Review – Blowing Whistles, Leicester Square Theatre

Saturday 1 November 2008

The world of promiscuity is a place that has passed the Whingers by for reasons that are a mystery to them but perhaps clear as day to other people.

Their own promiscuousness is confined to making too many casual and bad choices – a couple of unfulfilling hours in a darkened theatre with hundreds of strangers.

But both Whingers can hold their hands up and quite categorically declare that neither of them have ever fornicated with Russell Brand. And, in the unlikely event that they had, they’re quite sure these would be liaisons Brand would definitely want to keep to himself.

But a casual choice was made on Tuesday evening seduced by four stars from Michael Coveney, Time Out and de Jongh with the latter comparing it to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

High praise indeed. So why did the Whingers still approach Matthew Todd‘s Blowing Whistles at the Leicester Square Theatre with such dread?

It’s because the Whingers tend to steer clear of gay plays. They have had too many experiences of sitting in uncomfortable fringe theatres surrounded by audiences hooting with laughter at references to Kylie, Judy and poppers and drooling over the obligatory nude scene.

It usually leaves the Whingers quite cold not because any of these things are particularly unsuitable points of reference for a play but because the writing is usually so lazy, lame, utterly lacking in ambition or depressing. It is no broad generalisation to say that usually it is all of these things.

Thankfully for playwrights and the actors unfortunate enough to feature in them, the audiences for these things don’t seem to care much. Possibly they simply have that gay joie de vivre thing going which has passed the Whingers by.

A tip to any young aspringing playwright: come out as gay and write a gay play; the Oval House or the Drill Hall will almost certainly put it on for you. Actually, you don’t even have to come out as gay these days because queer theatre is all the rage and as far as the Whingers can tell you just have to be ambiguous or confused about gender issues to get in on that one. Anyway, it’s the fast-track to getting your play performed in London and it doesn’t even have to be any good.

Blowing Whistles contains references to Kylie, Judy and poppers and the obligatory nude scene during which one punter near Phil was heard to hiss, “I wish we were sitting on the other side”. (Sit stage left if you really need access to the money shot).

So you could have blown the Whingers down with a feather to find that Blowing Whistles is actually very good indeed: it’s frequently funny and sometimes hilarious while depicting cynical yet often accurate observations about gay history and gay life as it apparently is today. (Not that the Whingers know about such things you understand. Andrew eschews the party lifestyle and is happiest tucked up by 9.30pm with a cup of Horlicks; Phil usually passes out towards the end of Coronation Street).

Anyway, Jamie (Paul Keating) and Nigel (Stuart Laing) are celebrating 10 years together on the eve of Pride. Despite Jamie’s indifference Nigel is cruising the Internet site gaydar for an anniversary treat. When 17 year old Mark (Daniel Finn) turns up things don’t go quite as Nigel had planned and their relationship comes under intolerable pressure as their increasingly divergent needs become evident.

One of the successes of Todd’s play is in picking at the disparity of experience between older (Jamie and Nigel are in their thirties for heaven’s sake!) and younger gay men observed most wittily when Jamie patiently gives Mark a whistlestop run-down of the struggle for gay liberation explaining who Judy Garland was and how her death led to the Stonewall Riots and how that led to “Gandalf” picking up the cause through the lobbying group of the same name.

It’s all handled with a lightness of touch which makes the history lesson more than palatable as with his account of the commercialisation of Gay Pride:

Jamie: Loads of people stopped going in the 90s.

Mark: Because of Aids?

Jamie: No, because of Steps.

Along their way there are some very funny observations as when Jamie recalls Chief Constable James Anderton’s observation in the 1980s that homosexuals were “swirling around in a cesspit of their own making”. Today, he says, the gays would simply ask where is it and how much is it to get in?

It’s by no means as preachy as it sounds and it’s backed up by a very solid emotional story as Jamie and Nigel struggle with the disintegration of their relationship.

Add to all this outstanding performances from Laing, Keating and newcomer Finn whose first West End role this is. Keating shows himself – yet again – to be a masterful comic actor.

There is much else of interest: good use of video (take note Katie Mitchell), references to forgotten gay life (Palm Beach, Streatham anyone?) and a carefully dressed set including a droll DVD collection which features The Devil Wears Prada, Shortbus and Scally Boy Wankers.

Some niggles: Does Balans really do take-away? Does anyone call anyone on their land-line any more? Why can’t gay audiences cope five minutes without their phone? (an audience member near the Whingers frequently looked at his phone, flicking through pages throughout the play; Phil assumed he was inspired to set a gaydar date). Oh, and despite undermining gay lifestyles the programme contains adverts for Attitude magazine (playwright Matthew Todd is the editor) and for The Shadow Lounge and Sound (“the biggest party night in London 7 days a week”).

But the Whingers did have one major thing to moan about: The Leicester Square Theatre operates an unreserved seating policy although for once this worked to their advantage. Full price tickets are £25, but they were able to get seats on for £10 (plus booking fee) and obtained seats as good as anyone who had booked weeks ago. Officially, of course, we still detest unreserved seating and will do so until the days we die (although Andrew has actually managed to find a cemetery with an unallocated grave policy as one last joke on Phil).

Niggles aside, it’s easily the best “gay play” (if plays have to be categorised thus) since Beautiful Thing Blowing Whistles runs until 29th November.


Mr Keating got wind of the Whingers’ presence at the show and insisted on having his photograph taken with the Whingers after the show. Very tiresome.

Paul Keating and the West End Whingers snapped by the paps

Paul Keating and the West End Whingers


7 Responses to “Review – Blowing Whistles, Leicester Square Theatre”

  1. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Yes people do still use land-lines.

    Andrew think it’s cutting edge not to off course and he’s frequently to be seen with his twitchy phone thingy pressed against his ear, or is it his nose?

    Well it’s the growth on the side of his head anyway, presumably caused by too much use of said item.

  2. ASU Says:

    “the Whingers tend to steer clear of gay plays”

    Ohh! So that’s why you haven’t reviewed Cage aux Folles yet, then. I seeee.. I was wondering. I’ll be the Thursday Mat.. I’ll let you know what you missed.

  3. Nick Says:

    If you think the story of the guy on his phone through the play is bad, at La Cage Aux Folles on Tuesday I had quite a shock. I was sitting mid-back ways in the circle, and I saw ahead of me some guy who was actually working on some stocks program or something of that type throughout the entire show. Distracting light, and total dick.

    Also, £10 on I’m so going to use that to see this!

  4. Cathy Says:

    £10 on! Drat. We were there on Tuesday too, but had paid full price having got over-excited at the prospect of seeing Paul on stage again. Still, at £10 a throw, maybe a 2nd visit is in order…..

  5. If you’re really frustrated by mobile phones in theatres, you might be interested in Mobile phone jammers are illegal to use in the UK though not to possess, so what you could do is buy one (even with the recently plummeting pound that dollar price still works out at under £24) and then fantasise about how it might be if you were allowed to use it – how a sprinkling of friends/colleagues (as it might be, for instance, a number of critics seated on opposite aisles) would be able to put the telephonic dampers on even a sizeable West End venue, that sort of thing.

  6. Caroline Says:

    Does anyone else recall seeing this play at Croydon Warehouse in June 2005, as I did? And if so, has s/he seen this production, too? It seems to have taken a long time to turn up somewhere else, but maybe it’s been around in between and I haven’t noticed. I’m tempted to go again but it’s always difficult to choose between seeing something completely new, and a new production of an older play.

  7. Chris Says:

    The Whingers have been shown up for the charlatns they are – pretending to know something about theatre! I feel cheated having taken their advice and selected a nice seat stage left at theis performance. Well – let me inform you – STAGE LEFT IS THE ACTOR’S LEFT AS THE ACTOR STANDS ON THE STAGE FACING THE AUDIENCE! Hence – it is the right side of the auditorium as you watch the action.

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