Review – Under the Blue Sky, Duke of York’s Theatre

Friday 25 July 2008

Now pay attention, class. Dr David Eldridge (DLitt) has a very starry production of Under The Blue Sky previewing in the West End. It’s about the, umm, “grown-up” relationships between three pairs of teachers.

Child A and Child P!: Your homework this week is to to go on a field trip with your classmates to see Under The Blue Sky before it opens.

I want essays from both of you on my desk before it opens on Friday evening.

Child P

we wasent doing enthing els so we went to the theeter which is big bilding in Lundun namd after a nursry rime and Andrew bort me a drink and it was nice the play was vry long and did’nt have an intervul so i had to hold my pee in. Sum peeple cooked dinner in the furst bit but they did’nt eet it wich gordon brown says is rong. at the end you cood see thruogh a womans skurt becoues the lihgt shun thro it. a woman of doctr hoo was in it and she wore a brown dres but it did’nt luk very nice (SATs mark: 6/10)

Child A

David Eldridge’s exploration of the relationships of three pairs of teachers is simply but elegantly structured work. Each half-hour act is a self-contained two-hander although in each act we learn a little more about the previous characters. The writer displays a deftness of touch lighting on each story with all the delicacy of a butterfly gently and patiently probing a flower for nectar before flitting effortlessly to the next. (SATs mark: 7/10)

Child A and Child P

Well, with 15 in the Whingers’ entourage it was quite an evening, but not quite as chaotic as the one Dr Eldridge nearly ended up having when he set Under the Blue Sky up as an event on Facebook and invited all of his friends to come. The result was a flurry of follow-up emails in which he clarified that he wasn’t actually giving away free tickets, just inviting people to buy tickets and see the show.

Of course, it could have been worse. He could have invited them all to come to the first preview which would have resulted in something of a riot as it was cancelled when Catherine Tate twisted her ankle during the dress rehearsal. It has to be said that – although not personally affected – the Whingers were not impressed by this “show can’t go on” approach. When Elizabeth Taylor was injured during her West End début in The Little Foxes in 1982 she did the whole darned thing in a wheelchair – now that’s a star!

Anyway, the Dr Eldridge marketing machine was doing very clever things. They probably call it CRM or micro-marketing or somesuch, but anyway he did point out to the Whingers that Under The Blue Sky featured two people from CranfordLisa Dillon (Mary Smith) and Francesca Annis (Lady Ludlow). In a cast of six that’s a pretty impressive Cranford-factor.

Dr Eldridge also teased the Whingers with the promise of on-stage wine drinking and food preparation and indeed the latter was quite impressive as there was actually on-stage cooking (although Phil was no more comfortable with the hygiene arrangements here than he had been the last time the Whingers witnessed such a scene. Thankfully on this occasion Phil is too busy to write a letter to the relevant authorities on the matter).

The earlier scenes are quite difficult as none of the characters is particularly likeable. In the first a stressed Lisa Dillon is finally defeated in her unrequited love for Chris O’Dowd who plays a complete arsehole (although Phil thought he was quite reasonable and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about).

In the second act, Catherine Tate plays a self-obsessed nymphomaniac teacher seducing a loser colleague (Dominic Rowan). It is a shame that Tate is so over-exposed at the moment following her shows and her first-rate stint on Doctor Who because this character is a bit too near the Lauren/Nan/early Donna characters for her to break out of over-familiar territory. But she goes at it hammer and tongs. And her with her ankle and all.

But thankfully the last scene provides an uplifting finale as best friends Nigel Lindsay (who sounds like Bernard Cribbins) and Francesca Annis decide to get together despite the gap in their ages. It was a real feel-good ending to the 100 minute marathon after which Andrew confessed to being slightly moist.

Presumably the moral of the play is that teachers are too busy having “relations” and that is why the education system is in such a sorry state.

Anyway, all of this was delivered in a super-slick set by Lez Brotherston with fluid direction by Anna Mackmin.

Dr Eldridge insisted on dropping by afterwards to see the Whingers and their classmates (whose homework can be found here, here, here and presumably at some point here) at the Garrick (Arms, not Club regrettably) and was instantly bombarded with questions about his play.

“Was that knife she waved at him really sharp?” “Was the hob gas or electric?” “The set moves, so how are the wires connected to the cooker?””How old is Francesca Annis?”

On some of these points Dr Eldridge was – it has to be said – disappointingly ignorant or gentlemanly and it quickly became apparent that he is no expert on the finer points of electrical conduits. To his credit, he was big enough to admit this.

Our own research reveals that Francesca Annis is 63 but she looks much, much younger. Much younger than Child P.

The one thing we are kicking ourselves for not asking was “Why is there a photocopied cast list slipped into the programme next to the published cast list?” Is it a spot-the-difference competition in compensation for there being no crossword? If so, it was far too difficult for the Whingers who couldn’t spot a single difference.

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