s second preview of All About My Mother. Mind you, we might be doing him a disservice; it might just have been Andrew’s stays groaning again.

Another theory we have – and one which holds a lot of water in our view – is that our second-favourite “artistic” director has been spending his evenings learning to use the Internet and planning his latest production to suck up to the apparently eccentric predilections of the West End Whingers. It’s almost as though he made a list of things to cram in. Possibly like this.

  • Must get at least one Dame of British Empire (DO NOT FORGET! V. important!!!) How about Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg?
  • Spectacle – e.g. rain on the stage. Panorama of waves crashing on shore etc.
  • Put money up on stage. Literally. Metaphorically, apparently.
  • Some dialogue as good as Tennessee Williams. Better idea: real Tennessee Williams dialogue (note to self: get PA to get TW on phone tomorrow. commission new play) Update: PA unable to reach TW but he says there’s a film with some TW stuff in by a Pedro Almodovar (maybe from somewhere foreign? if so, check with GWB if it’s one of ours; if not request extraordinary rendition)
  • Get Dame to perform what must surely be the oldest Blanche Dubois in history. Inspired! They’ll lap it up.
  • Do NOT waste money on live music (Must try and learn from NH’s mistakes if he won’t).
  • Some funny bits.
  • And get decent English comedy actor – someone from The League of Gentlemen? Mark Gatiss?
  • Design. Think big. Get Hildegard Bechtler.
  • Lots of set changes. (but how to cover them? That’s where NH went wrong with that silly dancing. Think! Think! OK. Stop thinking. Just tell Bechtler and Adamson to deal with it.
  • Wallpaper (kitsch).
  • Get one rising star. See if Young Vic has finished with Colin Morgan. Get him even if they haven’t as it’s rubbish. (Also ask them who did their roof for them. Must fix that some time. Check: does Bechtler do roofs?)
  • Don’t forget some real drama for a change. Tears etc. etc.
  • Need one really, really dependable actress to carry show. A Lesley Manville type.
  • Put in a bit of clever video (but not too much and use it cohesively) (NB: look up “cohesively”)
  • Food absolutely must be consumed on the stage (innovation: tell Adamson to feature twice if possible). Let them eat cake? Snigger. Write that down.
  • Phil will see anything if there’s someone from and old episode of Coronation Street in it. Get Joanne Froggatt
  • Hmm. Not enough actresses. Need more. Think, man, think. Someone venerated. About 70 so Andrew will know who she is. Someone like Eleanor Bron. AND she played Patsy’s mother in Absolutely Fabulous.

All About My Mother is the story of single mother Manuela (Manville) whose teenage son Esteban (Morgan) is killed running across the road to get the autograph of his idol, actress Huma Rojo (Rigg). The tragedy sends her on a trajectory to locate Esteban’s father. Her first stop is old mutual friend Agrado (Gatiss, steals the show), a semi transsexual prostitute, her companion on a journey that takes her through the lives of various other mothers and mothers to be and other families.

What seemed at first to Phil’s “mind” to be a scrappy, messy and under-rehearsed staging with too many characters, sets and stories competing for space transformed into a surprisingly fluid production.

The seemingly thankless task of converting a film into a stage show turns out to be something of a tour de force. Tom Cairns’ direction, Hildegard Bechtler’s design and even Samuel Adamson’s adaptation work tirelessly to reproduce an unfolding narrative with constantly fresh sets (each time, the Whingers decided – wrongly – that there couldn’t possibly be any new sets to come). Sometimes the changes are covered by an announcement from Agrado, sometimes Bechtler makes the changes fascinating in themselves, on other occasions the stage hands clear things in a naturalistic context.

The sound is wonderful, the lighting is evocative. And the talent keeps the whole thing batting effortlessly from tragedy to comedy and back.

If we were forced to whinge, we could of course. The cloakroom is £1 and the programme £4 but that is still cheaper than the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. And there are still some unanswered questions: Phil still wonders why some of the stalls had been removed to thrust the stage so far into the stalls creating an extra acting space that was hardly used and distancing much of the performance even further from the audience. The Whingers were in the front of the stalls but goodness knows what it was like from the Lilian Baylis circle (but then there are no good seats in the Old Vic).

But this was a choice production for the Whingers to re-introduce themselves into the West End theatre. Despite one of our biggest entourages ever (City Slicker and friend Tom, Mark II, Margi, Helen Smith, Michael and man eater Shaz), nearly everyone left the theatre thrilled and on a major high. Mark II was thrilled by his close proximity to Dame Emma Peel but little else, and wondered what everyone else was banging on about. He was also disappointed that the Dame didn’t perform her Blanche Dubois in a tight leather cat-suit.

But, all in all, a major success and as token of good faith, here are some rarely-achieved quotes that the Old Vic can boast about in their publicity:

  • “We were not bored even once” West End Whingers
  • ” Hey, Kev! You did it!. At last.” West End Whingers
  • You’re the one that we want!” West End Whingers

It all ended sadly, though. Andrew went rushing across the rode to collect Enid’s autograph never to be seen again. Despite predicting the Whingers’ own theatrical demises, we could never have imagined it would happen thus. But it’s how he would have wanted to go.

All About My Mother party

Pictured: Andrew, Tom, City Slicker, Mark II, Margi, Helen Smith, Michael, Phil, Shaz


10 Responses to “Review – All About My Mother, The Old Vic, London”

  1. josh Says:

    I saw it tonight and totally agree with your assessment!
    Enjoyed your list, and most of the things on it in the play – especially that lovely wallpaper.

    P.S. What a big entourage! Is there an application route to get onto a WEW outing??

  2. Helen Smith Says:

    It was a marvellous evening, all the better for being there with you. It gave me an insight into what it must be like to attend a first night with Jeffrey Archer as part of his ‘Theatre Group’.

  3. City Slicker Says:

    Ha Helen – very funny. Except no doubt the Whingers would spend the evening shouting out ‘Platform Seven’ to Lord Archer.

    Top time as ever.

  4. Alex Says:

    If I may whinge: Joanne Froggatt has got to be one of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen on stage. Why did she talk like Violet Elizabeth Bott? COme on, she was awful!!!

    And if you’re going to do a stage version of an excellent film, why use many of the visual effects used in the film, such as the huge poster of Huma? I just sat there wishing that I was watching the film again.

  5. @ Josh. Well, there’s no application process as such, just a test. Actually, it’s breathalyser test: if you can’t drive a car you can come to the theatre with us.

    @ Helen/CS. But you wouldn’t describe either of us as “fragrant”, would you? So the analogy kind of breaks down there.

    @ Alex. Tis true we were uncharacteristically kind on this score, partly because it was only a second preview but principally because anything to do with Coronation Street is a bit of a Sacred Cow in Phil’s book but between you and me it is a bit of a Shambo situation.

  6. josh Says:

    Well, I can’t drive a car because my instructor was a terrifying troll who demotivated me so much I haven’t been able to have a lesson for 9 months. But I can pretend to be intoxicated if you want. Can I come to the theatre with you now? 🙂

  7. Barry Clarke Says:

    I read your review that someone posted to my Diana Rigg Yahoo Group and roared with laughter! So funny! I wish I could come to theatre with you lot!
    I was there on Thur Aug 30th and enjoyed it thoroughly. I am a Diana Rigg admirer of the highest order so will be going a few more times including tomorrow evening and can’t wait! I want that big picture of Diana as Huma for my flat – wow!
    How, do you think I can get a photo of me with that on stage? I might write to Mr Spacey. What do you think?
    Anyway, I will look forward to more reviews at your website now that I ahve you in my ‘Favourites’ – However, I did enjoy ‘Gaslight’ too!

    sic friat crustulum

  8. Yes, Barry, write to Mr Spacey and be sure to let us know how you get on.

    Alternatively, we hear that they are bringing back Jim’ll Fix It

  9. Mark (a would-be whinger and second best friend) Says:

    They’re not too bothered about filling seats at this one – I popped in this afternoon to ask about day tickets and returns, and was told they only do day tickets for Wednesday matinees, and returns only when they’re sold out. I optimistically asked if the were sold out and was told “no”.

    A strange policy when the tickets are on sale at TKTS already…

  10. This show is incredible – moving, imaginative and basically the most refreshing show in London right now. I booked using a special offer. I got brilliant seats for just £25 by calling the Box Office 0870 060 6628 and ask for the “web offer”. Have a look at to get an idea…..

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