Review – Detroit, National Theatre

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Suburbia. Two neighbouring gardens: one smart (so we’re told), one tatty and unkempt. Patio doors that won’t slide properly and garden furniture and half-laid decking that are going to cause someone an injury. Two barbecues that reflect the different financial and social status of two neigbouring couples. That’s when neighbours become good friends.

Sounds like Alan Ayckbourn territory, doesn’t it? Except we’re in Detroit. Except we’re not: we’re in “a ‘first-ring’ suburb of a mid-sized American city’.

If anything it’s closer to Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park (which incidentally beat Lisa D’Amour‘s shortlisted play to the Pulitzer Prize) than to Ayckbourn.

Ben (Stuart McQuarrie) and Mary (Justine Mitchell) have invited new neighbours Kenny (Will Adamsdale) and Sharon (Clare Dunne) round for a bit of grilling.

For some reason Ben would rather be English. Perhaps D’Amour does want to be Ayckbourn after all? Ben has lost his job and when he’s not fiddling around building a website to support his new business idea he lights the barbie.

Phil was having a field day. There was so much food on stage and apparent cooking going on it was hard to concentrate* on the play. How did the barbecue work? Raw steaks went in and the lid was closed; cooked steaks came out and were eaten. Phil thought he saw a lever pulled. Was it a specially designed stage device to effect this sleight of barbie? Very clever.

But there was even more than stage trickery to impress the casual Cottesloe visitor.

On top of that it also pulled off a couple of coups de theatre (make that three if you count the steaks, which we do). The first was that almost impossible stage trick of having an over-extended party (in this case with only four characters) which Austin Pendleton directs to make it actually look like a party. The final coup is a scenic trick (design Kevin Depinet) that it would be churlish to spoil.

D’Amour’s comedy is also very funny.

The neighbours probably wouldn’t become friends in normal circumstances nor ours. Mary would be OK (she likes a glass or two) but Sharon and Kenny turn up for the alfresco dining with a bottle of Dr Pepper (which wouldn’t see them invited back to any Whingers’ barbecues) but then they did meet in rehab so we’d have to say “No, no, no”.

If American-lives-going-wonky is an overdone theme there’s still enough to engage. With its barbies, rehab, redundancy, camping trips, copious drinking, conflagrations and neighbourliness Phil saw yet another parallel: a roughed up version of Desperate Housewives.

Rather fun.

*Footnote:  Detroit ran at 1 hour 50 minutes without an interval so there was no chance to call an usher and stop the woman in the third row who was texting throughout the play. It’s pretty dismal the National staff or someone seated near her didn’t seem to do anything about it. Phil felt inspired to take up Mark Shenton’s cudgels but couldn’t locate her after the show. His mistake was searching for someone who looked like Bianca Jagger.


7 Responses to “Review – Detroit, National Theatre”

  1. Jason Says:

    I find myself increasingly in favor of mobile signal blocking technology. But then people would just sit there playing Bejewelled instead.

  2. Ged Ladd Says:

    Daisy and I saw the preview on Saturday. We enjoyed this play very much and largely agree with the “trivial opions” expressed above.

    We also saw and enjoyed Clybourne Park and recognise the similarities. Actually we liked Detroit more. In the “show don’t tell” department, Detroit scores considerably higher. Despite the play’s light comedic veneer, we found ourselves discussing lots of issues afterwards. Hidden depths. Whereas Clybourne Park was perhaps more hidden shallows – it seemed deep but there wasn’t really much there beyond the comedy.

    We were in the third row, but didn’t see the evil texting lady. Anyway, Daisy was unlikely to have noticed as she was so busy throughout the play reading her e-mails…

    …I made that last bit up. If Daisy had seen said texting lady, that lady would have learned just what Daisy thinks of irritating audience habits! “Own front room syndrome”, she calls it, as in peoiple think they are still in their own front room so can do or say what they like! Start a campaign, whingers, start a campaign.

  3. ja Says:

    Have tickets for Detroit in June and looking forward to it. In the meantime agree about the evils of texting etc in theatres. Maybe backlit screens can be banned? Mind you, I would love to see power steering banned in all those stupid SUVs to curb yummy mummies from clogging the streets on the school run. Fat chance of that either.

  4. JC Says:

    I attended a Preview & I sitting up in the gods I was totally distracted by the moron in the centre of the 3rd row who constantly playing with her electrical device.I was also upset that no one sorted her out.
    Apart from that I rather enjoyed the play.

  5. Sarah Says:

    I found the play really disappointing and a bit ‘old hat’. all the themes have become a bit overworked and there did not really seem to be any development. It would have made more impact if there had been a bit of ‘normality’ first so that we could get some sense of contrast once the neighbours arrived. Never really made clear why he wanted to be english?? And the uncle arriving at the end seemed a bit sort of stuck on as a device for clearing a few things up. I didn’t realise who he was at first and thought he was someone brought in to view the damage, like a surveyor. so by the time I realised who he was I had missed some of the info he was there to impart! As already mentioned there were echoes of “Desperate Housewives” but less stylish and not very funny. There were only two people in the audience the night I went who laughed very loudly so I wondered if they had been ‘planted’. Would really like to know if anyone else found it disappointing.

    • Peter Phillips Says:

      You’re wrong. The audience at this week’s matinee shriekd with laughter. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the play as, I think, nearly all the audience did.

      • Sarah Says:

        I am glad that you and your wife and the audience enjoyed the play but that does not make you ‘right’ and me ‘wrong’, we just each had a different experience and it would have been interesting to hear why you enjoyed it so much.

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