What a queer year it’s already turning out to be. This is only the third theatrical sortie for the Whingers and it’s the third in which gay matters form a significant part of the plot. Homosexuality is going to be to 2010 what on-stage-vomiting was to 2008 and on-stage-limping was to 2009. With nudity running a close second.
It seems there’s no danger of the Whingers’ patented Gay-O-Meter rusting in one of Andrew’s neglected crannies. He’ll be swishing his Mr Muscle with gay abandon and rubbing like there’s no tomorrow to keep it in sparkling condition, which is a little gay in itself. Phil has entreated Andrew to get extra batteries to ensure uninterrupted running. Three out of the four characters in Douglas Carter Beane‘s Broadway comedy The Little Dog Laughed at the Garrick Theatre are gay, pinging the Gay-o-Meter needle to an impressive 75% on the dial. It was twitching as soon as the tickets tumbled through the letter box.
Closeted Hollywood film actor Mitchell Green (Rupert Friend, Keira Knightley’s boyfriend but don’t mention that if you interview him) has fallen for his rent boy lover Alex (Harry Lloyd the great-great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens according to Wikipedia) who turns more tricks than a gay prestidigitator (“Busy, I like it! The prostitute work ethic,” as someone drily observes). Alex is apparently bisexual as people on stage frequently are (straights and gays are so inflexible when it comes to plotting with small casts) . He even has a girlfriend, Ellen (Gemma Arterton, agent Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace).
But Mitchell’s tough dyke agent Diane (Tamsin Greig) isn’t having any of it. Coming out in Hollywood is career suicide and Mitchell is on the brink of becoming a very, very big name; she doesn’t want him to be one of those film stars who takes his mother to awards ceremonies (who can she possibly mean?).
Now this is a very New York play and like Six Degrees of Separation it kicks off with a character, Diane in this case, addressing the audience. Phil’s heart sank. But Greig is very impressive, very knowing, suitably brittle and works the audience like a seasoned stand-up even getting the audience to sing “Moon River” with her and ad-libbing to laughs in the audience. Things began to look very much more promising.
Jamie Lloyd’s production proves to be mostly engaging and occasionally very witty, things crack along in a series of brief scenes on a simple set (very nice door furniture) at a good pace, just the thing for the Whingers’ outing on what is officially the most depressing day of the year.
Yes it’s all quite gay, but this is hardly unexpected from the writer who wrote the book for the extremely camp but hilarious Broadway stage version of Xanadu and the screenplay for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (for Andrew’s money, controversially, a much better film than the very similar The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert).
Act 1 sags a bit in places as Carter Beane perhaps overplays the set-up in which Mitchell falls for Alex. The Whingers weren’t giving out much in the way of sympathy to Mr Friend and his anxieties – your character (Green) is a rich and successful film star, both of you (Green and Friend) are beautiful, athletic, honey-skinned demi-gods and your (Friend’s) girlfriend is Keira Knightley which – if you like that sort of thing – must be all right.
For those interested in things on the other side of the salad bar there’s quite a lot of male flesh on view, two buttocks and a scene almost involving man on man fellatio. At this point one of the Whinger’s party who had not had time to finish her pub meal at the Garrick Arms and had smuggled her remaining sausages into the auditorium, reacted to some deep Pavlovian stimulus and finished off her meaty treat.
But you’d think since they’re gay these people would change their underpants once in a while. Set over a period of days and with more trouser dropping than a Brian Rix farce Phil was alarmed to see they hadn’t changed their smalls. Alex doesn’t get a new pair till the second act and Mitchell stays in the same Armani skivvies throughout. But then he’s an actor and they don’t share Phil’s Howard Hughes tendencies do they? This of course went unnoticed by Andrew who is still wondering if he can squeeze another week out of his unmentionables. Andrew wondered if film stars just have hundreds of identical pairs of underpants. Or perhaps they wear them once then throw them away. One hears of such things. Anyway, in the interests of verisimilitude the Whingers suggest some pants-changing now and then.
Anyway, the second act bounces along quite happily and there’s a satisfying winding up. Greig steals the show and if she’s sometimes just the irritating side of strident all is forgiven for her ability to drip sarcasm and disdain over everything around her. Thankfully she gets all the best lines: On LA: “We stopped doing theatre altogether. Choices were made”. On Mitchell’s idea of being a successful out gay actor: “”Are you British? Do you have a knighthood?”. There’s also some amusing ringtone business.
Director Jamie Lloyd keeps the pace up. He was the theatre director to watch in 2009 according to the Telegraph so it’s a shame we’re now in 2010 and it’s therefore too late to bother. Soutra Gilmour‘s whitewash design includes replicas of the proscenium pillars which held Andrew’s attention during the slower bits.
But on the whole this was fun. It would be funner if it were all comedy and Carter Beane seems sometimes unable to distinguish between the funny and the unfunny (for the record AIDS and Laramie generally fall into the latter category). Still, a diverting enough evening.
So, now that we have made this rod for our own backs we are obliged to use it and to do so without complaint.
If three glasses seems a little mean, please note the glass is half-full rather than half-empty (as was the case for Six Degrees of Separation). Andrew was moved to upgrade it to a 4 just because Beane had penned Xanadu but Phil wasn’t having it.