“The theatrical event of the year” is a phrase that’s rather bandied about willy-nilly these days.
Benedict Nightingale’s quote still lurks mockingly on the publicity for Paint Never Dries. Punters might be forgiven for thinking that it signalled a volte-face in Nightingale’s opinion after his less than flattering 2 star review. It didn’t. The quote actually originates from something he wrote long before he saw it.
But the Whingers can truthfully say that for them La Bête really does fall into the category of one of their most eagerly anticipated theatrical excursions of the year, despite it being written in verse.
Have their heads been turned by dipping their poetic toes into the Clerihewcular cosmos?
But to more important matters. This year the Whingers have been ticking off Frasier alumni* like there’s no tomorrow – Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth and Anthony LaPaglia all fell in New York and just the night before the Whingers had drawn a satisfying HB pencil line through Mercedes Ruehl’s name in their I-SPY THE CAST OF FRASIER book during Prisoner of Second Rate at the Vaudeville (Ruehl played KACL station manager Kate Costas in five episodes, in case you are wondering).
But David Hyde Pierce (Frasier‘s brother Niles but don’t mention that when you’re interviewing him) has been stubbornly evasive. An attempt to see him in Kander & Ebb’s Curtains a couple of years ago was thwarted when the Broadway stage hands went on strike the very day the Whingers arrived in New York.
So, yes, anyway, Hyde Pierce was tantalising enough, never mind the casting of National Treasure (and Andrew’s Neighbour, as he likes to tell anyone who’ll listen) Dame Joanna Lumley PLUS everyone’s theatrical homme du jour Mark Rylance, fresh from his success in Jerusalem.
AND it’s all marshalled by that directorial charmer Matthew Warchus** whose “I Directed Boeing Boeing” card gets him out of jail free every time he does something like Lord Of The Rings – The Musical! or the inexplicably successful God Of Carnage which was still cluttering up The Broadway last time we were there.
AND it’s produced by Sonia Friedman which means we are unlikely to get ejected from the aftershow party should we get rumbled by security.
Anyway, enough provenance. Let’s talk about La Bête.
Elomire (Hyde Pierce) is a dramatist to the court of a Princess (Lumley) who has tired of his high-brow offerings, her artistic head turned by the egotistical and low-brow street clown Valere (Rylance). A literary stand-off ensues and the Whingers had a ball. That’s all that needs saying.
We were very, very amused indeed. It kicks off with the maid Dorine (Greta Lee, very good) peering through a scrim of words on a fetching festive tableau which is suddenly replaced by three walls of towering bookcases (Mark Thompson, designer) in which the po-faced Elomire and his hunchback actor friend Bejart (Stephen Ouimette, also very good; from now on please take “also very good” as read) discuss the threat to their troupe of the vulgar Valere.
Cue Rylance whose first appearance as the dribbling, spitting***, melon eating, flatulent, swaggering, self-regarding, verbose, easily side-tracked Valare sweeps him effortlessly through the famous 20 minute monologue, carrying the audience along with him as he goes. When Rylance is on fire like this his abduction of the show is assured from the outset.
David Hyde Pierce holds his own against this force of nature (like his – shhh – TV brother Kelsey Grammer does with Douglas Hodge in La Cage Aux Folles) in a role which is – by necessity – written altogether less showily. But even during Rylance’s tour de force monologue, Hyde Pierce keeps acting and reacting without every detracting.
As the plot develops, the stakes are raised as Elomire decides that he would rather resign than be forced to work with Valere, even if that means losing his loyal troupe of actors. Who will triumph? The intellectual or the crass showman?
You’ll have to go and see it.
All you need to know is that David Hirson‘s verse play – bursting with language – is very, very funny indeed and the evening (1h45 with no interval if you please!) flies by. The Whingers would go and see it again in a flash.
And lastly – at the risk of being disloyal – a word for the wigs. They’re very good (Mark Rylance’s roots are genius). They are so good in fact the Whingers scoured their programmes looking for Richard Mawbey’s name. Rather shockingly they’re actually by someone called Campbell Young. Turns out he did Lord of the Rings – The Musical.
* Won’t someone please bring Harriet Harris over again? We tried to see her in Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway but had to content ourselves with her understudy. Here she is as Frasier’s agent Bebe (also featuring Kristin Chenoweth!).
** Once we can pronounce his name with confidence we shall grace Mr Warchus with a clerihew. Not before.
*** Phil was reminded of Les Patterson. Where did Rylance get those teeth? Has he reached such dizzying heights that he can make his own teeth look false? Or are they? Dental acting – that’s a first for us.
And yes, we’ve seen John Mahoney (Frasier’s dad) on stage. And Phil even saw him with Harriet Harris. And we once saw Edward Hibbert (Gil Chesterton) taking tea with Siân Phillips and Eileen Atkins outside the National Theatre. True story.
The teeth are false!
Stop the presses again!
Look who we ran into!