It will come to no surprise to anyone that neither Whinger has sired any little Whingers.
Sadly, Phil is now almost certainly barren, so the patter of tiny cloven hooves is unlikely to be heard in Kentish Town.
Andrew claims to be a godfather; not the horse’s head in the bed variety (Andrew’s much too squeamish for that – remember he’s the one who wouldn’t go and see Equus as he feared seeing imaginary horses having their imaginary eyes poked out) and he frequently makes offers which people find very easy to refuse.
So could the Whingers possibly relate to God of Carnage, a tale of parenthood?
Warning: “Plot” spoiler ahead.
Well, not plot. Vomit. Vomit spoiler ahead.
But to begin at the beginning…
God of Carnage was always going to be a tricky one. Yasmina Reza (Art, Lifex3 and Something with a forgettable name that was on at the Wyndhams) writes plays that theatres love to put on and people enjoy watching but why this is so is rather beyond the Whingers. And she’s French.
Another characteristic of Reza productions is that the quality of the actors usually outweighs the play’s substance to an almost embarrassing degree.
So why bother? Well, because there’s a major star in it, of course: Ralph Fiennes. Plus it’s directed by the WEW’s directorial hero du mois, the uber-busy Matthew (Boeing, Boeing, Speed-the-Plow) Warchus. He also directed Lord Of The Rings – The Musical but anyone can make a mistake and the Whingers speak with some authority on the matter.
But then again, there are no offers available for this show, it’s not on the TKTS half price booth and the preview prices are reduced by a measly £2.50 which only is £1.00 less than the price of a God of Carnage programme.
In fact, such was the situation that the ever-stingy Whingers were reduced to emailing the show’s PR people – Peter Thompson Associates – to request free tickets but strangely no response was forthcoming, so possibly the Internet was broken that day.
Anyway, two tickets in the circle slips at £25 were the closest the Whingers could get to free. And actually (ticket tip) they are rather good for the price.
Anyway, God of Carnage is a 90 minute four hander (Fiennes plus Tamsin Greig, Janet McTeer and Ken Stott) about two middle class Parisian couples who meet to discuss how to handle the fact that the son of one has hit the son of the other, knocking out two of his teeth in the process.
But it’s not really about being a parent at all, it’s about relationships, and how selfish we all are only caring about ourselves. Alors, Mmlle Reza, the Whingers could certainly relate to that.
As the evening goes on allegiances shift, dirty laundry is aired and the audience laughs uproariously, presumably to the great annoyance of Mmlle Reza who comes across as rather precious and tiresome in The Independent:
She had hoped to be seen as a Gallic Pinter for whom silence is as important as words, as a female Pirandello or a twin sister to Beckett. Instead, she was compared with Alan Ayckbourn, and this didn’t please her.
In 1999, she told The Los Angeles Times, “I would like to see them laugh at the right moments.” A year later, she told another journalist, “Laughter is always a problem and is very dangerous. The way people laugh changes the way you see a play. A very profound play may seem very light. My plays have always been described as comedy but I think they’re tragedy. They are funny tragedy, but they are tragedy. Maybe it’s a new genre.”
Ooh, a new genre! Shall we call it the Theatre of Tiresomeness?
Because as the allegiances shift for the 45th time you get the feeling that they have become a formulaic device in their own right, devoid of any basis on psychological reality. The same when lawyer Fiennes breaks off from the arguments to answer his mobile phone for the 19th time; it all begins to flag somewhat although, we have to admit, the rest of the audience didn’t seem to tire of laughing at it.
In fact, the audience were so into it and presumably relating to Fiennes’ character so much that some apparently decided to switch their own mobiles back on. Three went off in the audience during the play (another spoiler coming) but when Grieg’s character eventually immerses her husband’s mobile in a vase of tulips the audience cheered.
Then it all really slows up and the lighting gets darker (much to the chagrin of Andrew who had taken to passing the time by reading the programme) and the mood gets more sombre. Yet when Greig’s character declares exhaustedly that “This is the worst day of my life” the audience falls about laughing. Maybe Mmlle should just get used to the fact that people laugh at her and write comedies. They might be quite good.
Christopher Hampton’s translation doesn’t help. The Whingers couldn’t quite put their claw-like fingers on it, but somehow it all sounded like it was translated from the French. An odd quality. Or perhaps a deliberate choice. Or perhaps he just used Babelfish.
The play was so French, in fact, that Phil even had his first genuine French-food-on-stage experience. Not only do they all chat about apple and pear clafoutis at length but also consume it. Poor Fiennes is forced to eat at least 3 pieces of it so no wonder he was starting to look a little less toned above the belt. He must be praying for a very short run, and hopefully he’ll get one.
There were some highlights. It was also the first time Phil’s seen a sim card on stage – excellent work from the props department here. Andrew liked the dramatic red set by designer Mark Thompson.
But the evening was entirely stolen by the highly convincing on-stage vomiting for which the Whingers would have happily paid £25. Which as it turns out they did. When it happened, the Whingers just turned to each other in disbelief, their jaws upon the floor. They have no idea how it was done, they just knew that they had witnessed something very special and magical which is unlikely to be equalled, let alone surpassed, in any theatrical production for many, many years.
1. When is a performance not a performance? The programme states “opening performance at the Gielgud Theatre 25th March 2008. So what had the Whingers just witnessed on the 17th March? Are previews not performances? Do these only count as rehearsals? If it’s not a performance who were these people surrounding the Whingers in the auditorium and what were these people doing on stage if not performing? Puzzling.
2. What constitutes a “sell out season”? The producers’ biog states that Equus “played for a sell-out season at the Gielgud”, Phil saw it early in the run but it clearly wasn’t sold out the night he went, unless a large party had booked the back of the stalls and all decided not to show up.
3. Special mention to the wonderfully named Traipsy Drake: what else could you have done but gone on to be a wardrobe mistress?
4. If you pop across the road for a quick drink after the show, you may – as the Whingers did – emerge just in time to see Mr Fiennes condescend to pop out and sign a few autographs – just a few, not one for everyone (notably not for Phil). A security man puts out a little fence to protect Mr Fiennes from the crowd of 10 people waiting for his autograph. Then Mr Fiennes pops back in again and the security guard takes the little fence back in. Then Ms Greig runs out of the theatre with her hand over her face a la West End Whingers, refusing to stop when called and runs into the pub over the road. Fascinating.