The Whingers have been thinking of their retirement.
Not in the sense of contemplating sitting around watching Countdown (they’re already partial to that) or airing their plus fours on the golf courses of this land, nor even considering their first Saga cruise. No, they’re not at that stage quite yet, though obviously (assuming the ongoing ratings fracas doesn’t escalate) Phil is closer to that end of life than Andrew. And of course their future well-being is about as reliable as an Iraq Inquiry with hardly a pension-pot to piss in. No, they mean retiring from whinging as they’ve witnessed a widow of opportunity which could complete their own critics’ circle.
The Whingers were famously founded as a response to Fool For Love (goodness, we were brief and to the point in those days) but having seen Henry Hitching’s one star review in the Evening Standard on Friday which called the latest production of it “marrowless”,”(Sadie) Frost’s is a flat, one-note performance”, “leaden production”, “the absence of passion and true human interest.” Phil was straight on to Andrew, “We should go and see it and retire”.
Curiously and with Really Old, Like Forty Five tackling the subject of old age it’s strangely perverse of the National Theatre to offer free tickets for 15-25 yr olds. Surely this should be free tickets for the over 45s?
Coincidentally Phil’s own age concerns prompted a visit to the National Theatre on Monday evening. Determined not to be the oldest person in the auditorium for once he insisted that the Whingers attend the NT Platform featuring centenarian Luise Rainer (pronounced Reiner, we learned), the German-born film actress who was the first person ever to win two Oscars. Ms Rainer celebrated her 100th birthday at the Arts Club in Soho last month and apparently Sir Ian McKellen was there. For some reason the Whingers weren’t invited to this particular party, presumably Ms Rainer being worried that Phil might steal the limelight as people marvelled at his longevity.
Anyway, the highlight was when interviewer Christopher Frayling asked her why she never played Grusha Vashnadze in Caucasian Chalk Circle, a role that Brecht had written for her. “Well,” she said. “I got to know him and I didn’t like him.” You really can’t say fairer than that.
The Whingers’ little group marvelled at the centenarian’s stylish attire, enjoyed the lengthy clips from her films and thought the scenes from her Oscar-winning role in The Good Earth rather gripping. Rainer was also remarkably animated waving her arms around (almost as much as Andrew who was bouncing up and down desperate to ask a question) to the point that Frayling moved her cup of tea out of the way at one point. Andrew squeezed his question in at the end but didn’t quite elicit the open-mouthed reaction to an earlier question, “Can you tell us about your wedding night in Mexico with Clifford Odets?”*
Which brings us at last to the play in question, what has left us rambling on at such length? Old age? Reluctance to discuss an important subject so dear to our deteriorating hearts? Another ratings spat?
Tamsin Oglesby‘s play imagines a not too distant, proto-dystopian future in which governments have given old people like Luise Rainer useful tasks such as bringing up orphans and big business has come up with the idea of giving old, and confused people free care in exchange for performing medical experiments on them in a big hospital called the Ark.
How does it end? We have no idea. If going to the Ark meant not having to sit through this play the Whingers would have been crying out, “Where do we sign?” If they hadn’t been trapped in their row they would certainly have been out of there within 20 minutes. Oglesby’s play is leaden, her attempts at satire misguided. It is a play entirely lacking in any intellectual rigour, emotionally ineffective and curiously devoid of ideas given the richness of the subject matter.
For a sense of the problem you need look no further than this interview with Oglesby and Baroness Warnock from yesterday’s Today programme on Radio 4. Asked if old people are a burden, the baroness responds pragmatically, “Yes, undoubtedly a burden. they’re expensive and they have to be looked after”. Oglesby later splutters back: I “I think it’s very interesting that you’re so adamant about that” but explains no more than that words are important and may have “unintended consequences”.
Anna Mackmin‘s direction takes the description of ROL45 as “a comedy” at face value which turns out to be a huge mistake. Certainly no-one in the audience was fooled by the supposedly mad-cap antics of the big business people.
Oh yes, we know what you’re going to say: “It’s your own fault for going to the Cottesloe. You swore never to again.” True, but the Whingers had been tempted to temporarily suspend their sanctions against the Cottesloe for the sake of the subject matter, the amusing title, the promise of “comedy”, a poster featuring a cockatoo and a tantalising cast including Amelia Bullmore (remember Steph Barnes from Coronation Street? And Sonja, Alan Partridge’s Ukrainian girlfriend?), Judy Parfitt , Marcia Warren, Gawn Grainger and Paul Ritter.
The Whingers were brought up far too well to name names but frankly there was some astonishingly bad acting going on on the stage. Let’s be kind and say they were simply failing to dredge any depth out of the material. The Whingers were convinced by none of it. Only Marcia Warren really seemed to have found a way through it.
But you have to feel for the cast. Bullmore is called upon to deliver a speech about her mother’s condition in which she outlines Parfitt’s brilliance to her stage siblings _ things such as writing articles for New Scientist and appearing on University Challenge as if they didn’t know this already. Presumably Alzheimer’s is worse if the sufferer is intelligent and less of a tragedy for the stupid.
There is a robot nurse, Mimi, created by the boffins designed to respond to a patient’s emotions: if you’re gentle it will behave gently but will respond to aggression aggressively. Which must be a lot of help with disturbed dementia patients when they get belligerent. Perhaps this gets cleared up in Act 2. Who knows?
There was early promise: on-stage knitting (Warren again) and what will surely be come to seen in retrospect as a foolish notion of setting the first scene in a National Theatre bar during an intermission and featuring a discussion about whether or not to bother going in for the second half. Where on earth did Oglesby come up with such an idea? Phil scanned his programme in vain but found the Whingers uncredited.
There was no need for a discussion about leaving for the Whingers. “Will you watch my bag?” asked Phil as he answered the call of his pea-bladder and headed for the toilets. “I’d rather watch that bag for an hour than that play.” replied Andrew. Apparently it’s only two hours and 10 minutes long but the first act alone seemed longer.
And once again, we are forced to ask: “Is anyone at the National Theatre reading this stuff before it gets put on?” Perhaps it’s one of those situations where everyone thinks everyone else is doing it but nobody is.
If you want to see the subject handled more competently go and rent a copy of Logan’s Run.
* To which the answer boiled down to “He stayed up writing and I met some dwarfs in the hotel lobby.”
Still, it’s an ill wind and all that. We were beginning to worry that every rating would end up being a three and involve an almighty scrap. But the Whingers were in harmony on this occasion.