Review – Helter Skelter / Land of the Dead by Neil LaBute, Bush Theatre, London

Tuesday 5 February 2008

The West End Whingers pride themselves on their metropolitanism so it’s always worth of comment when the journey to a theatre is considerably longer than the play.

Unaware that Shepherds Bush tube station was closed and engrossed in his reading material (Andrew’s well thumbed copy of Quiltmaker magazine) Phil suddenly found himself in the wilds of White City. Not for the first time he really had no idea where he was. Thinking that Emerald City conventions might apply he clicked his heels together and uttering “There’s no place like The Bush” but to no avail.

Andrew, meanwhile, arrived at Goldhawk Road, albeit after an 80 minute, 4-leg journey which left him fractious to say the least. A Bush virgin, he wondered what all the Save-the-Bush palaver had been about: surely, no-one bothers to fight their way to Shepherd’s Bush just to go to the theatre?

Despite the disproportionate investment of their time, when the Whingers eventually converged at the Bush Theatre to see Neil LaBute‘s Helter Skelter / Land of the Dead they were thrilled to find the whole thing would be over in less than an hour.

And it seems wholly appropriate that we should write more about the journey than the play (but then, shouldn’t seeing a play really be a journey in itself; discuss).

Anyway, Land of the Dead is really a radio play. Two characters Man (John Kirk) and Woman (Ruth Gemmell) stand talking, never addressing each other directly or moving. In fact it’s not unlike the average conversation between Phil and Andrew. Woman is pregnant and Man wants her to have a termination (OK, so it’s not a typical Whingers conversation).

Like LaBute’s The Mercy Seat, it’s set around Nine Eleven which was spooky as the Whingers had enjoyed Cloverfield at the weekend and inadvertently seem to be having a bit of a 9/11 fest at the moment. Land of the Dead has the signature LaBute “twist” which we can’t reveal. Ooops sorry, yes you guessed, they both get destroyed by a very large monster. It was quite touching.

Helter Skelter is in some ways better: two characters imaginatively called – yes – Man and Woman (Patrick Driver and Gemmell again) meet in a restaurant. First reality problem: there was no table service for the entire 30 minute duration of the play; no iced water, no nothing. This could happen in London maybe but not in New York.

Anyway the “set” consists of a table and chairs and there are also two napkins much to Andrew’s delight, adding to his Haberdashery, Drapery and Soft Furnishings on Stage thesis. The couple talk to each other in this one. Woman is s heavily pregnant. Andrew got horribly confused – this seemed to be the same actress as in the first play. Was she the same “Woman”? Not.

Like the first play it’s well acted and slightly more engaging. Like the first play there’s a theme of extraordinary events happening to the ordinary. However, the LaBute surprise is so heavily signposted about halfway through, then underlined and repeated that Phil just sat there waiting for it to get on and happen. To Phil it felt much like listening to one of Andrew’s very long winded jokes when you’ve already guessed the punchline.

Andrew didn’t foresee the ending as his mind was on a completely different tack (what was the significance of the weekend before Thanksgiving? What traumatic event occurred in New York then?). Plus he was busy trying to find a comfortable seating position on his Bush corner bench – a fruitless task.

Anyway, come the denouement there was no shock for Phil and merely disbelief for Andrew. But the principal response for both Whingers was how quickly they could get down to the thoughtfully placed pub below.

Warning: “Plot” spoilers

What was it all about? Well, we have no idea really; we rarely do and we’ve got used to it. Andrew decided the lesson of the first was either “Don’t have an abortion in case your Man gets killed by terrorists” or “Don’t let your Woman have an abortion in case you get killed by terrorists” but was generally none the wiser.

We suppose it was about how people’s responses to unborn lives are dictated by context and are inconsistent. Possibly it was anti-abortion. Who knows? To be honest, it’s never going to be the Whingers’ specialist subject on Mastermind.

But, anyway, it passed an hour or so before the long journeys back to civilization.

One Response to “Review – Helter Skelter / Land of the Dead by Neil LaBute, Bush Theatre, London”


  1. […] Only the West End Whingers expressed some dissatisfaction – not least that they spent longer t… […]


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