Review – Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic

Monday 18 January 2010

The idea that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by no more than six people must send extra winter chills to the readers of these pages. Imagine being that close to the Whingers.

But for the Whingers it’s a concept that has gained appeal since they started blogging. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to meet a Whinger you can now swank to your friends that you’re only one person away from Mel Brooks, Pamela Anderson, Britt Ekland and Lionel Blair. Imagine how close that puts the Whingers to the movers and shakers of this planet – one away from Megan Mullally, Brian Blessed, Christopher Lee and Sammy Davis Junior (although he’s dead, sadly) and just twice removed from Debbie Reynolds, Topol and President Nixon. And obviously Three Degrees from Prince Charles.

Even for the Whingers it’s a sobering thought.

But with brains befuddled by Christmas excess (and in Phil’s case New Year celebrations) they hadn’t expected their opening salvo of the new decade to involve so much thinking. Goodness, if it isn’t enough to get their heads round the six degrees concept, John Guare‘s 1990 play Six Degrees of Separation has plenty of food for thought.

Now before we go any further we have to be honest and say that actually we saw this at last Monday’s preview (11 Jan) but when we became part of the glitterati we sort of assumed that we wouldn’t have to do our own writing any more. Andrew was considering a sideline in books about ponies although he doesn’t care for them.

Anyhow, it turned out not to be and so we’re back to churning out our own copy although frankly our hearts are not in it now that we the taste for champagne.

Oh well. 6DOS is based fairly closely on the true story of con man David Hampton who posed as actor Sidney Poitier’s son and managed to charm his way into the world of rich New York liberals. It’s as fascinating as it is unbelievable if you didn’t know that Hampton actually fooled the likes of Melanie Griffiths, Calvin Klein, Gary Sinise and Leonard Bernstein (who said he hated the play) amongst others.

The problem for Phil was, as he likes to grandly remark, that he saw the original New York production and wasn’t too keen on it then He still didn’t like the play much at the Old Vic preview but thought David Grindley‘s production was well acted and slick up to a point (more on that later).

But generally Phil felt the same feelings he had felt first time around as Paul (an excellent Obi Abili) insinuates his way into the lives of Flan (Anthony Head) and Ouisa Kittredge (Lesley Manville), turning up at their Central Park apartment (designer Jonathan Fensom channelling Rothko?) claiming he’s been mugged in the park and that he’s a friend of their children at Harvard,

Although puncturing and questioning the lives of the irritating rich New Yorkers, Phil finds the play itself irritating. Characters frequently address the audience and there’s almost as much name-dropping as in Lionel Blair’s Tap and Chat but more culturally eclectic: Chekov, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Fantasticks, Spike Lee, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Diana Ross, Greta Garbo, Liv Ullman, Agatha Christie, Henry Higgins, Matisse, Hockney, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Irving Stone, Michaelangelo, the Sistine Chapel, Warhol, Sothebys, the Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Chippendale, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, all of Sidney Poitier’s best films, the Mona Lisa, Hamlet‘s Laertes and a quote from The Merchant of Venice and plenty of mentions of Cezanne, Kandinsky, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, not to mention err, Starlight Express and Cats, the latter being an unlikely but integral part of the deception.

Head and Manville are both very good. Indeed Phil found them convincingly irritating. It’s all quite convincing although the Kittredge’s South African doctor friend has a rather dodgy accent that sounds more like Tony Curtis impersonating Cary Grant in Some Like it Hot.

But Phil’s general dislike of the play meant he couldn’t stop himself from nit-picking: as part of his deception Paul cooks the Kittredge’s a meal which is apparently superb, so why don’t they eat it?  And would these sophisticated people really serve the same rioja – Campo Viejo – that Phil shoplifts from Sainsbury’s?

Andrew was more sanguine about the evening: it trundled along well enough (90 minutes, no interval, leaving plenty of time to spend in the Old Vic’s pit bar) and there is full frontal male nudity which drew a sharp intake of breath from some of the Old Vic’s army of stalwarts. Andrew agreed with them that it did seem a bit early in the year to be looking at appendages. And there are gays in it (as indeed there are at the show we’re dropping into tonight) so it looks as though the Gay-o-Meter is going to be quite busy this year. It will have to be dragged out from behind the bread-maker and dusted down.

Andrew was surprised how dated the content of the play looked. It seems like only yesterday that it was on at the Comedy Theatre all fresh and exciting and starring Stockard Channing. But it must be longer ago that it seems because 6DOS is set before the end of apartheid in South Africa. But strangely even more unsettling is the fact that in the internet age Paul’s hoax would be exposed as one within the first five minutes thanks to wikipedia.

But generally the feeling was that we had been here before and rather recently. The highlight of the evening for the Whingers was a malfunction with the stage revolve which juddered Lesley Manville round in circles on her sofa making her breasts jiggle and emitting a sound like a washing machine (the revolve, not the breasts). They should keep it in.

Anyway, the opening tomorrow will be followed by a party but we haven’t been invited. How rapidly the restless spotlight of celebrity moves on.


By popular demand we open 2010 with a resolution to introduce our equivalent of the standard five-star rating system so that you can see how good or bad the show is without having to wade through the drivel.

12 Responses to “Review – Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic”

  1. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Never mind the play, FLAN & OUISA???? Sounds like something the dramatist Jeffrey Archer would offer instead of his infamous Shepherds Pie & Bollinger combo…

  2. I *love* the wine-o-meter. So festive. So louche. It’s a definite keeper.

    I’ve been thinking of a rating system myself. Since I’m a college professor, I guess letter grades would be a no-brainer, huh? I’ll have to give it come thought.

  3. Methinks Phil and Andrew will never give five full glasses as they’re both likely to have one apiece before writing a review.

  4. Crandal Says:

    I’m sorry you guys didn’t like the play to begin with because if you did then you would’ve been pretty pissed off at the production and its overall lack of style and how Director Grindley really didn’t rise to the challenges of the play. I had loved the original production in New York in 1990 and saw it a few times but this production lacked genuine wit and in terms of design , a lack of understanding of the life on the Upper East Side of New York. I mean why was their daughter dressed out of Flashdance – totally wrong! All in all a real dissapointment .

  5. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    It seemed to me that the teens in particular were dressed more or less in contemporary style, which makes no sense when this is explicitly a time at which the South African apartheid regime had not yet fallen. Yes, Crandal, I agree, and the more I think about it and riffle through my mental David Grindley dossier the more unsurprising it is that he should give it a fluid staging but not really go much deeper than the surface, which with a play like this is a serious deficiency.

  6. JohnnyFox Says:

    Saw a very spirited all-understudy performance for free yesterday afternoon which is a great opportunity to assess the play rather than Manville’s jiggling boobs or Anthony Head’s extended-Nescafe-advert-cum-excuse-for-a-career.

    Sir Andrew LCC is not alone in finding ‘Ouisa’ a weird name – isn’t there one in ‘Steel Magnolias’ also – and it’s unnecessarily distracting, as is the Rothko Red set beneath the rotating Kandinsky. Although I wished she’d been called ‘Philadelphia Chippendale’ instead because there definitely ought to be one of those in Magnolias, and probably Gone With the Wind too.

    It was a deathly slow start – soporific even for a 2.30 curtain – and nothing really picked up until the sofa spilled the knobbing black and white minstrels and, even in an audience composed mainly of out of work actors and their boyfriends, a sharp intake of breath fanned the entire stalls.

    As you say, post-Wikipedia’s potential to explode the main plot point, it feels irrelevant and the dialogue doesn’t compensate for the stale nature of the social comment.

  7. Honest Critic Says:

    Saw this play yesterday and I can honestly say that it was utter garbage of the first order. It gets a solid 0 out of 10 from me.

    It had no meaningful message, was unfunny and totally uninteresting on all levels, and at best could be described as a childish farce penned by a teenage student who is still getting to grips with how to convey a story through the vehicle of writing.

    The theatre was also very cold (had to keep my coat on) the bar and foyer didn’t have enouugh seating and the stage set and musical accompaniment can be described as pathetic, lazy and almost non-existant.

    The only positive was that Lesley Manville’s acting was flawless. Had it not been that I was trapped in the middle of a seating row I would have exited from this utter over rated rubbish after 20 minutes. Instead, I had to endure 90 minutes of torture.

    A total waste of 90 minutes of my life and a staggering £47 for such a lazily written and produced supposed work of theatre.

    If this is a justifiable award winning piece of theatre writing then there must be some kind of generic mental illness running through the minds of the theatre critics and judges that awarded it so.

  8. Honest Critic Says:

    Yeah, it was great ………… for the cast, crew, theatre and producers who are laughing all the way to the bank (Dick Turpin style).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: