The credit must be thoroughly crunching.
After rattling around in in the less-than-full Donmar auditorium at Monday night’s Creditors the Whingers witnessed another rare event last night: the Almeida auditorium less-than-packed to the rafters.
Perhaps the theatre-going public just couldn’t get excited about Harley Granville Barker’s Waste. Perhaps, like Phil, they assumed it to be a piece of agitprop about the sin of not recycling.
If they did believe that, many of those who turned up were clearly disappointed as the auditorium displayed even more empty seats after the interval. Perhaps it was due to Phil’s new fragrance.
The Whingers had some sympathy (how often do you hear that?) with them; they were themselves slightly ambivalent about returning for the remainder of the marathon (4 act 3 hour) show.
Return they did. But did they make the right decision?
Harley Granville Barker‘s Waste had a troubled history. Written in 1907 it was banned by the censor and not performed publicly until 1936 in a completely a rewritten version (which is the one you can see at the Almeida). Its only “performance” was a private reading in which various parts were taken by Granville Barker, H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. What wouldn’t the Whingers have given to seen that? If only it hadn’t clashed with Phil’s mangling night (mangling of his washing, not his writing on that occasion) what tales Phil would have to dine out on.
At his wit’s end over the state of British theatre (again, sympathy from the Whingers) Granville Barker added a hyphen to his name, retired and became and academic (see article by Benedict Nightingale in The Times).
In a nutshell, Waste tells the story of the rise and fall of Henry Trebell (Will Keen, phenomenally grounded) who seduces the married Amy O’Connell (Nancy Carroll, marvellously loose) who according to HGB’s stage directions is “a charming woman, if by charming you understand a woman who converts every quality she possesses into a means of attraction, and has no use for any others.”*
Trebell is drafted into the government of the day to oversee the disestablishment of the Church of England, a sub-plot which, frankly, the Whingers could have done without. Fascinating as the subject is, they struggled to make connections between the very detailed philosophising and the main dramatic arc of the play which is that he makes Amy pregnant and she has an illegal abortion which goes wrong resulting in her death during the interval.
What a shocking, moving second half follows. The stunning, moving final scenes between Henry and his sister Frances (Phoebe Nicholls, crushingly impassive) actually moved Phil to get out his hanky for purposes other than to absorb the drips from his nose.
Despite the four acts, three hours and somewhat over-detailed philosophising, the Whingers utterly commend this production to you for the following qualities:
- HGB’s very modern, dynamic, witty brilliant writing.
- The almost National Theatre-like extravagance of the play: billions of characters and a set which revolves.
- The astonishingly sensitive direction of Samuel West (who also helmed the wonderful revival of Dealer’s Choice) whose ability to direct quiet, intimate scenes which compel is unparalleled in the Whingers’ humble opinions.
- John Leonard‘s wonderful resonant ambient sound (cars, birdsong, clocks)
- The live-on-stage piano playing
- The bargain programme (£2.50)
- The top-notch acting from the entire cast (and some very convincing envelope-addressing from Hugh Ross.
Waste is no walk in the park but if you are interested in merely seeing the finest acting and direction currently in the West End, it’s a must.
* HGB’s opening Act One stage directions read thus:
Facing you at her piano by the window, from which she is protected by a little screen, sits MRS. FARRANT; a woman of the interesting age, clear-eyed and all her face serene, except for a little pucker of the brows which shows a puzzled mind upon some important matters. To become almost an ideal hostess has been her achievement; and in her own home, as now, this grace is written upon every movement. Her eyes pass over the head of a girl, sitting in a low chair by a little table, with the shaded lamplight falling on her face. This is LUCY DAVENPORT; twenty-three, undefeated in anything as yet and so unsoftened. The book on her lap is closed, for she has been listening to the music. It is possibly some German philosopher, whom she reads with a critical appreciation of his shortcomings. On the sofa near her lounges MRS. O’CONNELL; a charming woman, if by charming you understand a woman who converts every quality she possesses into a means of attraction, and has no use for any others. On the sofa opposite sits MISS TREBELL. In a few years, when her hair is quite grey, she will assume as by right the dignity of an old maid. Between these two in a low armchair is LADY DAVENPORT. She has attained to many dignities. Mother and grandmother, she has brought into the world and nourished not merely life but character. A wonderful face she has, full of proud memories and fearless of the future. Behind her, on a sofa between the windows, is WALTER KENT. He is just what the average English father would like his son to be. You can see the light shooting out through the windows and mixing with moonshine upon a smooth lawn. On your left is a door. There are many books in the room, hardly any pictures, a statuette perhaps. The owner evidently sets beauty of form before beauty of colour. It is a woman’s room and it has a certain delicate austerity. By the time you have observed everything MRS. FARRANT has played Chopin’s prelude opus 28, number 20 from beginning to end.
These fabulous stage directions really should be provided as sur-titles for added entertainment. Poor old Sam West. Imagine the rehearsals. “Right, could you just give me a “wonderful” face – full of proud memories and fearless of the future. Lovely, thank you. Now, Jeany, I want you to rest that book in your lap as though it were possibly some German philosopher. Can you do that? Gorgeous. Exactly right.”