It’s a brave man who calls his play 13.
The opportunities for easy gags (who us?) are almost irresistible.
Imagine if he ever writes a pla
y called Inch. We can only imagine the programme compilers having great fun debating the order of his writing credits.
So, inspired to defy superstition, the Whingers will present 13 reasons why you may (or may not) wish to fondle a rabbit’s foot in your pocket and visit the National Theatre.
1. Unlike his small perfectly formed Cock (90 mins) Bartlett has produced another Earthquakes in London style sprawling epic that runs for three hours. “Please check with front-of-house staff for accurate timing”. Never ones to defy authorithy we did. This was the first preview; estimates were of course all over the place.
2. The splitting, uppity-downity drum revolve of the Olivier stage is in full use again. Spiffing! The play opens with a massive black cube (see Time Out’s article which includes designer Tom Scutt discussing the logistics of its construction from specially drilled plywood) trundling forward which goes on to spin, split open, rise and drop throughout Act 1. Is it a Rubik’s Cube? Is it the Kaaba in Mecca? Are we being too literal? Or did we just spot the “mood board” photo in the programme?
The cube also features the most impressive single knocker (representing No 10 Downing Street) on stage we’ve ever seen, and we sat through Marguerite.
If only the National would be consistent with their mobile phone warnings. There wasn’t one. This impressively promising opening was ruined for Phil by the man next to him fiddling to turn his phone off.
3. Huge cast. Of course, it’s the National, keep up! Every character is experiencing the same nightmare (and it’s not about appearing in new writing at the Cottesloe). What does this mean? That everyone has the same dreams as in aims and aspirations? We are all linked through social networking? We possess powers we leave untapped? Let the experts to do the thinking; we’ll pass on this one.
4. One of these people is a Tory Prime Minister who is initially well-liked. Nobody we know then. She’s experiencing the same dream too, although she rarely sleeps. A female PM who doesn’t sleep much? Who could this be? But she’s popular? Confusing. She’s played by the wonderful Geraldine James; of course she’s popular.
5. John (Trystan Gravelle) is an inspirational soap box messiah who rallies huge support against the proposed war. There was something about his messianic rallying that reminded Phil of Peter Finch in Network.
6. We’re in London in yet another dystopian future; economic misery, protests led by social networks and a Prime Minister about to declare war. Is it a dystopian now? The overheard mot du jour at the interval seemed to be “prescience”. Was it because someone in the play involved in the “defence” talks is called Liam? Did these clever people spot the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks worn by some of the protesters in the play just like the civilly disobedient group Anonymous? Or is it because November 5th is almost upon us?
7. And yes, we did return after the interval.
8. Phil recently added people riding bicycles to his list of theatrical bêtes noires. This one features a Boris Bike. A first for us, so Phil is willing to let this one go. The people in the row behind guffawed and gasped “That’s brilliant!”. Either they don’t get out much or it was newly-exposed-as-Boris-Bike-fans Wills and Kate.
9. Banks take a particularly crowd-pleasing bashing with Nat West bearing the brunt. Andrew mused that perhaps the brand changes from night to night. Please keep us informed. A bank is, of course, name-checked on the bike’s livery. Phil always thinks of Kenneth Williams when he sees the Barclays name. Can’t think why.
10. The cast coped magnificently against some clanking and banging from that cube which occasionally sought to upstage them at this preview. Genevieve O’Reilly is convincing as the wife of an American representing the US side of the war negotiations. Her over-bright daughter (Grace Cooper Milton on the night we saw it – we think) plays precocious most impressively, managing to be irritating without being irritating in the wrong way. And it was good to see Helen Ryan (remember her as Queen Alexandra in Edward the Seventh?) getting some laughs as a supermarket trolley-enraged grandmother.
11. Director Thea Sharrock pulls the National’s now overdone (think Earthquakes in London, think Decade, think Greenland) Short Cuts-style strands together quite adroitly as the play progresses. A meeting between John, the PM and her (only) friend writer Stephen (Danny Webb) forms a large slice of Act 2 and the play calms down and becomes its most compelling as the debating is commendably even-handed.
12. So what’s it all about then? The word “belief” is repeated frequently which sort of tipped us off. Something to do with having beliefs religious or otherwise and acting on them? Listening to “The Greatest Love of All” would take less time, but is it damning with faint praise to say that would be be less entertaining?
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
13. The programme runs an article “Social Network Revolution” by Natalie Hanman, which references the Guardian’s analysis of over 2.5 million tweets relating to the summer riots in England, that social networks had “mainly been used to react to the riots, rather than incite them.”
They are clearly not being used to their full potential so scan the icon on the right with your smartphone to find out where the Whingers will next be causing trouble.
Please come and join us. We predict a riot.