The Whingers are feeling a tad existential today.
Not that they are quite sure what that means. But they are seeing their sad little world as even more devoid of reason and order than usual. Absurd, indeed.
Their relationship with the gods of West End theatre (the critics, producers, artistic directors and more recently Natasha Tripney’s Mother) has always been a bit iffy.
But today they acknowledge that – in the absence of a transcendent force – the Whingers are – as individuals – ultimately responsible for making sense of things.
And hence they are beginning to question – if not their very being – then at least their reason for being.
And it hurts.
Andrew and Phil have often questioned each others’ existence, possibly because they’re generally viewing each other through a haze of grape juice. But the cause of this current introspection was Polly Stenham’s multi award-winning debut play That Face.
‘**** INTO THE WEST END, RAW POWER INTACT. A blazing, no-holds barred production… Fresh, passionate and blackly comic – exhilarating… Lindsay Duncan’s superb performance…Matt Smith is outstanding.’ – Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph
‘**** POLLY STENHAM IS A MODERN SUCCESSOR TO TENNESSEE WILLIAMS OR EDWARD ALBEE. Intensely moving, skilfully crafted piece… Matt Smith delivers an extraordinary performance.’ – Daily Express
‘**** SPELLBINDING. Matt Smith’s astonishing coup de theatre… Jeremy Herrin’s powerful, expressionistic production.’ – Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard
‘**** EMOTIONAL POWER IN THE MOTHER OF ALL DEBUTS. Highly accomplished performances from Hannah Murray and Julian Wadham.’ – Michael Billington, Guardian
‘**** Matt Smith gives a performance to match the excellent Lindsay Duncan.’ – Benedict Nightingale, Times
‘**** Polly Stenham’s writing is remarkable for its depth of feeling combined with a tart sense of humour.’ – Time Out
Perhaps they shouldn’t have watched it stone-cold sober; perhaps their critical faculties aren’t as finely honed as their inflated opinions believed. But both emerged from The Duke of York’s Theatre scratching their heads and worrying that they’d missed something. To make matters worse the third person in their party Roy (making his own debut as part of the Whingers’ entourage) seemed very impressed with the whole thing.
The Whingers just didn’t get what all the fuss has been about.
True, Stenham paints a shocking portrait of an dysfunctional family where children are forced act like parents and parents behave selfishly but sadly the Whingers couldn’t quite suspend their disbelief sufficiently to be shocked.
Lindsay Duncan’s alcoholic mother Martha sometimes resembles Edina in Absolutely Fabulous as her strange Oedipal relationship with her son Matt Smith (excellent) shifts power from unhealthily doting parent to pathetic neediness.
Now this was something Phil could relate to. Many’s the time Phil would have taken care of an alcoholically impaired Andrew by carrying him home from a bar if only he had the strength to pick him up.
The big deal is: that Stenham wrote That Face at the tender age of 19.
Now perhaps the Whingers are just jealous. After all, Phil was still trying to wean himself off Lois Lane comics at that age and Andrew was still struggling to handle joined up writing.
The clue is here in Andrew Haydon’s review on CultureWars:
This is a fascinating debut, and while not a perfect play, it feels more like it is striving for greatness than many. I could be wrong, but on the evidence presented here, Polly Stenham may well turn out to be one of the most exciting old-school playwrights that the Royal Court has produced in decades.
You see, the really important thing about new writing is not the play itself, but the promise of future, better plays.
In which case, please wake us up when new writers have become established writers.
Still, there were things to enjoy: the on-stage urination made a refreshing change from on-stage food consumption and on-stage vomiting which are now so de rigeur.
Natasha Tripney’s Interval Drinks blog accurately likens the messy bed that dominates the stage to a Tracey Emin installation. It put Phil in mind of reports (from the few unlucky enough to have seen it) of Andrew’s own scrofulous bed chamber (with the emphasis firmly placed on the word chamber) or perhaps a Balmoral boudoir after devout Catholic Cherie Blair’s scramble to find her contraceptive “equipment” (sic).
Still, when all is said and done, we just didn’t get it.
But worst of all, Natasha Tripney’s Mother (whose judgement the Whingers are already in awe of, despite not having actually met her) liked it.
Perhaps its time for the Whingers to retire to the bar and stay there, stop their whining and stick to wine-ing.
- Row L of the Duke of York’s stalls rivals The Old Vic for poor sight-lines. Things were OK until the seats in front of the Whingers were occupied at the last minute. The rake in the stalls isn’t enough to cope with sitting behind a top knot.
- The programme features an article “Court Cases” by Al Senter about new writers at the Royal Court where That Face originated. It refers rather coyly to Mark Ravenhill’s play as Shopping and F***ing but later in Sonia Friedman Productions’ biog there is no such timidity removing the asterisks to reveal it’s full moniker Shopping and Fucking.
- Apparently, That Face was hailed as The Vortex for the iPod generation. Phil would like it to be noted that he received an iPod for his birthday last year and hence considers himself to be part of the iPod generation. It is not his fault that it didn’t come with a cable and so is still in its box.
- Our companion Roy flies light aircraft and tells us that on long flights it is necessary to pee into a bottle which has given the Whingers inspiration for making it through any future 90mins+ plays without intervals.