Review – The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Hampstead Theatre

Sunday 11 October 2009

Fastest+ClockDear Andrew,

It’s been a while since I’ve felt moved to write, but I know you need something to lift you out of your grump.

I know you feel unfairly robbed of the Nobel Peace Prize despite your exhaustive efforts in the Middle East, but the good news is the Whingers are in line for an Olivier Award for the play we’re yet to write, so thanks for displaying surprising largesse and unclipping my lead for a rare solo visit to the theatre.

Can it really be that long since you allowed me out alone?  The event seems to come round faster than Christmas or our interval exits from the Cottesloe, so appropriately my trip was to the Hampstead Theatre‘s revival of Philip Ridley‘s The Fastest Clock in the Universe.

What did you miss? Well, a very convincingly dilapidated flat, full of stuffed birds – excellently realised by Mark Thompson and atmospherically lit by Rick Fisher – above a former fur factory in London’s East End.

30-year-old Cougar (Alec Newman) is – just like our good selves – celebrating his 19th birthday yet again with cake and copious amounts of alcohol, desperately trying to hang on to his youth or, in his case, any youth he can get his hands on. He conspires with his infatuated sugar-daddy Captain Tock (Finbar Lynch) as he attempts to seduce one of his party guests; teenage schoolboy Foxtrot Darling (Neet Mohan).

It got off to a crackingly menacing start, with the narcissistic Cougar preparing for his do by sitting in front of a sun lamp in distractingly dazzling white underpants, (I’ve commissioned The Hampstead Wardrobe Department to take charge of your laundry Andrew) whilst arrogantly ignoring Tock.

It’s Gothic Mr Sloane territory with a dash of Dorian Gray and a nod to Daphne Du Maurier, but unfortunately, Ridley is no Orton and despite good performances from Lynch and Newman the black humour, with some deliciously scabrous lines, didn’t raise many laughs.

You’d probably have found themes of ageing, decay and cruelty resonant and quite disturbing, but there was an incident which would have lived much longer in your memory; an on stage fight in Act 1 ended up with the excellent Finbar Lynch doing a Dietrich and falling off the the stage.

This would never have happened if your favourite fight supremo Terry King had been in charge. But how gloriously in the spirit of “the show must go on” did he continue delivering his lines from under the front of the stage. He clambered back on but was led off by a stagehand. Then Alec Newman, who was lying on the stage, was escorted off followed by an announcement that the play was stopping. Remember I texted you and you replied “How thrilling”? How very regrettable you missed it.

A few minutes elapsed before the stagehand returned to announce that Lynch would continue. Cue applause. What a trouper! I hope he wasn’t badly hurt. It was the highlight of a slightly turgid afternoon. Every show should try it. The chorus of Annie Get Your Gun should definitely give it a whirl, at least it would give them somewhere to dance.

Your spirit must have entered my theatre companion as he nearly nodded off in Act 1 and we were both checking our timepieces but since time is a theme it seemed oddly befitting. Our watches seemed the slowest clocks in the universe, Mr Ridley had mind-bogglingly put the brakes on time. But he also rather deftly left us with an intriguing cliff-hanger at the interval or we would definitely have walked. How cunning is that?

The second act was much better. Jaime Winstone (Ray’s daughter) as Foxtrot’s uninvited girlfriend Sherbert Gravel makes an impressive stage debut taking charge of the bizarre party, stacking around in Sam Cam heels and providing some much needed laughs even if her unmodulated, irritating voice made me long to hear fingernails dragged down a blackboard.

There’s also a huge stack of porn magazines produced in the play.  I would have covered your eyes as I know you’re of a sensitive disposition. I noted one was called “Big Butts”; I had several big buts about the play myself.

It all of course came to violent ending and some rather nasty descriptions of what went on in the furriers downstairs which you wouldn’t have liked either. Edward Dick‘s production is perfectly fine but he should definitely keep in Finbar Lynch’s acrobatic display. We’re unlikely to witness its like again.

Gotta go, off to write our Olivier acceptance speech.



The Fastest Clock in the Universe runs until Oct 17th.


One Response to “Review – The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Hampstead Theatre”

  1. Simone Says:

    Phil, in a way I felt like I was there with you too having been a recipient of your kindly text messages about who gave the cold to whom. LOL Hope you are much better now.

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