“Dear Blogger, Here at Theatre503 and Whippet Productions, we’re big fans of internet blogging and really value the opinions of people, like yourself, on plays, musicals and other theatre in London. In light of this fact, we’d like to try something new. We’d like to invite YOU to come and see our latest production – Natural Selection at Theatre503 – on Press Night: Friday 9 May, 8pm.”
Clearly the email was intended for some other London theatre bloggers as no-one values the opinions of the West End Whingers, not even the West End Whingers.
But Andrew – who has always desperately wanted to feel that his opinions were valued – was hooked. Not even the various warning signals surrounding Natural Selection could deter him from taking the bus all the way to Theatre 503 which is near, well, nowhere really.
The blurb runs thus:
“It’s not tribe against tribe, nation against nation – it’s every man for himself … but in a good way.”
West Anglia. The new name for Wales.
Three bumbling terrorists cling to their values as the modern world invades the land of their fathers. An archaeological discovery in the valleys leads to the scientific coup of the millennium. And in Sainsbury’s, a man who can’t even choose a pasta sauce struggles to choose the perfect life.
A searing new comedy about fighting for freedom and climbing the food chain.
Sounds a bit like a dystopian future, doesn’t it? And it’s new writing (by Paul Rigel Jenkins) And 2½ hours long. On the hottest evening of the year. Over a pub where a large glass of wine costs £6.95.
And to cap it all off, the people sitting in the row behind Andrew were Welsh. Which is fine. Some people are born that way. But when the play opened with someone speaking in Welsh, Andrew’s general disquiet morphed into a terrifying suspicion that the enterprise was some elaborate trap constructed by London theatre people to wreak revenge on the Whingers. Rather like Mr Hytner likes to do at the Cottesloe.
But, do you know, it wasn’t at all bad. In fact, it had much to commend it. So much so that Andrew didn’t nod off once, in spite of its length and the curious thermal properties of Theatre 503 which transforms it into a pizza oven if the temperature outside climbs higher than 17°C.
Paul Rigel Jenkins’ play is so chocked full of ideas (identity, consumerism, genetics) that it’s a bit difficult to say what it’s really about (which thankfully only matters if your opinions are valued) and – in a play were all of the main characters undergo a transformation – by the end it’s rather bewildering to try and figure out whose story was being told.
But it is very funny in parts and the thorough direction by Tim Roseman ploughs efficiently through it all, unearthing some very winning performances along the way.
Indeed, if you saw as many first class turns as this together on a West End stage you would feel your £45 had been very well spent indeed (tickets for this are £13 to ordinary people whose opinions are not valued).
Three comic performances stand out: Alex Beckett (right) is superb as the simple but good-hearted ex-Welsh terrorist Joseph (who is probably the centre of the play by the end).
Also terrific was Pandora Colin (left, with Alan Cox) who the Whingers praised for her performance as Dorothy Parker in You Might As Well Live at the New End in Hampstead and must be also admired for enduring a role in Women of Troy at the National. Interestingly, Ms Colin was a member of the all-female posh punk band Fluffy!
Now, full disclosure: Alan Cox (son of Brian) apparently was at the West End Whingers party this year but arrived quite late so the combination of sheets x 3 and wind (Phil’s) meant that we were unaware of the fact. Which is a shame because he turns out to be extremely good and very funny.
So, something of a turn up for the books, really. Most enjoyable. Who would have thought it?