Review – Over There by Mark Ravenhill, Royal Court

Wednesday 11 March 2009

over-there-by-mark-ravenhillOne thing’s for sure: when the Whingers eventually get around to putting their money where their humongous mouths are and writing their own play, it will have a snappy title.

They’ve already got a swathe of clever, witty names for their magnum opus; in fact they were tossing a few around only the other day. But since these pages are read by well-known and budding playwrights desperately seeking displacement activity and filling in the empty hours generously donated to them in the name of writer’s block, we are unable to risk sharing them with you here.

The only thing stopping us is that we just don’t have a theme, a plot or even an idea. Just some titles.

Mark Ravenhill is no stranger to memorable and arresting titles.  In fact, wasn’t his career launched on the controversy of Shopping and F**king – the most Christian Bale of all play titles – before everyone got controversial and started inserting asterisks in their headings?.

Anyway, on this occasion he has disappointingly come up with one of those really anodyne hard-to-remember, hard-to-Google titles: Over There. Most people – like the Whingers – seem to be referring to it as “that play with the twins in” or simply “the twins play”.

The Whingers have considered drawing attention to themselves by putting little stars in the title of their difficult first play, but feel they might get more notice if they put them in their moniker. Who, after all wouldn’t be tempted to go and see a play penned by The W****ers (even if most would argue they barely warrant 3 stars)?

Would Pinter have created more of a stir if he’d penned The Dumb Wa**er? Could Alan Bennett garner extra publicity by billing  The Old Country as The Old C*unt**?

harry-treadaway-and-luke-treadaway-in-over-there-by-mark-ravenhillBut back to “the twins play” – part of the Royal Court’s Berlin Wall anniversary season.

Karl and Franz are twins who grew up on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. The intriguing gimmick here is that they’re played by real-life twins Luke and Harry Treadaway. We see them before, during and after the wall is demolished.

The play is set in a bare, three walled (no doors), diffusely lit box set (a tip of the Whingers’ bonnets to Johannes Shütz) scattered with boxes of products and consumables from Mr Muscle to Plymouth Gin. Phil was thrilled to espy a box of Rice Crispies featuring the “adopt a monkey” offer on it.  Helen Smith‘s play in Miniaturists 18 featured a cornflakes packet with the very same offer. Honestly, you wait all your life for for a play with an “adopt a monkey” cereal packet in it and then two come along in as many weeks.

But anyway, Karl and Franz are not real characters. They are allegorical (we looked it up) figures in a tale of German re-unification. Actually we were quite impressed with ourselves for keeping up with it all although we have to confess we got lost somewhere around the point when West Germany ate custard and tomato ketchup off East Germany’s chest.  But up until then we were doing quite well.

The difficult thing is that the brothers go through all this stuff displaying little if any emotion about their situations. Even when recounting the cancer and death of their mother, they might just as well be talking about the weather. Still, it’s that kind of a play – a similar idea to (shudder) Carol Caryl Churchill’s Drunk Enough To Say I Love You but less arrogant and with fewer flying sofas and more brightly coloured underpants.

The dialogue, particularly in the early stages is clipped and unfinished, though the Treadaway Twins cope well with having to complete each others sentences and speak in unison. The style swings between being irritating and strangely mesmerising. The only line which really convinced Phil was the presumably rhetorical (in Phil’s case), “If I opened some wine, would you drink it with me?”

harry-treadaway-and-luke-treadaway-in-over-there-by-mark-ravenhill-2But Ravenhill asks much more of his cast, often being forced to perform in their underpants, or less. A potentially ground-breaking masturbation scene has sadly been beaten (pun intended) to it by the also Germanic Spring Awakening (what are they trying to say about Germans?) but still drew embarrassed sniggers from young girls in the audience.

And Phil can at last complete his food-on-stage thesis as one of the Treadaways is directed to smear his body with custard, Nutella, cake, rice pudding and ketchup and the other forced to eat it from his near naked torso. Nothing can compete with this; all eating on stage from now on is sadly rendered redundant.

We did wonder: would a straight playwright get away with writing such a latter day 9½ Weeks style moment with two nubile young girls perform a similar scene clad only in their scanties?

But there’s worse to come as Luke has to strip naked (still covered in goop) and perform a genitalia-tuck to play his brother’s lover for the final moments.

This was certainly a first for the Whingers although sadly they had been tipped off about it by Dr David Eldridge at the Arcola on Sunday (do you see how casually we drop the names of playwrights these days; these are the circles in which we move) and so spent the whole play waiting for this never-seen-before moment at the expense of much that went before it.

At about 80 minutes it shouldn’t really outstay it’s welcome but it did slightly. You can’t help watching and wondering if it would have held the attention without real-life twins in the roles. Still, we weren’t expecting to like it much at all so it’s a remarkable achievement that it made such an impression. Much of the talk in the pub afterwards was a robust debate about the significance of the colour of their underpants.

Luke and Harry sustain their indignity with aplomb, but Phil found it hard to concentrate. What will their mother think when she comes to see the play? Phil shuddered at the thought and silently counted his blessings that he didn’t have a twin and hadn’t ended up here with his mother coming to see them.


* Bring your water wings to the Royal Court else you may drown in metaphors. It’s awash with them.


15 Responses to “Review – Over There by Mark Ravenhill, Royal Court”

  1. David Eldridge Says:

    I’m really sorry about that. I’m a complete idiot with spoilers sometimes. My other half still hasn’t forgiven me for thoughtlessly mentioning that Konstantin kills himself at the end of The Seagull (a play she didn’t know at the time) as the house lights dimmed to begin the recent Rickson revival…

    • Jason Says:

      I did that once with a production of Hedda that I was working on…I was all excited about the brilliant and graphically shocking way we’d done the ending, not realizing that my usually better-half didn’t actually know what was coming. Oops.

    • Oh don’t worry Dr. E. We’re just teasing you.

      And diverting as it was, it wasn’t Chekhov.

      And it was hardly a plot spoiler.

      Now, if you’d said “And then the wall comes down…” then that would have been a plot spoiler.

  2. […] “Over There” continues until March 21st. Another take is also available courtesy of the WestEnd Whingers.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Review – Under the Blue Sky – Duke of […]

  3. Debs in Edinburgh Says:

    Thank you Whingers, your reviews never fail to make me smile. And a picture of actors in their underpants – hurrah.

    It doesn’t sound as though it can match ‘Over There’ in the food on stage rankings (yes, rankings) but are you going to see ‘New Electric Ballroom’? (Apologies if you’ve already reviewed it and I’ve just not noticed) I saw it up here in Edinburgh last summer and I can tell you I’ve never witnessed the coming together of so many packets of digestives in one place. Also, nice use of a pink cake and fake fish. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll say no more. I liked the play, too.

  4. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    If those photos are anything to go by, no wonder most people prefer watching paint dry to going to the theatre.

    Does Mark Ravenhill ever not write plays?

  5. Martin Baker Says:

    The burning question has to be – did Phil actually adopt a Kellogg’s monkey? Or does Andrew provide enough entertainment as it is?

  6. @ Martin. Sadly there are no Adopt A Monkey cereals left on the supermarket shelves due to the high demand for props from theatres across the capital.

    There are presumably a lot of very sad, orphaned monkeys feeling very unloved.

  7. Lavretsky Says:

    “Carol Churchill’s Drunk Enough To Say I Love You”

    Did you mean Car*l Churchill?

    Isn’t there a why in there?

  8. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Ah, if this show’s messy bits squick you, you should see the “Hamlet” currently on at the Schaubühne in Berlin, where it’s to be joined by Mr Ravenhill’s play after its Royal Court run – just visiting for a few days, not joining the three of his plays already in the repertoire there. And yes, it’s usually “Shoppen Und Ficken” but sometimes “Shoppen Und F***en”.

  9. Die Rote Kapelle Says:

    This play goes further than stage eating, it’s stage cannibalism – possibly a first?

  10. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Two words: Titus. Andronicus.

  11. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    In fact, two more: Seneca’s “Thyestes”.

  12. One more word, re: cannabalism – “Blasted”

    Perhaps Phil’s long-awaited book could have a chapter on eating people on stage…

  13. Michael Hollick Says:

    Saw it on Monday. Mr and Mr Treadaway are really quite superb, but I couldn’t help thinking that Mr Ravenhill was indulging a middle aged g*y w*nk fantasy, rather than writing a play. As my lovely companion commented, on the evidence on stage, she probably knew about as much about German reunification as Mr Ravenhill did.

    I would, however, recommend the rather wonderful mock-documentary Brothers of the Head, in which Harry and Luke play conjoined twins who front a 1970s punk band (no, really). A much better showcase for their remarkable talents.

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