Review – Untitled, Finborough Theatre

Thursday 19 February 2009

untitled-at-the-finborough-theatreIt is a little known fact among those who have yet to be granted admittance to the murky crevices of the Whingers’ inner circle (a geometrical unlikelihood, granted) that Phil is contractually obliged to address Andrew as “HRH”.

Behind Phil’s back, Andrew calls his whinging chum “The Duchess” or sometimes “that fat, Scottish cook” as Mrs Wallis Simpson aka the Duchess of Windsor would apparently refer to the Queen Mother.

So the Whingers felt very at home and sympathetic to Lena Farugia‘s neatly titled play about Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor: Untitled, now playing at the Finborough Theatre.wallis-simpsonWallis was of course the divorcée who stole the heart of King Edward VIII, triggering the abdication crisis and thereby changing the course of royal history.

For Miss Farugia’s first play she mostly imagines the Duchess in her sitting room at the Villa Windsor in the Bois de Boulogne during the late 1970s. The Duke died in 72 and Wallis has another decade or so to go but already she is (and again the parallels with the Whingers are quite astonishing) isolated, frail and addled.

The story is told mostly by the Duchess (Nichola McAuliffe) reminiscing about her life to her butler Douglas (Patrick Ryecart) and the occasional flashback in which the latter plays the Duke of Windsor.

As an approach to story-telling it’s not very promising. So was it the quality of the story, the witticisms, the first rate performances or the admirable amount of vodka consumed on stage that accounted for one of the most sublimely enjoyable evenings the Whingers have spent in a theatre – fringe or proper – for many a moon? Having mocked Three Days of Rain for its exhausting Act 1 exposition we must now eat our words and congratulate Miss Farugia on her brilliantly conceived exposition. She is helped, of course, by the fact that it is one of the great stories of the 20th century.

Two hours, one interval and more jokes than you could shake a stick at – what more could the Whingers ask for? There was even a nice little set featuring French windows (a win for Alex Marker); looking out of them towards the paparazzi in the distance, Wallis enquires, “Is that horror from the Sunday Express there?” which the Whingers took to be a dig at poor Mark Shenton and laughed heartily to the bemusement of the actors.

The well-dressed set also included a plastic food container on a tray which Phil took to be a clever nod to our current Queen who was discovered to keep her breakfast cereal in Tupperware containers (although why that should be so shocking eludes us).

Miss McAuliffe bears quite a resemblance to the Duchess in her geisha-going-on-80 inspired make-up. She does a pretty impressive curtsey too. McAuliffe makes a much better fist of the part than Madonna will.

Anyway, it was also rather moving – not least the final moments when (SPOILER) the shaking Duchess is revealed to be tied to her chair, a hangover cure Phil has often tried on Andrew and can testify has limited efficacy.

There were, inevitably, some complaints from the Whingers’ direction: a terrible smell of BO in the auditorium. Phil discreetly checked Andrew’s pits but realised that for once it was another member of the audience, someone who had clearly come to Untitlted as Unwashed.

And the domestic arrangements didn’t quite ring true – if she made such a fuss about wrinkled sheets we imagine they would have been fastidious enough to iron her napkins for her as a matter of course.

These things are forgiven though and all credit to director Peter Cregeen (most famous as the man who cancelled Doctor Who) for keeping the pace up.

So a lovely evening. Of course it helped that this was the Whingers’ second visit to a fringe venue in a matter of days at the invitation of the producers. And not only did they get “reserved” signs thoughtfully placed on their seats for them, they were also given free programmes and wine vouchers! We were treated like royalty and if this is what being exiled to the fringe is like then count us in.


  • The Finborough Brasserie downstairs does a lovely mushroom risotto and a fabulous vanilla cheesecake with lime syrup. We could quite get into this fringe thing. A large glass of wine is £5 though. On the other hand the (agreeably quiet) music included Anita Ward singing “Ring My Bell”.
  • To find out more about the topic, why not join the Duke and Duchess of Windsor Society?
  • Andrew was given plenty of new ideas for Phil’s funeral which he has been planning down to every last detail. Taking inspiration from the Duchess of Windsor’s funeral service no reference will be made to Phil’s life nor even any mention of his name. Phil meanwhile worries that (like the Duchess) no plot will be large enough for Andrew’s body, has no ideas for his funeral but may flush his ashes down an Old Vic loo, provided it’s not a night when Coronation Street‘s on and he’s too busy.
  • It won’t be the best play of the year. But in related news the What’s On Stage Theatregoers’ Choice Awards 2009 have just deemed Under The Blue Sky to be the Nick Hern Books Best New Play although it is actually quite an old play, not a new play. Sadly, in the heat of the moment, Doctor David Eldridge (right, with Whingers) forgot to thank the Whingers in his acceptance speech. Anyway, we forgive you Dr E, and heartily congratulate you.

22 Responses to “Review – Untitled, Finborough Theatre”

  1. Helen Smith Says:

    This sounds fabulous. I must admit, when I saw the title of this piece in an earlier mailing or Facebook message from the Finborough, I dismissed it. I thought it was a coded way of saying ‘I couldn’t be bothered to think of a title so don’t expect me to have taken any pains over the script.’ Of course, since it’s about Wallis S, I see now that it’s rather witty.

    The trouble is that, unlike the packaging on other products, theatre flyers are not obliged to carry warnings: ‘contains no acting’, ‘may contain weak humour’, ‘may contain unmusical musical interludes’ or even ‘best before 1876.’ So you have to scrutinise titles and company names for clues (fair play to Forced Entertainment and Told By An Idiot, they give potential patrons an ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ hint about what to expect.)

    I’m afraid I thought that ‘Untitled’ was a warning, not an invitation. Never mind, you’ve put me straight. I think I will go.

    • Helen – as we started running out of amusing things to say about the theatre six months ago we think the best way forward for this blog will be to issue franchises to you and Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch and Dame Maureen Armfeldt-Schmarmfeldt and all the other marvellously funny people who populate the comments section. Thank you all.

  2. Mark Shenton Says:

    Thanks for alerting me to the mention! I may have to go now…!

  3. Dear Whingers

    The next time your review contains a spoiler, please use the word SPOILER rather more than 10 words before said spoiler. At the top of the paragraph before might have been a more useful place to put it!

    “Whingers’ second visit to a fringe venue in a matter of days at the invitation of the producers.” – don’t hold your breath for one from The Tricycle now, will you?

  4. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    I’m outraged – this is the umpteenth NON-WHINGEING review I’ve had to plough through. At this rate, you’ll be competing with The Stage for greeting every entertainment with a rave notice. More whingeing soon PLEASE or I shall cancel my subscription…

    P.S. Ben-Hur soon at the O2: please don’t tell me you haven’t booked yet…

  5. Phil Says:

    Dear Exit,

    Don’t worry, a bit like the supposed Oscar leak it’s not a real spoiler.
    As you enter the auditorium Wally’s sitting shaking, tied to the chair, a bit like Andrew would have to be to sit through another Caryl Churchill…

  6. Suzie Bee Says:

    I rather like Caryl Churchill. I thought “Cloud Nine” was very good.

    And I must agree that there has been surprisingly little whinging of late. Amusing as ever, though.

  7. Max Gluteus Says:

    No whinging about the lack of reserved seating at The Finborough boys?
    I have had many a boring time waiting on those filthy stairs!
    Surely you werent influenced by your exclusive “reserved seating” ,the free programme and the wine vouchers?

  8. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Verily, you are the Neil and Christine Hamiltons of Theatreland. Is the Tricycle chilling the Bollinger as we speak in readiness for your upcoming Deep Crit?

  9. Rufus Says:

    Has anyone caught sight of Miss McAuliffe’s Fanny Full of Soap? I asked the assistant in Waterstones, Chiswick if she had one, to no avail.

    Being something of an Ernie Wise I wonder if she’s penned ‘Untitled’ herself and Lena Farugia is some kind of clever anagram. All I can come up with though is, A Anal Figure.

  10. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Sir Andrew: dear, dear me. My friends Neil and Christine (I was “resident critic” on their Edinburgh show last year) prefer Perrier-Jouët. Well, they did when they had a sponsorship-in-kind deal. Actually, I do think they, Phil & Andrew would get on like a House of Commons on fire.

    • Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

      I’m looking for a pair of lyricists for my next West End smash hit: do you know if Neil and Christine are available? I can pay them in brown paper bags, if they prefer.

  11. Latecomer Says:

    Loving your work but is it wrong that as I sat enjoying A View from the Bridge the other night and they had a scene where they were eating dinner all I could think of was “The Whingers would love this…on stage food being eaten!”

  12. JohnnyFox Says:

    Encouraging, and despite the fact the Finborough is a long way by bath chair from Docklands, I’ll give it a shot.

    It’s not the first amusing play with royal revelations at this venue which was willing to chuck wholesale disparagements at the late Queen Mother. I recall a great piece ‘George VI in Heaven’ by Andrew Neil (no, not the brillo pad hair one) in which monologue the King revealed that the reason the Q Mother detested Wallis Simpson was that his brother had confided that Wallis was rather good at oral sex, and the QM wouldn’t entertain it.

    Additionally that he (George VI) had a penis roughly the size and shape of a button mushroom and because of its inability to penetrate the QM in any meaningful way, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose were more or less conceived in a jam-jar.

    Funny the things you retain.

    The memory, I mean. Not the jam-jar.

  13. @ Rufus

    you’re not trying very hard.

    I got Fungal Iguana (‘Night of the Fungal Iguana’ could well be Ms. Farugia’s next oeuvre), and Gainful Area – which could be the same as your A Anal Figure, if you know how to work it!


  14. I had been at the sherry bottle. Here it is again without the typos!

    @ Rufus

    you’re not trying very hard.

    I got Feral Iguana (’Night of the Feral Iguana’ could well be Ms. Farugia’s next oeuvre), and Gainful Area – which could be the same as your A Anal Figure, if you know how to work it!


    • Rufus Says:

      Obliged to you, Dame Maureen. Can I call you Red Muff?

      Regalia Faun and Algae Unfair also work.

      What they’ve gained with Celia Imrie and Michael Feast in Plague Over England they’ve lost with all that revolving urinal nonsense for the West End. Puh-lease!

  15. I suspect red muff is caused by unfair algae in the fungal area !

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