Review – Mrs Affleck, National Theatre

Tuesday 27 January 2009

“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.

Mrs Affleck is Samuel Adamson‘s take on Ibsen’s Little Eyolf set in Britain in 1955.

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.

18 Responses to “Review – Mrs Affleck, National Theatre”

  1. Escutcheons! Now THAT’S something that didn’t bother us in the 50’s when you were grateful the outside lavvy had a lock, never mind a swinging brass cover for’t keyhole.

    And nobody BOUGHT sandwiches, however long the journey whether a day-out to Blackpool or a faithful re-enactment of Scott’s Arctic Expedition you took them with you, snugly embraced in the waxy wrapper of last week’s Wonderloaf. This is the problem of employing 16-year old set designers …

  2. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Two 20 minutes including 25 minute interval (ie, a total running time of 15 minutes) sounds refreshingly short. Beckett would be very jealous. Or have I deliberately misread in order to make a lame joke?

  3. @ Sir Andrew – thanks for pointing out the error. We’ve corrected it so that now you simply look foolish.

  4. Michelmas te Yong Says:

    I have read, with dismay, elsewhere of ‘passionate acting’ and Angus Wright’s ‘superb performance’. Is one to presume that a new director, playwright and designer has been employed since I witnessed this pointless commitment of word to paper?

  5. Rozza.T.Muffin Says:

    A baffling and bum-numbing experience. The Cottelsoe bar did well out of me that night as I grabbed at spirits to lift my spirits. I counted audience member’s heads lolling forwards after the first 20mins – about 8, and I wasn’t even looking hard.
    I felt so detached and physically distanced from the action that I consoled myself by imagining stuffing lard sandwiches down the gullets of post-war-ration-suffering characters. Fanny Cradock would have been a welcome addition.

  6. Unreserved.Mark Says:

    “Andrew …. was drifting and he could not tell you what happened at the end because he was thinking about escutcheons.”
    I’m sure this isn’t what you meant but ..
    escutcheon /es·cutch·eon/ (es-kuch´un) the pattern of distribution of the pubic hair.
    Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers. © 2007 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
    pondering more work for the wigmakers perhaps? 🙂

  7. Do we have a new collective noun?

    An escutcheon of wig-makers?

  8. For the record: I was thinking of an ornamental or protective plate around a keyhole. To be specific: a brass one in the Georgian “beehive” style.

  9. Nick Says:

    I spent most of the second half of the play thinking “What the F**k” whilst watching the show from the entry pass youth scenes…Once the rat catcher boy shows up for the second time and they ask him to be their new Ollie, that just really lost me. Actually, I think I had been lost a bit earlier. Worst thing I’ve seen at the national since ‘her naked skin’ (I missed Fram and Afterlife, obviously)

  10. Caroline Says:

    Having read this review and the comments, I am glad I stuck to my new policy of never booking ahead for the Cottesloe but waiting for the reviews. I have had too many absymal experiences there and the seats are so expensive compared to the Lyttelton an Olivier auditoria – even the “restricted view” seats in the Cottesloe cost more than the £10 seats (clear view) in the others. If you pay £10 and don’t like the play, you haven’t wasted too much money; if you do like it, it’s a bargain. What’s more, several successful productions for which I have paid a (relative) fortune in the Cottesloe have then transferred to one of the other 2 auditoria, where, had I waited, I could have seen them for less and in greater comfort.

  11. I was due to catch up with this at today’s matinee, but having read this and the universally two-star reviews that I’ve seen, I’m dealing as best I can with the sadness of being kept from the Cottesloe by a work backlog.

  12. Oh dear, I already have a ticket to see this in March, should I give it a miss and just book the ENO’s La Boheme instead?

  13. Simon Says:

    The child you saw was Wesley Nelson.

  14. dogface99 Says:

    I too was at the performance of the falling handbag and it woke up the couple next to me where the woman whispered to her companion: I should’ve thought of that. What a wretched misguided evening it was and why on earth did it take 25 minutes for that set change?

  15. Crumbs. I didn’t mind it half as much as all that. The period-detail mistake-spotting is first rate, though. How were your seats, btw? I seemed to get a lot of people’s backs half way down the right-hand traverse bit.

    Ooh, you forgot to moan about it being in traverse 🙂

  16. oe444 Says:

    for a nano-second i misread the beginning of this and thought you said: ‘Sam Shepard was on Loose Women’. oh, if only it could be so…

  17. Roger Richmond Says:

    Just got back from tonight’s performance and THAT is quite the weakest play I’ve seen in ages.
    The dialogue was embarrassingly bad, and the set was only slightly better – why does it take 25 minutes to change it at the interval?
    No engagement with anyone or any of the ‘events’ – by the end I just couldn’t care less as each cliche slid across the stage.
    Fortunately I was in a restricted view seat.
    Interested to hear what Claire Skinner has to say about it on Monday.

  18. […] see Mrs Affleck at the Cottesloe but as most of those I know who have already seen the production loathed it, a couple of them walking out in the interval even, I thought, well what’s the point? Okay, I […]

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