Review – Tinderbox, Bush Theatre

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Why, oh why, oh why don’t people just ask us before they go around putting on plays willy nilly?

It would save an awful lot of strife, time, expense, trouble and suffering in the long run.

It’s not as though we would charge a fortune to read the “texts” and then explain to would-be producers how rubbish they are.

In fact, sometimes the Whingers wouldn’t even have to read the play. A cut-price version of our service could perhaps take the form of a simple postal questionnaire:

  1. Is it more than two hours long (including interval)?
  2. Is there a scene set on a park bench?
  3. Does it use a child’s balloon as a metaphor?
  4. Is it a musical based on Gone With The Wind?
  5. Would the audience have to stay for the second act in order to become aware of the play’s merits (if any)?
  6. Does it “explore notions of” something or other?
  7. Would you be tempted to describe it on the website – somewhat breathlessly – as “fast, wild and farcically funny”?
  8. Is it set in a dystopian future?

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above questions then we shall not need to read the play; send us another.

Regrettably, Tinderbox at The Bush would have failed on points 1, 7 and 8. Possibly also on point 6 but if so it went right over the Whingers’ heads (as usual, so perhaps we shouldn’t hold that against it).

Yes, we know this is the fringe and they love encouraging new writers to write new things but even so… if this sort of thing goes on much longer we may have to revisit our parked idea of setting up our uncharitable trust: The West End Whingers Foundation For The Discouragement of New Writing.

Anyway, apparently author Lucy Kirkwood is not entirely new: she is a writer of Skins which is a television programme.

We really can’t be bothered telling you what Tinderbox is about, so here’s the blurb from the website:

Sometime in the 21st Century, England is dissolving into the sea. Amidst the chaos, one man clings to his traditional British values and his love of meat. For Londoner Saul Everard, his butchers shop is an empire that he will do anything to preserve, including moving it to Bradford.

An outlaw Scottish artist swims Hadrian’s channel and seeks refuge in Saul’s shop. There’s rioting on the streets and the police are onto him but Saul’s meaty little empire may be the last place to seek sanctuary…

Fast, wild and farcically funny Lucy Kirkwood’s first full-length play plunges you into a disturbing vision of a dystopian future.

Yes, we know what you’re going to say: we have only ourselves to blame. But if theatres are going to dangle Sheridan Smith under our noses they must expect us to turn up regardless.

This time Sheridan gets to do something in a shop again. It’s sort of Little Shop of Horrors and Sweeney Todd but without the songs or the laughs.

Yes, Tinderbox is billed as “fast, wild and farcically funny” but the laughs are as scarce as the meat in Saul’s shop. Smith manages to get some (laughs, not meat), but they rarely come from the text: it’s little bits of “business” she puts in (llama spits and curtsies) which wrings the occasional guffaw out of the proceedings. She’s a treat – funny and lovable as ever – and came to last year’s West End Whingers party so can do no wrong anyway as far as we are concerned.

Even so, Andrew was particularly impressed with her ability to whistle with her fingers and push a tune out of a trumpet. She also gets to demonstrate that she can do a non-northern accent and should be Nancy.

The rest of the cast (Bryan Dick, Jamie Foreman, Nigel Betts, Sartaj Garewal) also do extremely well, especially given the odds against them.

Style? Well to say it was derivative would be a generous way of putting it, but at least Lucy Kirkwood has the sense to derive from good material – part League of Gentlemen with aspirations towards Joe Orton. There’s even a moment when it appears as though they’re going to lapse into the famous Two Ronnies “four candles” sketch (a customer wants to buy ham and there’s a misunderstanding over the excellent Nigel Betts‘ pronunciation). When a cloth with a map of the world was daubed with paint Phil half expected Rolf Harris to drop by.

It should have all been so very much up the Whingers’ street. Indeed, Phil should have been in seventh heaven as there was enough food around to take his food-on-stage thesis to a new level and he was utterly entranced as he witnessed the consumption of bananas and of Christmas cake.

The paucity of meat on display in the shop did not prevent Phil from spiralling into a frenzy of health and safety concerns over raw meat handling issues. He was finding it very hard to concentrate, not having been this alarmed since the unhygienic raw chicken incident in There Came a Gypsy Riding at the Almeida. A lone and very convincing pork chop called Danielle (don’t ask) was on stage throughout – joined later on by a pigeon and a haggis – and there was even a tray of mince.

Anyway, hanging round the pub afterwards the Whingers caught up with Ms Smith to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. It turned out that the meat was real. Thank goodness that Phil hadn’t know this for certain while he was watching the play: he was practically on the verge of a panic attack every time the cast or their costumes came into contact with the meats as it was. Had he known, Phil would have leapt on that stage and scrubbed it all down (if only he’d remembered to pack his Marigolds and the bottle of Dettol that he never normally travels anywhere without – especially when using public transport).

Sheridan Smith and the West End Whingers

7 Responses to “Review – Tinderbox, Bush Theatre”

  1. Natasha Says:

    I agree that Sheridan Smith was the best thing in this by a mile.

    Did you also find that the seats also appeared to have been specially constructed to make it impossible to get a comfortable perch?


  2. Oh dear, and they’re VERY proud of their new seating.


  3. Not to us, they weren’t, explaining that they had to get the pitching of the seats right yet. It’s the combination of height and shallowness, I think (whereas the seats in the RSC-reconstructed Roundhouse are deep enough to accommodate even the exceptionally spacious arse units of the current Shuttleworth series, although after eight hours or so my sciatic nerve started to go ping as it did after about 50 minutes at the Bush).

    I wonder whether Tinderbox would have been more charitably received if it hadn’t been a big-deal production in the Bush. I think Josie Rourke &co over-bid, so to speak, and in other circumstances we might have seen Kirkwood’s promise as a writer – seen the glass as half-full – rather than focusing on all that was missing here in the empty half.

  4. Natasha Says:

    I agree to a point. There were a fair few entertaining volleys in the writing. I think it would have been easier to appreciate if it wasn’t as overlong as it was. It was crying out for a good going over with an editorial pen.

  5. Tony Satchell Says:

    What a load of w*nkers – I suggest you give up reviewing theatre and take up gardening. The play was brilliant, sharply written, well acted and FUNNY. I think lucy Kirkwood has a big future.

  6. Bubbles Says:

    “Wonkers” as in Willie Wonkers? How sweet.

    I wasn’t aware that WEW reviewed theatre. How astonishing. Must re-read some. Surely it’s a political blog aimed at identifying perfidious behaviour; sightlnes – having all seats FACE the stage; cloakrooms – having them; prosceniums – arched; comestibles – comestibled. I could go on and on but that’s what WEW does.

    Carry on wonking willies I say.

  7. James Araali-Kabyanga Says:

    I came across this review as I was searching for write-ups on 2,000 Feet Away, and it’s the best thing to come out of the hour I wasted watching Tinderbox and much funnier, although that’s not difficult. I didn’t know that the play was over two hours long as I didn’t go back for its second half having only just resisted the temptation to walk out after 30 minutes.

    The only thing more annoying than the play that night were the mindless audience members who laughed on cue. I don’t often suffer from audience-rage, but people what was so funny? Now that I think about it, perhaps theatres employ professional plants to lead the laughter – laughter leaders as it were.

    Anyway, I hope that the powers that be at The Bush shall never allow such twaddle, epecially from an established writer, to prance upon their stage again.


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