Aren’t the Whingers selfless putting you, dear reader, before their own personal safety? For last night the Whingers – surgical masks on faces – bravely risked a public gathering before their inevitable outlawing (public gatherings, that is, not the Whingers).
Laughing in the face of swine flu the Whingers trotted off on their trotters, like pigs in sh*t, crackling with excitement, to the National Theatre (before it gets shut down) for the first preview of Time and the Conways by that lovely old leftie J B Priestley.
The Whingers weren’t laughing quite so confidently when a woman sitting behind them sneezed and hacked up her guts to the point where collars had to be turned up for protection and tragically it is probably only a matter of time before the Whingers find themselves doing the Mexican wave goodbye.
Yes, time. Today’s theme. Brought to you by the letters J, B and P for once again Mr Priestley plays with time, the second act of TATC hopping forward 18 years before hopping back again for the third (yes, third act! three acts! two intervals!).
The National Theatre was playing with time too last night with the curtain (and yes, there is – eventually – an actual curtain) going up 15 minutes late and its approximate running time (2 hr 50) a mere 15 minutes short of the truth. All of which meant that this was pretty much a marathon evening with a mere 10 minutes of bar time left at the end of it.
To be fair there’s not an awful lot you could do about the running time. It’s a three act, solidly well made play with a great deal of slap work required by the make up artists between the acts to age the actors and then enyoungen them again.
Of course, what one could do, at a push, to shave a few moments off the running time, is not give it to Rupert Goold to direct. Not content to trust Mr Priestley’s more than adequate (in our humble opinion) naturalistic text Mr Goold introduces the exciting bonuses of an imploding set at the end of Act 1, a Cecil B De Mille meets Powell & Pressburger meets Kneehigh intervention at the end of Act 2 and, well, we’re not really sure what we saw at the end of Act 3 but it involved ghostly images, an awful lot of what looked like Cling Film and two rather uncomfortable looking actors dancing around.*
Goold seems desperate to do something with TATC as though Priestley’s play wasn’t enough. But where Stephen Daldry scored brilliantly with his radical 1992 National Theatre production of JBP’s An Inspector Calls, Goold’s re-imaginings seem gimmicky and tacked on. By Act 3 even the light fitting spinning above the stage like a clock (geddit) and Robin Conway (Mark Dexter) circling the furniture like the second hand of a clock (geddit) began to irritate Phil who was half expecting Francesca Annis to come on in a light up basque twirling tassels on her nipples and tooting on a trumpet.
Anyway. TATC opens in 1919 The war is over and the well-to-do Conway family under the seemingly beningh matriarchy of Francesca Annis are filled with optimism about their future. We hop forward 18 years to the eve of another war to see how their lives actually turn out before hopping back to 1919 to witness more events there with the benefit/curse of hindsight.
This flash-forward is very well handled by the cast who really do seem to age rather convincingly. Indeed there is good acting all around. It seems churlish to single anyone out but we were particularly impressed by Lydia Leonard as Hazel, the sister who marries money, Paul Ready as the mild mannered Alan and Faye Castelow (a young Sarah Miles) as the youngest and nicest of the Conway children.
In some ways TATC does prove to be rather, well, timely with bluestocking Madge’s (the fabulous Fenella Woolgar) prediction of the decline of capitalism and an end to booms and slumps followed by tales of plummeting property values and shares prices.
Look out too for the Act 1 pink wallpaper which proved to be symbolic of the Whingers’ thoughts on the production: Phil thought it hideous but Andrew loved it. Not to say that Phil found the evening hideous exactly, it’s just it didn’t come together for him until about halfway through Act 2.
While Andrew thought it was refreshingly naturalistic Phil felt it was under-rehearsed, unready and far too sluggish. And although he loved the basic time conceit he felt it all went on far too long, not least because it cheated him out of the opportunity for a post-show glass or two.
*Look out for the bay window curtains being nonchalantly drawn towards the end of each act to enable Mr Goold’s floor shows to be introduced. Then listen out for an awful lot of banging and clunking as the special effect is rolled into place. This was the first preview and hopefully the poor stage-hands will find a slicker method by the opening.
** Did you know that Francesca Annis has an uncredited role in the 1959 film Carry On Teacher? Did you know that there was a 1959 film called Carry On Teacher? We didn’t. It’s never on the telly, is it?
Whilst time is our theme Phil was delighted to find that whilst missing the original 1937 production of TATC he is of course old enough to have seen one of the original cast on stage.