Setting aside the cold cuts, the chocolate brazils and the tins of Quality Street the Whingers just had to get out of their houses for a bit of light relief in the form of some Shakespeare.
Shakespeare? Goodness wasn’t there another episode of Celebrity Come Dine With Me to keep them glued to their cathode ray tubes?
But festive television was beginning to pall. A sub-standard Doctor Who made Andrew pine for the return of David Tennant (controversial, we know), nothing greater than an occasional smile was to be had from the much trailed Come Fly With Me and the Whingers’ new BFF Miranda Hart seemed to be in danger of over-exposure.
Only the triumphant return of Upstairs Downstairs with the indomitable combination of Anne Reid, Jean Marsh, Dame Eileen Atkins and Adrian Scarborough prevented Andrew from advertising his television set on freecycle along with all the “gifts” he received from Phil.
It was surprisingly easy to persuade Phil to make the trip as the Roundhouse is a hop and a skip (alas, only figuratively these days) for him and he “did” Romeo and Juliet for his School Certificate. He hadn’t seen it on stage since he saw Clive Francis and Michele Dotrice (now triumphing in senior roles) as the star-crossed lovers with Doris Hare (Mum from On the Buses) giving her Nurse at the Theatre Royal Brighton a good few years ago.
Plus this was Rupert Goold‘s production and featured, we had been told, an unmissable Mercutio. So you can imagine how the festive cheer ebbed away from their faces when they spotted one of those white slips poking menacingly out of their programmes with the words:”Due to the indisposition of Jonjo O’Neill for this performance the role of Mercutio will be played by Joseph Arkley.”
What exactly does indisposition mean? The Oxford Dictionary sits on the fence rather: apparently it can mean “a mild illness” or simply “lack of enthusiasm or inclination; reluctance”. So what was happening here? A nasty case of the sniffles? Or was he just not really in the mood? The Whingers often lack enthusiasm or inclination, and have suffered a few other “indispositions” over the last few weeks but have battled on gamely to get to the theatre when called upon to do so. And Phil is quite prepared to share with everyone the full details of whatever unpleasant nastiness his orifices have been emitting (or not, as the case may be). What has Jonjo O’Neill got to be so coy about?*
So the Whingers took their creaky, unsecured (to the floor) seats which at least provided Phil with some amusement as the man next to Andrew who fidgeted constantly turned Andrew into one of those nodding dogs people used to put in the back of their car windows but are now used to advertise car insurance and hold up the action in pantomimes.
We shall get the moaning out of the way first: it turns out that acoustically the Roundhouse is rubbish. It’s too big and too high and there’s nothing for the sound to bounce off so as the actors turn to face other parts of the auditorium the sound disappears. The dialogue was coming and going like Lina Lamont’s attempts to master talking into the microphone in Singing in the Rain. All the cast suffered but Noma Dumezweni’s otherwise agreeably disagreeable Nurse was the worst offender. Don’t the RSC do voice classes any more? Of course, competing with the drums of the orchestra didn’t help.
But that’s it for the moaning. Sam Troughton (yes, he is the grandson of a Doctor Who) and Mariah Gale make for spunky leads and Gale thankfully looks much older than the 13-going-on-14 in the script (Has anyone staged it with a 13-going-on-14 year old Juliet recently?). Even so Troughton at 33 seems much older. The pair are rather cunningly shown to be youthful by wearing modern dress in contrast with the more traditional doublet and hose aesthetic worn by everyone else.
Mr Goold has reigned in his excesses to a degree, but the blasts of smoke shooting up the frocks in an early scene put Phil in mind of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic skirt-lifting-over-the-subway-grille in The Seven Year Itch and Andrew in mind of a fairground House of Fun. Flames burst up through the stage from time to time which put Phil in a constant state of mild panic lest a stage hand press the wrong button at the wrong time. Forbes Masson looks like a diminutive Bill Bailey and risked ending up a Fried Laurence. And in a nod to Victoria Wood’s Pie Crust Players sketch, a bicycle is ridden around the stage (sadly not a tandem: that would have been too gimmicky).
There are some wonderfully playful moments: an audience member is photographed at close quarters (these should be put up on a website, by the way) and the scene in which the battling families throw down their weapons is most amusing and put Phil in mind of one of the government’s knife amnesties. Other moments that stuck in the memory included a wigless Lady Capulet anxiously chain-smoking and – something not seen on the London stage for a while – the peeling of a satsuma which got Phil a bit anxious.
The fighting is terrific with fight supremo Terry King providing some convincing on-stage tussles.
It’s quite a good play too isn’t it? R & J sticks to the plot without Shakespeare’s usual sub-plots and meanderings, although Phil has never been fully convinced by the business about the letter which should have kept Romeo up to speed on the plot and subsequently saved him and Juliet. This production seemed on even shakier ground as it features cameras and head sets and so presumably the telephone had also been invented in this world that Mister Goold has created for us. And then things might not have ended quite to tragically.
* Which leads us to our possible campaign ideas for 2011. Now that the theatres are bowing to common sense and adopting allocated seating the Whingers need a new focus for their “do goodings”. One idea is to campaign for mandatory full disclosure of the medical details behind “indispositions”.
So Joan Collins has “a cold and flu” preventing her from appearing in panto? Has she provided a note from her GP? How many boxes of tissues is she getting through a day? Consistency of stools? Is she running a temperature? If so, of what?
The Whingers are happy to provide each theatre with its very own WEW-branded rectal thermometer if needs be.