Review – The Final Shot, Theatre 503

Tuesday 23 October 2007

The West End Whingers are so proud of all their fledgeling playwrights – Ben Yeoh, Fin Kennedy and Stephen Sharkey in particular have had impressive successes over the last six months.

Why? Well, we’re far too modest to suggest that they have benefited from being taken under the nurturing wings (well, Phil has flabby upper arms which you could call wings) of the Whingers and “brought on” at the now legendary (in our own heads anyway) West End Whingers’ party.

And this is not mere bragging. Posterboy/playwright Mr Kennedy (who Lyn Gardner has her beady eye on, we think) by his own admission “learned everything I know from that party”. We don’t think he was being ironic.

Anyway, the latest success to be conferred by the party has settled on the shoulders of the Antipodean playright Ben Ellis whose new play The Final Cut is currently playing at Theatre 503.

Now Phil took a lot of coaxing to make it out to Theatre 503 as it’s in Battersea and Phil is one of those nervous north Londoners who doesn’t care to cross the river.

But the promise of a 80 minute play over a pub proved too much to resist (tip: theatre ticket holders get 20% off food at the pub, although despite Phil’s protestations this offer seemed not to extend to salt and vinegar crisps). Plus the play features the legendary Susannah York.

Mr Ellis’s play was inspired by the recent furore around the broadcast of the death of a man during a TV documentary. He has re-imagined it, inserting his own disease of choice (Huntingdon’s Disease) to examine the ethics and ideas behind the decision to film a death and its impact on the family.

Phil was in shock at the appearance of Susannah York not because time has been cruel (as it has to Andrew) but because she looked so fantastically good. She is described on the Internet Movie Database as “Lovely Susannah York, the gamin, blue-eyed, cropped blonde British actress” and at 66 she’s still ticking all those boxes. Like Phil she’s clearly got an ageing picture in the attic.

Anyway, the play is very moving, unsettling and steadfastly resists slipping into sentimentality or mawkishness. Full marks for fluid direction from Tim Roseman, the intensity of the drama benefiting from being in such a small auditorium. The Whingers sat transfixed and didn’t glance at their watches once. Praise doesn’t come higher than that.

Phil confessed he hadn’t had tears in his eyes like this at the theatre since he saw Carousel (unless you count the time Andrew nodded off sitting on Phil’s pashmina nearly creating an Isadora Duncan type finale.) Mr Ellis’s eyes lit up, so expect The Final Shot to appear in the west end with a slew of songs in the near future. Let’s just hope Ms York can sing.

Knowing that the set-up included a wife looking after a dying husband Phil was fully expecting to be able to tick baby food off his list for his growing thesis on on-stage eating. Sadly it wasn’t to be, although he was rewarded with spoonfuls of strawberry yoghurt.

Susannah York of course was eager to meet the Whingers, an experience which may have added a few years to her youthful appearance. With a little prompting she regaled them with a story about working with the wonderful Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George (apparently BR was initially rather resentful that York had been given the part of Childie over Eileen Atkins who played it on stage. But they became firm friends).

After five minutes of enduring Phil’s gushing analysis of Ms York’s career (“You were the Julia Roberts of the sixties!”), the beleaguered actress declared that she had to rush as “we are going to dinner”. Was it our imagination or was she desperately looking around for a “we” to cling onto in order to effect her escape?

Anyway, a resigned-looking Ben Ellis dutifully sat with the Whingers for several hours and discussed everything from “notions of identity” (while Phil was off getting the drinks) to favourite Kath & Kim episodes (when Phil returned). Most enjoyable.

The West End Whingers and Ben Ellis

Apparently the audience on the Saturday night performance was sparse as it had competition from some Rugby match or other. Phil, rather bizarrely, had found himself watching this rather dull game and only made it through the evening by reliving his recent Peruvian adventures with a clutch of Pisco Sours. How much more entertaining an evening to have sat in the Theatre 503 and seen this entertaining drama than the distinct lack of any such thing on the Paris pitch.

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