In which Phil goes all Statto.
Commercially speaking, it doesn’t really matter what the critics or the audiences or anyone thinks about this show, let alone the Whingers.
The inspired pairing of David Tennant and Catherine Tate ensured Doctor Who About Nothing quickly became a big to-do about something, practically selling out before previews began; probably even before the cast had started running their fingers under their lines.
Caught up in the frenzy, Phil spent a couple of hours trying to buy tickets on a crashing website when booking opened, getting to the point of nabbing two excellent seats only to lose them. And again. And again…
So it all boiled down to the Whingers prostrating themselves at the mercy of the daily lottery: 20 best seats sold in a raffle for £10* on the day, drawn at 10.30 am at the Wyndham’s Theatre. But each winner gets only one ticket which is fine if you have no friends but Phil and Andrew each have one friend**. And that friendship would be sorely tested if one got to see DWAN and the other didn’t.
Phil declined Andrew’s offer to borrow his fingers and toes to help him count the queue and whipped out his abacus: 40 people, two Whingers. Fingering his beads with sweating, tremulous hands he calculated that each Whinger had a 50% chance. Statistically one of the Whingers should secure a ticket. Yet there was only a one-in-four chance that both would win.
And so it was that Lady Luck – rather dully, we thought – duly observed the laws of chance that day and bestowed the worst of all possible outcomes: one ticket between two Whingers.
So what to do? One Whinger depart at the interval and the other take over for the second half. But which way round? Queue for a return (unsuccessful applicants get first dibs) and hope to get another ticket somewhere not too far away? Or put on our signature pathetic lost puppy faces and be thankful to the man who wanted two tickets, only won one, fell for the ruse and generously offered the Whingers his seat for a tenner? The Whingers have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.
But could all the effort be worth it? This was Andrew’s first DWAN and he owned up to secretly swotting up on the plot. Phil confessed to doing the same, concluding, “Gosh, it’s horribly complicated isn’t it?”
In a nutshell, Beatrice (Tate) and Benedick (Tennant) can’t stand each other. Will they fall in love? Did Harry when he met Sally? Can’t imagine. Then there’s the convoluted sub-plots involving the good Don/bad Don (Adam James/Elliot Levey – both excellent) and young lovers Hero (Sarah MacRae, lovely) and Claudio (Tom Bateman, dashing). Let’s not even go there.
Director Josie O’ Rourke*** has possibly transported the action to Gibraltar (but there are few if any clues to that unless you buy a programme – not a bare Barbary Macaque bottom in sight) and updated it to the eighties (1980s, that is). Cue references to The Blues Brothers, Adam Ant, Thatcher, Princess Di and that Emanuel wedding dress and lots of business including a disco and hen party scene to help propel you through some of Shakespeare‘s more turgid moments. For some reason everyone smokes which is rather puzzling but it does lead to one fantastic gag involving a Rubiks cube and a cigarette.
The thing is, it really is riotously funny. Tennant and Tate are side-splittingly good. Miss O’Rourke shows a healthy disregard for the text and takes every opportunity to liven up some of the duller bits. Who can honestly say they were listening to a word of the dialogue when Tennant and Tate got a chance to perform their respective scene-stealing slapsticks in the background – he with paint, she swinging on a rope (with a nod to Mission Impossible)? The audience – Whingers included – were in paroxysms of delight at the antics.
Indeed, there could have been more. Dogberry (John Ramm of National Theatre of Brent) was terrific fun (our favourite bit: an inspired tiny moment of business with a chair) but frankly the famed Malopropisms were rather lost on the Whingers who find Shakespeare’s use of many words rather puzzling anyway. And clearly the Whingers’ pre-show research was at best perfunctory as we were completely lost as to whether or not Hero was dead and – if she wasn’t – who knew that and why they were pretending she was. And, of course, everyone thinking someone is dead doesn’t provide much of an opportunity for laughs. So, yes, the second act is a bit of a downer and it’s just as well the Whingers didn’t opt to see one half of the show each as the show ran at nearly 3 hours despite an advertised running time of 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval) and the first half was much longer (90 minutes) and much more entertaining than the second.
Tate successfully ploughs her TV personae playing around with her delivery to elicit laughs – even channelling Frankie Howerd at one point (“Oooh… Get you to heaven”) to appreciative titters from the Whingers. Tennant from his first hilarious (but-unfair-to-spoil) first entrance (and exit) as the gangly, saucer-eyed Benedict shares terrific chemistry with the stroppy and sarcastic Tate.
MacRae and Bateman deliver good turns too, the latter making a remarkable professional debut. But what a first gig to get. Poor chap. Imagine playing to standing room only and standing ovations in the West End for your first pay cheque. He must be thinking that acting’s a right lark.
There is impressive wardrobe care on display too. the men’s impeccably creased white trews suggest a Corby trouser press in meltdown somewhere backstage though the Whingers were also reminded that it’s impossible to pull off wearing linen anything, let alone linen shorts.
The music by the lovely Michael Bruce (who the Whingers fell into conversation with after the show as he happened to be drinking at the next table) is very convincing 80s pastiche which is quite impressive considering Bruce was only seven years old when the 80s ended. For his reinvention of the usually dreary Hey Nonny Nonnys into a Wham song the Whingers are eternally grateful.
* Still in Statto mood Phil decided that (given the demand for tickets) it’s rather generous of them to do the lottery at all. Including taxes etc he worked out that if they sold the seats at full price it could take about an extra £6,000 a week during previews and £7,140 a week after Press Night. Assuming the show can’t extend its run and as it seems to be doing only 7 shows a week that’s still over £110,000 by the time it closes. So we’re not carping, it just seems a curious way of doing it.
** Don’t get Andrew started on the Donmar’s “friend” scheme’s telephone booking system which occupied 90 minutes of Andrew’s time and cost 49x3sec calls@13p=£6.30. 1x40min call £2.93. Total: £9.25 (even on Skype!). Bad seats. “Friendship” indeed.
*** Yes we know. But Phil, until corrected by Andrew, really believed it was O’Rourke. And it has stuck. As sure as the Whingers always raise their glasses to “tinkerty tonk” we now can’t say the Donmar-Grande-Dame-in-waiting’s name without adding the extra O’ and we rather like it. We think it has a distinct ring to it.