As the Whingers snook out of the Cottesloe the other night Andrew – for once – raised an interesting point: “Perhaps we don’t really like theatre” he mused.
Things are certainly looking rocky. The love-hate relationship with the West End which characterised the Whingers’ giddy heydays seems now to be more like simple bitter enmity.
Perhaps the relationship analogy is the wrong one; maybe it is more like a sport. In which case the score over the last few weeks now stands at Theatre: 4 Whingers: 0. With a record like this, wouldn’t your morale be low?
In fact, Andrew proposed that the review for Harper Regan at the National Theatre should simply read: “Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.”
But to be fair (the Whingers were accused in Sunday’s Observer of not being fair or balanced) we should put the evening into context.
Due to mismanagement of diaries Phil had no idea he was going to the theatre until it was too late and he denied all knowledge of having been consulted. He had had a “lunch” appointment earlier in the day so when he arrived he was (a) slightly miffed at having been wrong and (b) three sheets to the wind.
But checking out the cast list he discovered that his Coronation Street favourite Brian Capron (Gayle Platt’s serial killer ex “You’re Norman Bates with a briefcase”) was in the cast. Things suddenly looked more promising. And you know where that leads.
We could be vitriolic about this one but we really can’t be bothered. We admit defeat. Even John Morrison admitted defeat on this one and he has far more patience, stamina and insight in his little finger than the Whingers possess between them. Even he left at the interval.
Simon Stephens’ play is about a woman called Harper Regan (is there something King Lear thing going on there?) who apparently walks away from her home and daughter to visit her dying father. We say “apparently” because we beat her to it when it came to walking away. We had given her and the play 40 minutes to do something but the opportunity was frittered carelessly away.
We are assured by people who know about such things that the end of the play is very “redemptive” which must be marvellous but we will never know because the first 40 minutes were so unutterably dull. Sadly, the Whingers are very much of the old school when it comes to plays – we believe that an audience should be entertained or intrigued or involved or impressed or engaged or give a damn in some way about what’s going on.
Sadly none of these wishes were granted. The opening scene – in which Regan asks her boss if she can take some annual leave to visit her dying father and her boss says “no” – went on for what seemed like 20 minutes and yet nothing else happened. Her boss ruminated on topics ranging from the Internet to amorality to the East of England.
Very little of any interest happened in the second scene either. Two people talked for a long time, but this time on a bridge. They spoke of going to Birmingham and of engineering.
Yes you heard it correctly – Birmingham! The Whingers could understand people dreaming of going to Moscow, as in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, but Birmingham?
You can tell a lot from a Whinger’s notebook about his level of engagement with a play. Andrew’s now features many notes and calculations relating to the European Working TIme Directive as he questioned the plausibility of Regan not getting the time off (based on the evidence presented in the text). It also featured the note “engineering!?!” as one of the characters asserted that he was studying engineering but found engines overwhelming. Ummm, is that really what they teach in engineering these days? Surely the difference between an engineer and a mechanic is that the mechanic washes his hands before he or she goes to the toilet? Do engineers mess about with engines? What do we know?
When Phil looked at his notes later he saw that he had written “unbelievable dialogue” about three times.
The “What are glaciers?” scene put Phil in a state of near panic fearing they might be slipping into Fram territory.
“Do you want some wine?” received the reply “No, I’m alright” which is just plain daft.
Even worse was to come: “celery’s good for you – tastes nice”. Since when did celery taste nice? And they didn’t even bother to produce a stick for Phil’s food-on-stage thesis; presumably getting an actor to eat the ghastly stuff would have required special dispensation from Equity or possibly a stunt double.
In short, it didn’t push our buttons and we fled.
So do the Whingers not really like the theatre or not? Phil’s conclusion was that they like going to the theatre, it’s just the plays they don’t enjoy.