The Whingers have very few secrets left. Oh, it’s true that they know the locations of some dark, dark bars which they will never share with their clamouring, clamouring public; places where they can enjoy a bottle of red, red wine uninterrupted by the constant, constant throng of fans and celebrity hangers-on.
And Phil knows secret, secret things about Andrew that he wouldn’t dream of sharing with the world: he has after all seen him swilling his undie(sirables) in a Frankfurt hotel bathtub; he knows what Andrew looked like before his operation; and that Andrew’s middle name is Margaret. But he would never, never tell.
But the secrets unravelled in Neil La Bute’s In a Dark Dark House at the Almeida are altogether more controversial. Let’s set aside the fraternal betrayal, deceit and child abuse for a moment and focus on the most controversial matter: shouldn’t In a Dark Dark House actually read In a Dark, Dark House ? Surely there’s a comma missing. The Whingers are quite punctilious about grammar and punctuation in (other people’s) work. Who can forget the scandalous omission of the comma from Lady, Be Good at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last year?
Anyway, Terry (David Morrissey) and Drew (Steven Mackintosh) are brothers who lead very different lives but are brought together in circumstances which force them to dredge up episodes from their pasts that they would prefer to leave hidden.
Now the Whingers try not to do spoilers and the impact of In a Dark, Dark House (see what we’ve done there with NLB’s punctuation?) depends on not knowing too much about the revelations that unfold throughout the play. But one thing Andrew and Phil were very excited about and eager to discuss at the end was the innovative introduction of live, on-stage Crazy Golf. We kid you not.
Phil was so thrilled that he has set aside his thesis on “Food Consumption On Stage – Metaphor or Madness?” and is starting another about on stage games and sports. He has already analysed the home-made board game from Living Together, the squash game in Gethsemane (which had the added bonus of drinking wine on the squash court) and the breathtaking logistics of the poker game in Dealer’s Choice).
But back to the miniature golf. How did they do it? What happens if the actors miss their first shot into the windmill? Is the designer lying under the stage throwing the balls out of the right holes? And what happens if an actor misses his or her second shot or accidentally gets it in in one? Is the script adapted for each combination? Or is it all done with mirrors? The Whingers want answers.
But back to the more mundane aspects of the play itself. IAD,DH begins unpromisingly. With a park bench, in fact; which of course made Phil’s hackles rise before the poor actors got a chance to do anything.
Mackintosh and Morrissey don’t seem to be quite as American as the script calls for and the dialogue is heavily peppered with phrases of the “Cool. Thanks, bro.”, “goddam”, “dude”, “buddy” and “What do I gotta do? What do I gotta say” variety. To be fair, this is a deliberate device on the part of Mr LaBute but that doesn’t make it any less irritating.
Nevertheless, it’s a pretty dreary opening and grates for longer than desirable. It’s not until the Lolita figure Kira Sternbach turns up in the second act that the play takes off. She is very convincingly American, possibly because she is American. She also knows how to deliver punch and sass and – amazingly for an American – has a good line in light sarcasm.
Engagement-wise, IAD,DH turns out to be the exact inverse of Speed-the-Plow: both have three acts played without interval and both feature first and last scenes featuring (mainly) two American men and a middle scene with one man and a woman. The big difference is that in S-T-P the middle scene featuring the woman let the play down whereas here it’s the best scene of the play (and not just because of the Crazy Golf).
Anyway, the whole thing is admirably played out in 1 hour 45 minutes and it does pick up to become not only interesting but thought-provoking. Even the Whingers were provoked into thinking.
The designer’s very verdant garden/Crazy Golf course sets are cleverly lit by Howard Harrison.
But back to the Crazy Golf. This was an exciting moment in the history of theatre – almost as exciting as the vogue for on-stage vomiting which sadly has tailed away since its heyday of God of Carnage, Fram and Her Naked Skin (whoever thought we would end up looking back fondly on Fram?)
We look forward to more on-stage Crazy Golf and call on all playwrights to write such a scene into any play they might currently be working on. Trust us; it’s the bright, bright future of the theatre.
Andrew had taken along his video camera in the hope that Mr LaBute would be there so that we could inaugurate our planned series of video exclusives based on the well-known Push-a-Playwright game but sadly he was nowhere to be seen. Director Mr Michael Attenborough was in attendance behind the Whingers and chuckled along heartily, possibly while trying to read Andrew’s notes but he was on a hiding to nothing there as even Andrew can’t read them.
Anyway, perhaps it’s for the best as we’re not sure that Mr LaBute is that pushable: