Review – Double Feature 1, National Theatre

Thursday 21 July 2011

Well you could knock us down with feathers: dystopian futures, new writing, pop-up venues, theatre in the three-quarters-of-the-way-round, gritty realism and we came out grinning like cats that have had the cream – one of those all too rare “So THIS is why we go to the theatre!” moments.

Due to the wisely extended run of London Road the National Theatre has converted its set painting area (the Paintframe) into yet another “space” into which they have programmed two “double features” of which this is the first. Don’t be surprised if next season’s shows feature a lot of unpainted sets.

Anyway, it is called, somewhat reductively and unappetisingly, Double Feature 1 which may account for the poor turn-out.

The first play is Edgar & Annabel by Sam Holcroft (Cockroach). Go in ignorance. Read nothing about it and be delighted. If – like the Whingers – you occasionally wonder whether dialogue is the only tool in the lazy writer’s toolbox then you are in for a treat : as enthalling as anything we’ve ever seen in the theatre and a spectacular bit of “What If?”. It’s as though Black Comedy and Noises Off wrestled 1984 to the floor and won. Plus, without giving too much away, it’s rather chillingly topical. All of that plus onstage food, a new-found use for Pringles crisps containers (and all our empty wine bottles), a kitchen gadget that Andrew didn’t even recognise (let alone own) and Singstar too. Why can’t all dystopian futures be like this? All hail director Lyndsey Turner too and the top notch cast.

And talking of top notch casts, The Swan by DC Moore is – like his rather delightful Honest – set in a pub; truly he is the Whingers’ writer.  The Swan in South London is awaiting the arrival of the mourners for a funeral tea:  sausage rolls and bowls of coleslaw covered with cling film vie for table space with assortment of empties. The floor is littered with empty peanut packets. So far, so like Phil’s flat.

And so you are sitting almost in this pub. And then the acting begins and it’s not really like they are acting. And there is a story. And it unfolds pleasingly. And there are characters. And it’s occasionally very funny and also very human. Time to hail Polly Findlay’s direction too.

And how fortuitous that salt is now considered good for you as the dialogue is often saltier than Ellen MacArthur’s unmentionables.

If we had to carp it would simply be that it’s a long evening made longer by an 8.15 start time, presumably to stagger it with the start and interval at the Cottesloe. Either play would have been satisfying enough on its own. And although they have gone to a lot of trouble to wrap it up with an “event” kind of feel (pop-up bar, live band playing easy listening sounds while you drink) it doesn’t quite tie together what are two completely unrelated theatrical experiences.

Note that you do have to run (literally in Phil’s case)  next door to the Cottesloe for a pee in the interval.

So what with the urination and London Road it seems the NT has finally found TWO good uses for the Cottesloe. Who’d have thought?

The programme is just £1 and covers Double Feature 1 and its inevitable sequel Double Feature 2 which now has an almost impossible task of living up to it predecessor. That’s only 25p a play – a bargain, we say. The staff are extremely friendly and the ticket-tearer does an impressive spiel for each patron explaining we have to leave the auditorium at the interval for a complete reconfiguring of auditorium. And it’s impressive, all the seating is shifted round – excellent design by Soutra “Chocolate Noisette Pate” Gilmour.


Photo gallery

Andrew was inspired by the pop-up to whip out his Instamatic for some reason. Don’t worry: no sets or spoilers.

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3 Responses to “Review – Double Feature 1, National Theatre”

  1. mijosh Says:

    Not totally unrelated. Surely you’re old enough to remember Swan & Edgar’s?

  2. betsy Says:

    Avoid Paintframe Two. First play is a messy rant, decently performed and staged. Second appears to be written by a ten year old who has overdosed on Sarah Kane. No redeeming features.

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