So it’s 7pm on Monday evening and the Whingers are sitting in their customary pre-Donmar watering hole for some Dutch courage (well, technically it was South African in honour of Athol Fugard).
Andrew was reading an excerpt from a piece he had spotted in that day’s Times – an interview with the actor Mister Jonathan Pryce whom they were about to see in Dimetos (pronounced DimmerToss, it turns out).
He was reading it aloud to Phil who had forgotten his reading glasses.
Pryce was sent the script by the Donmar […] and thought the writing extraordinary but the play baffling. Friends who read it agreed that it was well written but had no idea what it was about. But then came a meeting with [director Douglas] Hodge, who communicated his passion for the play: ‘I decided to do it because I wanted to understand it fully myself – and I’m finding it the most difficult thing I’ve done in years.’*
Just up the Whingers’ cul de sac then.Perhaps unsurprisingly the Whingers proved unequal to the task of illuminating Mister Pryce as to the meaning of the play but we can confidently report that it has an interesting two level set by Bunny Christie which seems to fly thrillingly in the face of health and safety best practice, there is a meal with wine consumed on stage and a heck of a lot of physics including much talk of fulcrums and – best of all – a box of bits and bobs (including the egg whisk of Phil’s childhood) from which Pryce tries to cobble together a machine that will stop time.
Pryce plays an engineer who – for reasons not entirely clear to us – has eschewed the city life and moved to a remote part of the country (which country we are not sure) where he lives with his housekeeper Sophia (WEW fave Anne Reid) and niece Lydia (Holliday/Holly Grainger). When Danilo (Alex Lanipekun) turns up from the city to entice Pryce back, tragedy swiftly follows. Followed by a bad smell. And madness.
Frankly it does go on a bit and we have to say that if Pryce and Hodge have gotten to the bottom of what it’s about, they succeeded in keeping it from the Whingers. Which is not to say that it’s unconvincing. On the contrary, the entire thing is played as though it makes perfect sense and the direction and the performances are confident and assured.
The individual words made sense but we did struggle to wonder what Mister Fugard was getting at. Phil was put in mind of another South African, Stanley Unwin – it clever and entertaining for a a while but it may as well have been written in Unwinese.**
Wordiness aside there are some marvellous moments of genuine theatre including the rescue of an Equus-type horse and a suicide by hanging which rather took us by surprise because usually you can tell when someone is going to hang because loads of people are surreptitiously double checking harnesses while trying not to be noticed by the audience.
Still even this was not enough to keep the Whingers’ attentions from wandering. The copious knot tying*** took Andrew back to his time in the Boy Scouts. He didn’t actually earn any formal accreditation for his knotting abilities but he did get his “Camp Cook” badge.
Phil, when not thinking wistfully of the egg whisk of his childhood, was mostly focussed in Act 2 on the pool of stagnant water now exposed beneath the stage to represent the seaside and worrying for the health of the actors and, indeed, himself. How often did the water get changed? Does all this global warning mean there is now a risk of malaria in WC2?
Andrew, meanwhile, was mulling on the oft-mentioned Act 2 rotting animal smell. Having resisted the urge to leap up and apologise on Phil’s behalf he got to wondering whether or not the technology existed in the theatre to actually produce smells. Surely it must. Why not use it? After all the trouble and expense of producing sets and costumes and sound effects the entire fiction seems to break down a bit when people start complaining about smells when there patently aren’t any.
* Endearingly, Pryce goes on to say: “I’m reassured that there’s a spare earpiece knocking round London. Actors of a certain age are queueing up to use it and I think it might be my turn”.
** For those of you younger than the Whingers (don’t even think about it) here’s an introduction to The World of Stanley Unwin.
*** Whilst adopting the pose of Stan Laurel (removing their bowlers and scratching their heads) the thing that puzzled The Whingers most about DimmerToss was the impressive use of knots. There’s some fantastically named ones like Double Carrick Bend, Slippery Hitch, Lariat Loop, Cat’s Paw, and Bowline on Bight, but what is the word for the art of knot tying? Is it really Marlinspike Seamanship?
What a strange blog Hodge has. We hope he doesn’t mind us quoting him on Dimetos:
“I personally think is one of the great undiscovered masterpieces of the last fifty years. We’ve got a couple more weeks before first preview and then I’m off to do the Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe for three weeks.”