Things seem to be going horribly wrong for the Whingers. Or are things going horribly right? They just can’t tell any more. Their raison d’être has been pulled from under their feet; their laws of the universe have been rewritten; their metaphors have melted away; their similes have dried up like… well, we’re not quite sure like what.
We mean, for heaven’s sake! What’s the point of devoting your time to putting the theatrical world to rights if it’s right already? Having given raves (or as near-as-dammit) to Hairspray, Present Laughter and The Final Shot there couldn’t possibly be more satisfaction to come. Could there?
Did the Peruvian altitude affect their minds that much? Could it be the end of the Whingers as you know and love them?
To be fair, Ron Hutchinson’s play Moonlight and Magnolias at the Tricycle looked promising from the start (Kilburn location notwithstanding) and the Whingers went along with high expectations and a genuine American in tow (“The Merm”).
They’d read good things about this one and are both fans of the film. (Andrew’s partial to spending a lonely weekend in a hoop skirt, affecting a southern drawl and uttering the words “fiddle-de-dee”. And he certainly knows nothing about birth and babies, Miss Scarlett.) Mr Hutchinson had even penned the cult 80’s Stephanie Beacham TV show Connie (strangely omitted from his programme biog).
To top it all, Phil had been (literally) moist with anticipation: he’d heard that the writers of GWTW had been locked in a room for 5 days by producer David O. Selznick to come up with a new screenplay with only peanuts and bananas to sustain them. His food on-stage thesis had lacked the required 5-a-day recently and he hadn’t seen a banana consumed on a public stage since Ben Yeo’s Nakamitsu at the Gate. Moonlight and Magnolias even featured a banana on the poster. It didn’t get better than this.
So, anyway: a screwball comedy about the frantic rewriting of the movie classic Gone with the Wind one week into the shoot – what a great idea. Or a stupid one. Rather like the idea of making a film of Margaret Mitchell’s 1,000 page block-buster. Indeed, much of the play’s humour plays on the knowledge that GWTW turns out to be a hit but that of the three people involved in the project only one of them – producer David O Selznick (Andy Nyman) – believes it will be anything but a turkey.
But Hutchinson has nothing to fear on this score – Moonlight and Magnolias is not only a great idea, it’s very skilfully realised.
Delivered principally as screwball, Hutchinson also brings real issues to the surface such as the colour politics of GWTW; the uncertain position of the Jewish elite in Hollywood (all this taking place on the eve of the second world war).
The direction by Sean Holmes (who is now partly forgiven for The Entertainer) is as slick as a very slick thing (told you about the similes) and there are some good performances. Duncan Bell is particularly effective as Hecht and Josephine Butler is hysterical as Selznick’s secretary Miss Poppenghul (her first dozen or so lines are “Yes, Mr Selznick. Yes, Mr Selznick. No, Mr Selznick” and they are awesomely funny).
Anyway it’s all hilarious, Phil hadn’t laughed this much since Andrew suggested they go and see the revival of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the Almeida.
The staging was great too (the Whingers believe the miraculous appearance of detritus between scenes to be a genuine coup de theatre) and the yellow sweat stains, morning shadow and general dishevelment were very convincing (try ringing Phil ‘s doorbell before 11.30am if you want to check out the verisimilitude).
Was there nothing to Whinge about? Of course there was.
The Tricycle is one of London’s leading exponents of the Whingers’ principal bête noir, unreserved seating. Phil had asked at the box office what this meant. The cheery chappie in the BO window explained helpfully. “The seats are unreserved unless you’ve got a reserved seat.”
Now what did that mean? Well the Tricycle opens its doors at 7.30pm, (for an 8pm start) which means that when you enter the auditorium all the decent seats are taken or occupied by a reserved sign (we’ve no idea who they were for). The Whingers were forced to take seats on one side,which meant that (due to insufficient raking of the seats) not only did they have heads obscuring their view of the stage but a couple of red painted scaffolding poles (the whole auditorium has scaffolding suggesting it’s a travelling space) blocking their view of the stage. Suddenly the National’s Cottesloe seemed like a much loved old friend.