And be-jetlagged on B-Broadway, the be-whinging began.
Be-Jesus, going to the theatre on The Broadway is a strange experience. It’s really not very friendly at all.
Waiting innocently for Phil to emerge from the Schoenfeld Theatre rest-room Andrew was twice told to move along by an extremely officious usher. “I’m just waiting for my friend to attend to his bladder again,” he explained only for the woman to repeat her instruction – but with the dial turned up from “frosty” to “mildly aggressive”.
The usher at the top of the aisle seemed quite friendly until he looked at our tickets and saw that we weren’t within his realm. Turning away quite regally he uttered, “The usher at the front will seat you” in a tone so weary with disdain that the Whingers were quite awestruck by his ability to dismiss them so utterly in eight innocent words.
And so it went on.
We had forgotten how different the theatregoing experience is in New York. There is no milling about in foyers to be-done because there are no programmes or sweets to be sold and so the front of house is purely focussed on getting the audience in and to their seats. This means a single file queue through a single entry door like cattle to a slaughterhouse. By contrast it is not unusual after the curtain for the entire side of the auditorium to magically spring open to dump the audience directly onto the sidewalk like so much offal.
So it is fair to say that between this culture-shock and the jet-lag we might find it rather difficult to say what we thought about Martin McDonagh‘s A Behanding in Spokane, starring Christopher Walken as the menacing one-handed stranger in a Spokane hotel room in search of the appendage he lost 46 years ago.
The curtain rises (or, to be pedantic is drawn back) to reveal the black-coated, high-waist betrousered, straggle-haired Walken sitting on his hotel room bood. This elicited a round of applause from the audience taking Phil back to his days at the Theatre Royal Brighton when huge touring stars such as Googie Withers and John McCallum would be similarly greeted.
But to the average modern-day, cosmopolitan, cynical, go-on-impress-me theatregoer it was a bit puzzling. Were the audience clapping because he had turned up? Because he’s alive? Or did they just like the set (Scott Pask‘s, which was rather good).
It’s quite funny, but not as funny when you’re jet-lagged as when you’re not and the Whingers were struggling to focus even though it’s a breezy 90 minutes but with a strange before-the-curtain monologue from hotel receptionist Sam Rockwell half way through which resembled the sort of thing they do in panto to disguise a big scene change except that here there was no scene change. Even the characters were in the same positions when the curtain opened again. But then this is New York and it’s 2010 and there has to be an addressing the audience moment, doesn’t there? When the Whingers get their play transferred to the Big Apple they’ll add one as the punters love it here. And we will personally interview the ushers to find the most officious ones for the full Broadway experience.
There seemed to be an odd mix of acting styles goin on. Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of Elia Kazan) was screechy and Anthony Mackie was a bit sit-commy. Walken was underplaying to the point of mumbling, but has a suitably weird lanky stage presence, throwing in fleeting smirks here and there which seemed more collusion with the audience than character.
But there has to be an d**k-head in a an audience here and the Whingers were lucky enough to have one sitting directly behind them. Before curtain this one was explaining to his companion who Bebe Neuwirth is: “She was in Cheers and Kramer” before going on to give the inside gen on Walken: “You don’t say Christopher Walken, you say Chris. Like you don’t call Robert De Niro Robert, he’s Bobby”. But happily he wasn’t going to shut up just because the play had started. Oh no. He passed comment on everything that happened and was going to happen throughout the play. “There’s going to be some scary s**t in here”, “Yeah, give it to him in the cupboard”, “Yeah that’s Chris Walken”, “Yeah, Chris Walken as gangster”. Phil gave him several of his “looks” which normally works in London but even fashioning it to the New York theatre ushers’ scariest expressions was in vain.
Of course being New York much of the audience ovated, so we’ll be keeping a rough tally on what percentage rose to their feet.