Review – The Vortex, Apollo Theatre

Tuesday 8 April 2008

The Vortex posterIt isn’t just London Marathon runners that need to train if they are to avoid injury or death on the big day; the Whingers also need to work up their stamina in order to prepare for major feats of inhuman endurance.

With the rather alarming prospect of tonight’s four hours of Gone With The Wind – The Musical! hanging over their heads like a dead albatross, it seemed wise to warm up with a dry (not in every sense, obviously) run – something with a distressing number of intervals.

So these two avid advocates of interval-free theatre courageously plumped for Peter Hall’s warmly received production of Noel Coward’s The Vortex at the Apollo Theatre. Andrew and Phil feared the worst – two intervals!

Limbering up with glasses of wine in their hands they breezed through the front of house displays sporting heavily airbrushed photos of its star, “TV and stage icon” (their publicity not ours) Felicity Kendal.

As it happens Ms Kendal, 61, looks surprisingly good – tons of slap may be helping this illusion but the Whingers were impressed and totally believed in her as the glamorous socialite Florence Lancaster.

The Vortex was Coward’s first major success as both writer and performer and it’s not quite the usual Coward concoction. Married Florence has had a string of toy boy lovers. When her drug addict son Nicky (Dan Stevens) returns from a year abroad to introduce his fiancée Bunty he not only has to deal with the fragile relationship between himself and his mother but meet her latest trophy lover Tom (Daniel Pirrie – rather wooden but sporting a rather splendid Brendan Fraser jawline). For Florence Nicky’s engagement forces her to start confronting the fact that she is no longer as young as she acts.

The light comedy of the opening act isn’t Coward’s best (either that or the prolific Peter Hall’s production failed to bring it out) There was scant laughter in the stalls, but the play does contain the odd gem such as “You utter cad!” and “It’s never too early for a cocktail” which the Whingers have inadvertently been passing off as their own for years.

And when Florence moans about “the utter foulness of growing old” and “an empty, endless craving for flattery” Phil glanced at Andrew who was looking out the corner of his eye at Phil and nodding gravely.

When Nicky accused his mother with the words: “I’ve seen you make a vulgar and disgusting scene in your own house with a man half your age” it was Phil’s turn to look at Andrew and nod.

But when The Vortex takes a turn midway through the middle act and becomes a drama it comes into its own.

By the third act Florence is a mess. Phil hadn’t seen such such an impressive display of tear streaked tantrums since he revealed Gone With the Wind’s running time to Andrew.

Phil was having problems with the set. The mainly black-walled first act room is described as “too colourful”, the second act country house sees them partying in the hall (Andrew explained that that’s because the piano was in the hall). And why didn’t the door at stage left shut and why wasn’t it screened off so you couldn’t see the actors after they’d passed through it (other doors were so presumably it wasn’t a metaphor) ? And in the third act Phil had issues with Florence’s brass bed which due to the rake of the stage wasn’t parallel to the door frames. Couldn’t they have built one side of the bed up to avoid this? Very distracting.

Andrew noticed none of this.

Embarrassingly, both Whingers had seen the Maria Aitken/Rupert Everett version a terrifying 19 years ago. Phil remembered it as being much better than this, but then his memory does play tricks on him. The past may be a foreign country, but to Phil it’s often another galaxy these days.

Anyway, it’s easy to see why it was considered shocking in 1924, what with its drug-taking and hints of homosexuality. No wonder Coward had to use all his powers of persuasion to get the Lord Chamberlain not to ban it.

All in all, it was a passable evening, but even Ms Kendal’s enthusiastic performance and the presence of the wonderful Annette Badland (Dr Who’s Margaret Blaine) never really lifted the Whingers spirits much beyond the level of “meh”.

And as endurance training it proved about as useful as Jade Goody’s marathon preparation as The Vortex comes in at a nippy 2 hours (including the breaks) which is merely half of the current running time of tonight’s show.

Phil even made it home in time to see the last brilliant episode of Damages. Tomorrow will be another day.


Previously at The Glass Menagerie in this very theatre, the Whingers had commented on the huge prices charged for their beverage of choice.

Forewarned, Andrew knew which answer to give when asked whether he wanted the “light or the full bodied red”, “Oh, the house”, he said airily, knowing the cost of the full-bodied.

This drew blank looks from the woman behind the bar. “We don’t do a house wine”

Andrew (hissing): “‘House’ is just a polite way of saying ‘cheapest'”

Woman behind bar: “None of the wine here is cheap.”

Which is admirably direct of them.

This took place, of course in the Apollo Theatre’s “American Airlines Bar”.

But where, wondered the Whingers, was the British Airways Bar? Was lost it in Terminal 5 ? Had the wine been sent to Italy to be sorted? Were they afraid the Whingers would be reduced to sleeping in boxes, as opposed to their usual snooze in the stalls?

Minor note: The programme seems a bit confused about The Vortex‘s history. First performed at the Everyman Theatre, Hampstead “It became the hottest ticket in town and eight managements bid to take it into the West End, where it opened at the Royalty Theatre ” – elsewhere it says was first presented at the Everyman, the Comedy and the Little Theatre. Confusing.


8 Responses to “Review – The Vortex, Apollo Theatre”

  1. Good luck surviving Gone with the Wind…apparently they cut 10 minutes and shuffled around the location of the interval. At first preview, the second act was significantly longer than the first and it sounds like they moved the interval break even earlier, so make sure to buy an extra drink (or smuggle in a bottle and/or some sweets like the critic from a certain weekly publication) to keep handy as the night drags on.

  2. Meg Says:

    They cut 30 mins. The show still flew by. It is quite easy to survive, especially the second half. The interval was 1hr 30mins in – quite acceptable.

    The set was great, the seating really good. I was in the cheapest seats and still had an excellent view. The cast were among the best I’ve seen. I do love previews. I can’t wait to see the final version. I think this is going to be my favorite musical so far.

  3. daveonthego Says:

    Mmmhm one line springs to mind immediately. “I’m very drunk and I intend on getting still drunker before this evening’s over”.

  4. J.A. Says:

    Went this evening.

    Merry and tragical! Tedious and brief!

  5. A Middle Aged Pedant writes: The Everyman in Hampstead was originally a drill hall, then a small theatre in Coward’s day, now a cinema. The Royalty, where The Vortex transferred after Hampstead, was a Victorian theatre in Dean Street which finally closed in 1938. It had about 650 seats.

  6. dan Says:

    Make up your own mind about Ms Kendal.

    Personally, I think she looks great.

  7. KVM Says:

    Does anyone know the box office number for the Apollo Theatre? I’m trying to get tickets for The Vortex and can’t locate the number.

  8. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    The number (according to Time Out) is 0870 040 0046 but thats probably with a booking fee.
    It’s on the Tickets Booth in Leicester Square every day which is open until 6.30pm and judging by the number of empty seats when we went you’ll get a decent seat if you turn up there. It’s half price (plus £2.50 fee) -The Whingers are very cheap like that, why not be like them?

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