“I was wondering today,” said Andrew as the Whingers sat disconsolately at one of the two draughty tables which sit forlornly outside the soulless entrance to the Cottesloe foyer, “why we go to the theatre.”
A pause. Another sip of wine. Another pause.
“Simon Shepherd was on Loose Women today,” replied Phil brightly.
Andrew mused on the idea that theatre could serve the function of a mirror or perhaps a prism through which one might see aspects of one’s own life afresh.
For example, had Phil and he – like Mr and Mrs Affleck – inadvertently created a crippled child in the form of the so-called “West End Whingers”; a child for which neither much cares, much less loves and for whose death each sub-consciously wishes. But that child that is nonetheless theirs; it demands to be fed; it determines the pattern of their lives; it confronts them daily with guilt at their own revulsion with themselves.
The Cottesloe knell rang, calling the Whingers back to Act 2.
“Do you think that’s how it is?” asked Andrew.
“Apparently Lorna Luft has replaced Stefanie Powers in Pack of Lies,” said Phil, excitedly.
The first act set of combined sea shore/garden/kitchen (designer Bunny Christie) is evocatively grey and fifties looking (much like Phil, really) but so vast The Whingers could imagine Fanny Craddock performing one of her “Kitchen Magic” extravaganzas without even touching the sides.
It’s Festival of Britain meets Earls Court. Phil forgave Bunny for the park bench (his design bête noire) and drifted back to his own childhood admiring the Salter kitchen scales and blender not realising how the latter would play such a dramatic role later one.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the only drifting Phil was to do. Like the couple next to him, he leant forward expectantly for the first half of the first act then slowly slumped back in his seat as ennui set in. Their boredom was palpable and they passed the remaining time (until their escape at the interval – Phil wished that he had followed their example) canoodling. Phil glanced to his left realising his only canoodling option was Andrew and decided that by far the lesser of two evils would be to watch the play.
It wasn’t the fault of the performers who were all rather good, although they did seem to be directed to give a strange tempo to their delivery. Angus Wright‘s convincingly cerebral and tortured Alfred was rather striking in his measured lugubriousness; if anyone ever needs an actor to play Will Self on stage here’s your man.
There was more drifting than from an Ice Prince shipwreck going on in the second act. Phil started noting down the prices on the seafront cafe’s sign. Tea and coffee 2d, chips 3d, and sandwiches from 6d. That’s “from”, mind you. So sandwiches were more than three times the price of a cup of coffee in those days eh? Phil began to muse that either sandwiches are a bargain now or perhaps coffee is exorbitant. Discuss. Starbucks take note.
Things did pick up momentarily in the second act when an audience member’s handbag (not Andrew’s) dropped from their balcony rail, crashing just above the head of as startled patron in the stalls. It was to be the only laugh of the evening from the Whingers.
The Whingers just weren’t convinced by much of it – the rat catcher, lines such as “I have a uterus”, the fact that anyone would leave a fridge door open that long in what was still essentially the age of austerity and Britain only just off the ration. And surely this is pre-transisitor time to radios would have have to warm up before you could hear them?
Admittedly there were genuinely “perk up” moments – breaking crockery, on-stage rain and a bunch of flowers in the blender. And, yes, as mentioned, some very excellent acting from Claire Skinner, Naomi Frederick and even whichever child it was we saw (Wesley Nelson or Alfie Field.)
And it was nice to see Mark Lawson flaunting the lie that is Radio 4’s Front Row (the Whingers are writing indignantly to the DG of the BBC to demand that it is renamed Second Or Third Row).
But by the end of the play (two hours 20 minutes including 25 minute interval) even Andrew – who had been trying to persuade Phil that Mrs Affleck had literary merits – was drifting and he could not tell you what happened at the end because he was thinking about escutcheons.