Review – Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill: A Life in Three Acts, Soho Theatre

Saturday 26 September 2009

shows_aLifeSince the unexpected but most welcome song dedicated* to them in the Menier’s Forbidden Broadway, the Whingers have become impossibly grand. They’ve set their sights even higher and expect to see themselves portrayed on stage ere long.

But who would play them? Cross-gender casting wouldn’t bother them at all and Phil would be more than happy to see the wonderful Fenella Fielding tackling his sophisticated airs.

But who could possibly do justice to Andrew? Who could best encapsulate his physical attributes? Miriam Margolyes? Bonnie Langford? Jeanette Krankie?

The reason for this speculation was a trip to the Soho Theatre to see Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill: A Life in Three Acts, a triptych of plays based on an interview Mark Ravenhill conducted with the legendary radical drag veteran Bette Bourne.

But the Whingers were particularly attracted to Friday’s performance because Ravenhill (who was taking part in his own civil ceremony that day) was unavailable and Fenella Fielding was filling in. On the previous night she had played the part of Ravenhill interviewing Bourne himself but tonight she was standing in as Bourne being interviewd by Bourne as Ravenhill. Got that? Still with us?

To complicate matters there are three interviews, this being the first section dealing with Bourne’s early years as a child but mainly focussing on his years living in a London commune and his part in early gay rights campaigns.

Perhaps surprisingly, Fielding acquitted herself brilliantly and was completely on top of her material which although mainly read from the script seemed well rehearsed (despite only one afternoon’s rehearsal), even prompting Bourne when he missed a cue.

It was, however, quite strange watching Fielding in her trademark pilgrim white collars** talking about her experiences on acid.

So it turned out to be something of a treat of an evening: funny, interesting, occasionally moving and all over within about an hour. The evening’s only low point was down to the stupid unallocated seating system: two seats in the front row were actually allocated through the medium of laminated “reserved” signs. Sadly, the hapless ushers needed to sit three people in the front row and efforts to persuade someone to volunteer to move from the front row were met with frosty glares until the gallant Saint Angela Of The Audience Club shamed everyone by volunteering to relocate. Still, when will theatres learn that unallocated seating is just a stupid, annoying deeply flawed system that audiences hate. one can only suppose that it suits the theatres in some way because it certainly isn’t for the benefit of their customers.

Afterwards (with Andrew dispatched home for some much needed beauty sleep) Phil had the chance to be introduced to Fielding giving him the chance to gush over her so much not even Red Adair could have put him out.


* Well, practically.

** Strangely, no mention of them in The Scotsman’s article: Fenella Fielding: My Life In Clothes

Just because we can:

2 Responses to “Review – Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill: A Life in Three Acts, Soho Theatre”

  1. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    “her material […] mainly read from the script..” – This was what surprised and disappointed me about the early performance of part 1 that I saw in Edinburgh: Bette, too, was mainly reading. It was noticeable how much more vibrant were the moments when he took wing and worked *to* the audience rather than *from* the script, as if the rest of the time he felt constrained by his own biography. I imagine he’s more at home with himself by now 🙂

  2. igb Says:

    On unreserved seating, when the new (brick) Other Place opened in the early nineties, mailings from the RSC were full of corduroy socialist guff about how it was democratic and ideologically sound to have unreserved seating, rather than people who booked early (otherwise known as `regular customers who pay to see the clunkers so deserve some treats when it’s actually good’ and `the people who pay your wages, Adrian love, so that you can keep on casting your wife in plum roles’) getting the best seats. It lasted one season, with a most undignified scrum and — for people who travel — a real sense of rush getting down to Stratford that spoilt an evening’s theatre-going. As Adrian was about the only person who believed the nonsense, common sense prevailed.

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