All credit to the National: they never are averse
To staging something radical and this play is in verse!
It’s written by a Harrison and Tony is his name –
Our “foremost theatre poet” so the NT website claims.
We tried to name some others but our efforts were in vain
And do not recommend it for a fun-filled drinking game.
Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen is the subject of the play –
A diplomat, explorer and much else along the way.
He goes up to the Arctic on a scientific jaunt
Then lectures to the public, his discoveries to flaunt.
New York and Moscow follow on in several drawn-out scenes.
They’ve even thrown in ballet as they’re using every means
To elongate the story of this Darwinist-bar-none
Who fought the Russian famine back in 1921.
The role of Fridtjof Nansen we should say without delay
is played by Jasper Britton who excels at majesté.
If our account befuddles you, be sure you’re not alone
For there are stranger things to come – as Yanks say, “hold the phone!”
For reasons that weren’t clear to us the story here is told
By Gilbert Murray, classicist, who helps the thing unfold
By getting Sybil Thorndike to ascend from out her grave
To take part in the action, starving Bolsheviks to save.
It’s kind of odd, the Whingers thought, that only just last night
they’d met De Jongh (the critic who has now become playwright)
Who in his play had also shown Miss Thorndike (great old Dame),
with Britton too, caught in the loo, the plague of Gielgud’s fame.
The op’ning 20 minutes featured much to laugh about.
With unexpected humour it was looking not quite bad
With Murray taking Sybil up the N.T. foyer lift
(that’s not a euphemism – now you’re making us quite miffed).
Twas all displayed on video and done with great élan
But then it all got serious and started down the pan.
For once we reached the ice-cap, it all grinded to a halt;
with non-existent drama (and the poet is at fault).
But most excruciating was the scene which was designed
To compare different media and how they can change minds:
Words or film or photographs (or op’ra or ballet??)
A big debate was staged about their power to persuade.
The scene limped on and on upon a slowly turning stage –
a metaphor for lack of pace? Was that upon the page?
Poor City Slicker got so bored she drifted off to sleep –
Was that the sound of snoring or had Phil begun to weep?
We emphasise the fact that though we were not having fun
The problem here was not because of any Thespian:
Sian Thomas is an actress whom we value and admire,
Her Thorndike was a tour de force of style and wit and fire.
Jeff Rawle is also excellent and so too Jasper Britton;
the acting’s not the problem – it’s the way that it’s been written.
Sian Thomas most impressed us with her big starvation scene,
Then perked the Whingers right back up by chucking up in green.
She really was impressive as she played the starving peasant,
Behind her back a table groaned with everything but pheasant.
She acts her little socks off, she shone brighter than a comet,
then topped the lot by gorging all then covering it with vomit.
The interval was quite good fun – like an exclusive club:
We saw Vanessa Redgrave spooning ice cream from a tub,
An interval decision: should we leave or should we stay?
But really it was easy, it’s so not a Whingers play.
So ninety minutes were enough and feeling somewhat sad
Our thoughts turned to the inns and bars where Merlot could be had.
Our stalls spy told us later there was little that we’d missed:
a ship rose up from ‘neath the stage but by then we were pissed.