Review – Complicit with Richard Dreyfuss and an earpiece, Old Vic

Wednesday 21 January 2009

complicit at the Old VicWhat a shambles. What a complete and utter shambles. And how entertaining.

Hang on, scrub that last sentence. Complicit wasn’t in the least bit entertaining.

The only entertaining aspect to the evening was the discreet yet mesmerising, scandalous earpiece which Richard Dreyfuss was sporting because – so rumour has it – he does not know all of his lines.

Hard to believe? You can read about it here, here and here and a million other places.

Indeed, according to one source (who, of course, can not be named) a highlight of at least one early preview was the sound of David Suchet loudly calling “prompt” on Dreyfuss’ behalf which – as our Deep Throat conjectured – surely can’t have done much for dressing room bonhomie.

But the West End Whingers are proud to report that they can now reveal that there is in fact a wholly legitimate reason for Dreyfuss’ inability to remember his lines.

It is, quite simply, that every line of Joe Sutton‘s play is utterly forgettable. Indeed, the wonder of this whole sorry saga is not that Dreyfuss can’t remember his lines but that Elizabeth McGovern and David Suchet can remember all of theirs.

Complicit is a tedious, aspiring-to-worthy (but unworthy of being staged) half-written play which hits the audience lightly about the head with plodding arguments played out between people for whom the audience cares nothing.

There is almost certainly a good play to be written on the use of torture by the USA and another one on the protection of journalistic sources but unfortunately this isn’t either of them and it certainly isn’t both of them.

Kritzer (Richard Earpiece) is a journalist facing a Grand Jury over an article he’s written about the US administration’s use of torture post 9/11 He faces the prospect of a lengthy jail sentence if he doesn’t reveal his source.

Staged in the round most of the “drama” involves Kritzer’s dilemma as he discusses his plight with his wife played by Elizabeth McGovern. She is very dull, but to be fair she doesn’t have much to work with, her primary purpose being to make Kritzer’s choice more “agonising” by whining on about his obligation to his family.

The third “character” is his lawyer (David Suchet, the only one to bring any pep to this wearisome evening).

So as the three characters circle the stage we’re often left looking at the back of the characters’ necks**. This is despite Dreyfuss’ “acting” which is dominated by a constant pacing of the stage like a caged tiger man who can’t remember his lines. He also does some arm waving and at least he’s constantly on the move. Perhaps his earpiece is of the kinetic variety and he has to keep moving to keep it charged?

Director Kevin Spacey has only himself to blame really. As artistic director he must take responsibility for choosing this play. Sutton seems to have two signature styles which compete as to which can be the most irritating. The first is repetition. Repetition? Repetition; the other is ellipsis and by god it’s…

On the plus side, it’s all over in one hour and 40 minutes including the interval; it just feels a lot longer. Perhaps if they cut the interval the audience could be out even earlier giving them more time to pull it to pieces in the bar.

Even more thrilling was that the Whingers ran into someone after the show who “knows the person who made Dreyfuss’ earpiece”. They can not, of course, reveal their sources as they are far too principled. But if threatened with the torture of sitting through Complicit again they’d spill the beans in an instant.

To be fair, one or two of the Whinger’ entourage were more enthusiastic (and will not be receiving invites to future outings) and a handful of the audience even ovated, but one should bear in mind that this was meant to be the press night, and a party after the show was going ahead as planned.

So this wasn’t your typical West End audience, they were probably friends of the Old Vic (good enough friends to have been given the right start time) and of Mr Spacey himself, judging by the number of people Kev was going up to and saying hello to before the show and during the interval. Heck, he even put his arm round one of the Whingers’ group then brushed against him again in the interval. It seems Spacey knows everyone, or at least wants to.

Certainly there were many people there from the Norman Conquests and in fact Andrew was sitting two seats’ away from Lesley Manville and engaged in conversation with her briefly at the interval to complement her on the size of her handbag.

He didn’t actually know it was Miss Manville he was talking to, but Phil patiently explained who she was later on. The Whingers last saw her in Her Naked Skin which was the Whinger’s post that first introduced the Fram Scale (though not because HNS was quite that bad). Sadly, Phil was reminded that even though only mid-January it was already time for the Whingers’ infamous tool to receive another airing.

Oh well, we look forward to the real reviews which – at this rate – should come out a couple of days before the damned thing closes.


Despite a “Full House” sign outside the Old Vic last night there were plenty of empty seats. Perhaps they were the seats of others with a 7.30 start time on their tickets.

** In Jonathan Croall’s article in the programme about sitting in on a rehearsal for Complicit Spacey is quoted: “And I think that after The Norman Conquests the audience will be a little bit used to the idea that you can watch a scene and for a time have someone’s back to you, and actually not lose anything. It can be a very strong thing: it’s what happens all the time in real life”. Well, no actually it doesn’t, the Whingers usually look at people when they’re talking to them and if they’re watching a play they want to see the actor’s face.

*** Unreserved apologies to Brian, Helen, Paul, John, Jorge, Oliver, Simone and Sue.


35 Responses to “Review – Complicit with Richard Dreyfuss and an earpiece, Old Vic”

  1. Webcowgirl Says:

    Wow, and to think that I thought I was going to this until Sunday night! SAVED, I tell you, SAVED! (Not that I’m not looking forward to seeing another play with y’all someday, but ,despite the comedic value of “the turkey,” I’d much prefer to enjoy the show as well as the company.)

  2. How can you review this play, I dont even know where to begin. I know, I’ll link, you dont mind, do you Whingers?

    And no apologies please, I still had a great time, AFTER the torture. (Pun intended of course)

  3. TTC Says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. You’re lucking however. When I caught the first preview it was just over two hours long (felt like days). I didn’t notice the ear piece and to be fair to him, they’re clearly changing the script at a rate of knots in a doomed endeavor to make it something other than the crap it currently is (not that that really excuses him).

  4. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Re. the start-time confusion: it sounds as if you went on what was the original press night. There’s always a smattering of folk on 7.00 press nights who come in at the production’s more usual start time (whatever it is); on a now-non-press-night because press opening’s been postponed, it’s even more likely that folk might assume the start time had also been reset to the usual, or that some staff might have assumed it and misinformed punters. Not an excuse, but an explanation.

    And you’re lucky: I was at Thriller Live tonight, and it went up 33 minutes late, not because people were mistaken about the start time, but because they wouldn’t shift out of the pre-show drinks do’s into the auditorium. How very prescient of them.

    And a couple of years ago I saw Bruce Myers perform the Grand Inquisitor twice: the first time he was alone onstage and went into complete line meltdown, eventually resorting to the script to get through it; the second time, he seemed much more assured, and there was a second person onstage, sitting mute, that he addressed his lines to… and who was sitting a hair’s-breadth off the eyeline between Myers and, just offstage, a suspiciously autocue-looking apparatus.

    And my then-girlfriend once performed Beckett’s “Not I” with the whole text playing for her on a Walkman; luckily, the piece calls for only a mouth to be seen, so the earphones were hidden beneath a gimp mask.

    But I must stop beginning all my paragraphs with “And…”. Oh, good, I have done.

  5. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    And yes, I should clearly have read your previous entry before I started sounding so tentative and Poirot-like about a matter you’ve already dealt with in some detail.

  6. Jon Says:

    By coincidence I caught the end of Sextette on TV last night, featuring the final film performance of Miss Mae West. Rumour has it that she was fed all her lines through an earpiece and was moved around the set on casters. Presumably Mr Dreyfuss at least gets about under his own steam. I’m sure he will be able to discard said piece before long. Or maybe will start a new trend?

  7. pb Says:

    I just left this feeling faintly confused. I’m sure there was a good play to be written on these themes, and I guess Spacey was excited by the ideas when he read the script, but failed to notice it would be very very boring on stage. Elizabeth McGovern has now slotted into my elite “Romola Garai” group of impressively irritating actresses. Suchet was decent, but the whole piece would have been better if he’d played it as Poirot.

  8. Brilliant review.

    “it was already time for the Whingers’ infamous tool to receive another airing.”
    Fnarr. Sorry. Just another low-brow willy pun to excuse what I’m about to say…

    “I’m sure he will be able to discard said piece before long. Or maybe will start a new trend?”

    It wouldn’t be a new trend. Recorded Delivery have been making a virtue out of having all their performers wearing headsets for ages. While the above review is incredibly funny on the subject, I didn’t find the earpiece even slightly distracting, other than noticing it was there.

    Sadly I’ve never seen Dreyfuss on stage before, so I don’t really have any idea what he was like in the past, but he looked to me like a man who was pretty relaxed with what he was doing. I’m guessing that rather than feeding him a continual stream of words, the earpiece is just there as a failsafe if he happens to dry.

    And I think TTC is quite right to suspect that it is probably because the script is being cut to ribbons at a rate of knots that Dreyfuss has had difficulties learning it. I only hope they’re cutting the right bits. It would be a shame for Sutton if it was the good bits that have been jettisoned.

    And yes, the twenty minutes of cuts that TTC mentions (combined with other stories I’ve heard of the parts of the “interogators” being substantially cut back from providing inter-scene physical theatre of a rather limp variety).

    My own take on the play here, for what it’s worth:

    Of course, I feel for the Old Vic, andc I’m sure we’re only days away from another of Spacey’s rants about how the press have it in for him. In the mean time, as far as I can tell from the Old Vic’s website, it is possible to pay up to £46 to see what is quite clearly a “work in progress”.

    p.s. Did you read the amusing programme essay by Jonathan Croall? “Its the start of the second week of rehearsals and the company of three… are at that awkward stage where they half know their lines, but still need their scripts to hand.”

    A stage beyond which only two of them apparently progressed… Ho hum.

  9. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Perhaps they just need a bigger boat

  10. Izzy Smith Says:

    I too suffered Complicit. And with the incorrect start time on my ticket. How i wish i had missed the start and watched paint dry instead. The ear peice was clearly visible, and on the night i went any time Dreyfuss forgot his lines he would walk round in a circle saying the same word over again until he was given his next line. I found it quiet amusing that a debaucle of a previous legal case mentioned at the begining of the play was called the Dreyfuss afair. How apt. However, what was most baffling was the crazy Guantamano ending. Was the orange jump suit moment symobising what could of happened to him, or that this did happen to him at some point. Inexplicable. I was sitting in the row behind Spacey and i did want to tap him on the shoulder and ask him just what was he thinking in staging this. However, kudos to Spacey too, who had to go on stage as the lights came down on the interval to help Richard Dreyfuss, who couldn’t find his way off stage and was bumping into the tables and chairs used as set. Simply terrible

  11. Chris Woods Says:

    It truly is as terrible, confused, and vacuous as the Whingers say. Or possibly worse. Eight years of the War on Terror reduced to this?

    Though I did enjoy the ‘Gitmo’ guards taking a bow for their epic performances.

  12. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Dreyfuss (with the extra ‘s’) was of course in a film about Dreyfus (without the extra ‘s’). He also produced it. Directed by Ken ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ Russell:

    Farewell an’ adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…

  13. JohnnyFox Says:

    I anticipate an immediate transfer to the Garrison Theatre, Guantamano Bay where – now Mr Obama has indicated the doors are to be unlocked – the audience will probably walk out …

  14. Lavretsky Says:

    Send for Nathan Lane!!

    If Kevin called him now,he could be here tonight having learned it on the Red Eye and word-perfect for the matinee on Saturday.

  15. Die Rote Kapelle Says:

    I saw the first Saturday preview of Complicit … well, I saw the first half. it was exactly as described by the Whingers, but longer. Richard Dreyfus was perfectly decent and only dried once. the problem is that the play is pompous, confused, expositional, and deadly, deadly dull. it’s also well past its sell-by date in the new Obama world. quite how a piece of work as leaden and boring as this gets on to one of our premiere stages is extraordinary. surely Mr Spacey must have access to people who know the difference between stork and butter? the most exciting thing that happened on the night we saw the play was his pre-curtain (ok, there’s no curtain but i’m using a well-known theatrical figure of speech) apology. that got a very enthusiastic round as the audience congratulated themselves on being present with the great actor manager.

  16. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Spacey also made a pre-show speech before Cloaca (about mobile phones on that occasion). Electronic devices and Old Vic productions obviously don’t mix. If Kev appears in the auditorium (rather than onstage) perhaps that should be a signal to run for the exits…

  17. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    I think I may actually have *caused* a “dry” last week. OK, T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” is a fairly long and intense memorisation task, even to one as blooded in solo performance as Stephen “Macbeth and everyone else” Dillane. And he might just coincidentally have gone blank mere seconds after walking to a few feet in front of me (I was in the second row at the Donmar, but clearly visible on the end – as if I’m not clearly visible at the best of times) and not because he saw me taking a note. But I fear the worst, and if I’m right then I’m really, truly sorry. (The note, incidentally, was that that moment – some 45 minutes into the recital – was the only occasion on which he ever spoke whilst on the move. It was THAT exciting.)

    Could I not have kept my notepad in my lap? Also, no – my lap is already filled by my vast and pendulous gut. Unpleasant, but true.

  18. betsy Says:

    thanks for that image, ian….

  19. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    It’s no more than I see in the mirror every time, alas.

  20. Ollie Says:

    I saw Complicit two nights ago and what is there that i can say to add to what has already been said?
    This was a Brilliant Review!
    i could not agree with you more on this one.
    McGovern is without a dought the single dullest, tedious, mind numbingly awful actress i have seen in the past ten years. however i did’nt notice the ear piece either, prehaps i was gripped on the thrilling relationship between the characters on stage? HA no!
    Simply AWFUL!

    do NOT see this.

  21. Lavretsky Says:

    Michael Billington in the Guardian said “…Elizabeth McGovern…is sadly wasted as his wife.”

    That seems a more civilised comment than Ollie’s.

  22. I gave Complicit 2 stars in my review, looks like most of the critics agreed with me too.

    I still think that with the play being dull, the actors fate was sealed, as they had really nothing to work with. I say this with all due respect that Spacey has to take a lot of the brunt for choosing a dud of a play.

  23. Gareth Says:

    I saw the first preview, Dreyfuss did not have an earpiece then because there was a prompter sat next to the stage.

  24. Jim Says:

    It seems to have become very fashionable very quickly to have a very specific reaction to this play. This seemingly consists of:
    1) Hating it violently
    2) Hating Dreyfuss and McGovern
    3) Praising Suchet as the only glimmer of light
    4) Finding the politics trite, obvious and confused
    Well I’m going to be the only dissenting voice in this forum. I quite liked it. I agree it’s a mess of a play. The first half is tedious and Dreyfuss obviously forgot many of his lines at the preview I saw (Sat 24 Jan) causing what momentum there was to disappear repeatedly. And the wife character is horribly underwritten. I also disliked the staging. All the video montages of Bush and Guantanamo come across like awful meaninglessly didactic undergrad installation art.
    Contrary to everyone else who’s seen this I thought Suchet was clunky and heavy handed, and I thought Dreyfuss quite good in the second half. Nothing I’ve read anywhere about this seems to grasp what this play is actually about. It’s confusing I admit, but surely this is a play that deals with several very complex questions.
    1) Why did so many liberal, left leaning Americans (many children of the sixties) have such a kneejerk, patriotic reaction to September 11?
    2) The Dreyfuss character talks about a country he loves, about the original conceptual framework for America as laid out by Jefferson and the founding fathers of a benevolent, free, democratic nation. The concept of the ‘principled democratic world power’ in stark opposition to autocratic imperialist Europe. The play for me explores how blinded men can be to protect cherished principals, and how in the process these principals can be violently contradicted and lost.
    3) How did America can to comprehensively lose sight of its founding principals?
    Almost every scene in the second half alludes to these themes, but every review I’ve read seems to have comprehensively missed ALL of them, far too busy patting each other on the back and agreeing on it’s innate crapness.

  25. sandown Says:

    The answers to Jim’s questions above are quite simple.

    1)”Why did so many liberal, left-leaning Americans have such a knee-jerk, patriotic reaction to September 11?” Because for the first time the United States was subjected to a major terrorist attack on its own cities. “Left-leaning Americans” had been quite prepared to condone or support terrorism elsewhere, for example their long-term sponsorship of the IRA. Americans were not nearly so keen on terrorism when it happened to them.

    2) “The original concept of a benevolent, free, democratic nation” is nonsense. The United States was founded by the secessionist side among the British colonists of North America. The main reason why the secessionists won was because of naval and military intervention on their side by the French and Spanish empires. The rest of the territory of the United States was seized from its original inhabitants, who were largely exterminated. As for their “democratic principles” (spelling, please!), they applied only to the secessionists.

    The Americans also attempted unsuccessfully to invade and force Canada into their alien republic. Fortunately Canada — like Ulster — fought to stay British, and to stay free.

    As for the reason why Spacey chose to do the play, the answer lies in the kind of self-deluding left-liberal propaganda trotted out by its main character. It is also supposed to be a poke in the eye for the departing Bush administration, Spacey being a strong supporter of the American Democratic Party.

    Indeed, Spacey likes to indulge himself in this manner. When he played Richard II, he incorporated whole scenes from the sequel, “Henry IV” , to try and make his character look more sympathetic — and not one professional critic noticed. The same thing is being attempted here — a perversion of history, which should fool nobody.

  26. Jim Says:

    To suggest that a large portion of America’s liberal classes supported the IRA bombing campaigns is utterly ridiculous. Yes it’s true the IRA was largely funded for many years by affluent Irish Americans in Boston but to suggest this was a popular mainstream cause of left leaning Americans is completely inaccurate.
    The second point is also, completely wrong. This was the first colonial war of independence. The principals and motives of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton (to a lesser extent) et al. is clear to see for anyone with access to the most superficial wikipedian analysis. There’s no need to run over the historical/philosophical origins of the American state because everything is clearly laid out in the declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and first American constitution of 1788 which all stipulate precisely and clearly what America stood for as a state. What does the fact that they were secessionists have to do with anything? That’s the point. They were attempting to extricate themselves from a colonial oppressor. Yes, these principals were lost sight of again and again over the course of their history, such as their attempted incorporation of Canada and terrible oppression and butchering of the indigenous inhabitants and the Philippines soon after. Again that’s surely the point of the not very good play we were initially discussing! How blinded people can be by the finest principals into committing acts that run contrary to them.
    I wouldn’t be worried about making patronising remarks about a person’s spelling (what a self important, pathetic and unnecessary gesture) when you’ve got your political history comprehensively WRONG.

  27. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    I have to say I don’t think the play honks either, as a play – but it does rather as one to put before a non-American audience. Lengthier and more earnest consideration at

  28. Jim Says:

    Completely agree with you Ian. It’s an interesting and deeply flawed play that really doesn’t have much of a place receiving it’s world premiere at the Old Vic. Perhaps this is why audiences here struggle to engage with it’s convoluted politics.

  29. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Indeed – I think it hinges upon a particular set of civic instincts, or at any rate conditioned reflexes, that non-Americans simply don’t have.

  30. Chrissybabes Says:

    The night I saw Complicit Dreyfuss ended up in a someone’s lap as he tried to get off stage – the most entertaining point of the evening. My opinion Suchet -good not great, Dreyfuss- ok, Mcgovern – dreadful.

  31. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    I have an idea. Stick horses and Lesley Garrett (Mon – Fri only, of course – otherwise she’s at the Savoy) on it, get it to revolve and call it ‘Whirligig’ or something.

  32. Ollie Says:

    yes, prehaps more civilized. but i was past civilized, i see not the point in commenting on her performance with “civilized” points. i placed it as blackly as i could, and as it deserved.

  33. Lavretsky Says:

    Get a grip.Ollie – it’s only a show.

    You’re not related to Elly,by any chance?

  34. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    How bizarre. “Get a Grip, Ollie” is the title of my new musical biography of Laurel & Hardy. I’m looking for a lyricist – are you available?

  35. susie Says:

    saw “Complicit” on tuesday, James Jordan was on for Dreffus, and Sarah menell for Mcgovern. I had previously seen the show with the main cast. Well this was a totally different experience! I actually understood what was going on! James Jordan was FANTASTIC! A truly well rehearsed,solid portrayal of a man tormented by what he feels he might have done to his country. and guess what? No earpiece! The show had pace, pathos, and I did actually care about the characters.Sarah Menell was also wonderful, giving a faultless performance. David Suchet was on with them, and it seemed like they had all been working together for months.I even found the writing made sense. A real shame that more people did’nt see this performance, as I’m sure there would now be a really lively discussion about it.

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