Review – They Came To A City, Southwark Playhouse

Thursday 5 May 2011

Well, say what you like about the play or Robert Laycock‘s production but anything that prompts the Whingers into waffling on about politics in the Southwark Playhouse bar is surely worthy of remark.

J. B. Priestley‘s 1943 parable They Came to a City dates from the Halcyon days (WWII notwithstanding) when playwrights wrote about Utopian futures rather than the Dystopian ones which are all today’s writers are capable of imagining.

Nine people from across the class spectrum find themselves transplanted to a strange place where they are granted the privilege of a glimpse into the life of a city where the people are “healthy, busy and happy” and where the notion of making money for its own sake is dismissed as idiotic or criminal.

Should they stay in this remarkable place or should they leave? A decision to remain appears to be forever as at sunset the giant doors will close without an announcement. Where’s Carole Middleton when you need her?

Despite its crudely drawn class caricatures and the Amicus portmanteau film opening it’s peculiarly un-English, almost European in fact. – a bit Huis Clos (with some rather strange Noggin The Nog music thrown in for good measure) although it actually pre-dates Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialist jottings by a year. And whereas the French protagonists are in hell, Priestley’s English people are presented with the possibility of a socialist heaven on earth.

During their post-show discussion Phil decided Priestley’s tract was unsettlingly un-Whingerish, about approaching things with an open mind and the possibilities of change. This led quite naturally to a debate on the merits and de-merits of today’s Alternative Vote referendum in which it transpired that one Whinger would leave his customary signature (a cross) in favour of change and the other, more appropriately Whingerish, against. In case that in any way helps you to make up your mind.

The earnest political debating was astutely concluded with an agreement that since the Whingers’ votes cancel each other out, they might as well both have an extra 15 minutes under the eiderdown (not the same one you understand) rather than exercising their democratic rights.

Phew. Well, moving on from politics it’s worth noting that among some decent performances, the Whingers have a new fave in the form of Jean Perkins who is rather splendid as the working class Mrs Batley from Walthamstow.

A most interesting curiosity whose reception could be immeasurably enhanced by moving the audience eight yards further forward in time for opening night.

Meanwhile, one of the Whingers is contemplating moving to Prince Charles’ town of Poundbury.


7 Responses to “Review – They Came To A City, Southwark Playhouse”

  1. Julia Eccles Says:

    Interesting,going next week, will feedback, now which one of you two gorgeous boys is thinking of living in Poundbury, only amdram to review there!

  2. Richard Lee Says:

    Good to see unearthed rarities. but the Vault a Southwark Playhouse has such a terrible echo, it really suggests that such text-y plays have a better chance in a space with more conducve acoustics. It’s alright for you young whingers with 20-20 hearing but that space is far bettersuited to physical/visual-heavy theatre: we hard-of-hearers just get aural mush in there…

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    I really have a problem with your three cup reviews because you keep giving them to shows you seem actually rather negative about. Shouldn’t three cups be for something that’s worth the effort (and hopefully the cost) to see? If you’re “meh” about it (ie for In A Forest) than give it a 2, which in my mind is saying “slightly better than telly but not much – don’t go out of your way to see it.”

  4. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    We’re not saying it’s not worth seeing..2 does and 1 says it’s rubbish. Well that’s our way of thinking anyhoo…

    Perhaps we need invent a new ratings system and put it to the nation.

  5. sandown Says:

    Ah yes, Jolly Jack Priestley.

    Bursting with socialist beans during the 1940’s and 50’s… boosting the post-war Attlee government…enthusing warmly over the Soviet Union…scurrying to establish the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament… all good progressive stuff, eh Jack?

    And then see him in the 1970’s, holed up in a white-painted mansion outside Stratford, grumbling about crime and taxes and inflation and the trade-unions and the country’s general degradation.

    But that was the City you wanted, wasn’t it, Jack?

  6. max Says:

    J B Priestley: good story teller (in his early days), good playwright (in his middle years), boring old Socialist apologist (always).

  7. […] (This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011. It continues through May 28th. Running time is about 2 hours but it feels much longer. For another take on this show, please see The West End Whingers.) […]

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