Review – The Little Dog Laughed, Garrick Theatre

Wednesday 20 January 2010

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.

10 Responses to “Review – The Little Dog Laughed, Garrick Theatre”

  1. Lucy Hazlehurst Says:

    Dear Phil and Andrew:
    I once went to see a new musical that was headed for Broadway (where it eventually went, and was awarded several Tony’s, including one for best costumes). As the evening was designated a preview, the director invited the audience to share feedback. The musical was about a mother and daughter spending a summer in Florence. The ladies were from North Carolina (which is where my family has lived for many generations). The play was set in the nineteen fifties (when I was not around or even yet imagined). The set and costumes and lighting were exquisite – it was like watching a rich Italian painting come to life. Only one thing. Neither mother nor daughter ever changed their shoes. Now growing up I had always played dress up in my mothers clothes (she was around in the fifties). Delicious little chiffony dresses with shoes to match. And not just any shoes… every dress had a matching pair of shoes designated just for that particular dress. I knew how fifties ladies “of a certain class” dressed. When the ladies in this play, who were “of a certain class” came on stage in a new beautiful frock, with the same old shoes from the previous scene, it pulled me right out of the story. I shared this observation with the director… who mumbled something about budgets and the cost of shoes (I think he was interested in more plot driven observations from the audience… but who’s to say?). Later, after it had premiered on Broadway and won a Tony for best costumes, a friend of mine went to see it in New York. Of course I asked him about the shoes. I was so relieved. There was a different pair of shoes for every dress.

  2. theatreguy Says:

    Half full or half empty, this still looks like 3 half glasses to me. And to make matters more confusing, you are the renoun WEWs, very partial to both a whinge and a glass or two or three, so do more glasses mean more or less to moan about? And does half-empty or half-full mean of passable vintage or almost plonk? A ratings index would be helpful. May I respectfully suggest that you fill those glasses, leaving just one half glass to be used when a half can represent that uncertainty between…well…half way towards or half way from the next glassful. As both mean wine connoisseurs as well as theatre glitterati, you should set the matter straight (even for a gay play) for the sake of your followers’ sanity.

    P.S on another matter – I hear Primark do nice packets of three if the producers can’t afford M&S.

  3. DeeDee Says:

    Keen to see the new Beane in early Feb. His “As Bees in Honey Drown” (which never made it to London but features one of the best written female comedy characters in eons) is a gem.

  4. PhilK Says:

    Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure that talking about the plot, the staging, and the acting has it’s place, but we need the important question answered: How Sexy is Harry Lloyd?

  5. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    It’s very meta, too. Pretty much every one of Diane’s phone calls involves telling someone how a three-act plot works, and lo and behold, Beane’s play then proceeds to follow all the rules she sets out for a successful, er, film. And it does it in two acts. Oh, you know what I mean.

  6. @ Lucy: That’s a lovely story, thank you.

    @ theatreguy: You’re just not concentrating hard enough.

    @ DeeDee: Hoorah! DeeDee’s here!

    @ PhilK: There’s a pic here: and you do get to see him in whatever the obverse of full frontal nudity is.

    @ Ian: Strangely enough we DO know what you mean.

  7. Jason Says:

    Have to disagree with your take on Diane’s opening. It was clearly *meant* to come off as working the audience like a seasoned stand-up comic, but to me it came across so…scripted. Every bit of banter will get said every night, even with an empty house.

    I did find “Moon River” endearing, though. The audience was so obviously unsure whether they were actually supposed to be engaging with Grieg or not, and the fact that so many managed to mumble something vaguely in tune meant she’d won them over.

  8. igb Says:

    Never mind all this hanging around with well-groomed men who have an interest in musical theatre. Tamsin could at least put in an appearance at Home Farm: I’m sure that when l’affaire Leon reaches its inevitable denouement she’d be just the person to help Helen…

  9. Fezzo Says:

    This has to be one of the worst shows to hit the west end. I gave up at the interval (1st time in my life and this was a trip for my 59th birthday)

    I am not sure who showed the greater boredom the actors or the audience who watched this Comedy in silence except for the occasional titter.

    It would appear from the reviews that it may get better in the 2nd half who says reviewers have an easy job if they have to stay in the hope that things will improve.

    The rating should be 5 large full glasses to be drunk before going, and to sum it up the play is literally a bummer (see details of show!!)

  10. Boz Says:

    Saw this last night. Was jolly enough. You are right though; Tamsin totally steals the show. And wears some amazing power-lesbian trousers. Aces.

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