Review – It’s All True, White Bear Theatre

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Yes, it’s been a while.

We’ve been busy. Wallowing in everthing from the perky and quirky opening ceremony to the bit iffy closing ceremony and an awful lot of greedy medalling inbetween.

So after all that real drama (not to mention a pesky burglary) there was little rush to return to theatre. But then Andrew drew Phil’s attention to Jason Sherman‘s It’s All True which is also real drama in as much as it is  based on real events.

Strangely this was Phil’s first visit to the White Bear Theatre in the badlands of Kennington so he was understandably a little taken aback to find himself in a pub surrounded not by shiftless middle class arty types but by people in t-shirts watching football on multiple telly screens.

The White Bear is a strange place. Certainly the Whingers can not think of any other pub in London where the wine comes in individual mini-bottles of the kind you get on aeroplanes. We can only imagine that demand for vino is so low that they got fed up of having to throw away the rest of the full sized bottles on the rare occasion that some outsider asked for a glass.

Anyhoo, it was in this unusal setting that the Whingers discovered they shared a few things in common with Orson Welles and not just a love of sweet sherry.

It’s All True tells the tale of Welles (Edward Elgood) who at the disconcertingly ridiculous age of 22 directed Marc Blitzstein‘s (Ian Mairs) The Cradle Will Rock, a Brechtian, union-friendly Broadway musical, before it was shut down by government and union restrictions days before opening, leaving the company locked out of their theatre.

Observing  the Mickey and Judy “let’s do the show right here” attitude a new theatre had to be found – as long as it had a proscenium arch and they could still use the wigs Welles would be satisfied. How wonderfully Whingerish.

So at the eleventh hour the show and audience trooped 20-odd blocks up to the new theatre. How thrilling. And who knew the precocious Welles invented Pop-Up Theatre too? The Whingers can’t wait to turn up at a playhouse and find they have a walking tour of the West End before settling down for an evening’s entertainment.

Union restrictions forced the cast to perform their parts from the audience. Lord knows what the view was like from the upper levels of the theatre. But it was one of those memorable moments of theatre history akin to the coffee table collapsing in Too Close Too the Sun.

And perhaps it was our longish absence from theatre but we found it rather gripping and entertaning. Phil was particularly intrigued. His wires had become severely crossed, believing he was coming to see a stage adaptation of Les Enfants Terrible (it’s a long story but strangely appropriate seeing as Welles was one himself) and didn’t find out till he arrived at the White Bear that it was about the creation of TCWL whose 1985 Old Vic production, he had actually seen and which not only freatured Patti LuPone but also John Houseman who was the producer of TCWR in 1937 and is himself portrayed (by Sam Child) here in IAT and went on to win an Academy Award for his performance in The Paper Chase. Phew! Got all that?

There is a trickle of irony; Welles and his company emphatically dress to the left yet also dine on oysters and their show which extolls the virtues of the workers and unions is closed down by the latter. Andrew, of course, delighted in illuminating Phil that oysters actually used to be a working class food so there.

And on the tiny Bear (and fairly bare) stage David Cottis* directs plenty of cross-cutting scenes and stage business (including enough phone calls to support a Mumbai call centre) to convey the story with a deal of energy despite Welles frequently slumping in a stalls seat looking grumpily on at the performers; Elgood has clearly done his homework and modelled himself on Andrew most successfully.

The cast are mostly very good. Phil was especially taken with Loriel Medynski’s Olive muttering something about her having “a quality” whatever that means. We even coped with the miming of props (it’s not the National, you can hardly expect them to stretch to oysters) which is as well as Martin Ward is credited in the programme as “Mime Tutor”. Hope he doesn’t read Paul Vale’s review in The Stage though (“truly excruciating“)

So on balance good to be back. Let’s see how immersed we get in the Paralympics. May be a while if we get over-podiumed.

Interesting historical footnote

*David Cottis and Andrew were at university together. David Cottis first saw Andrew when the latter was under-performing in a university production of Sartre’s Huis Clos. Fact.



3 Responses to “Review – It’s All True, White Bear Theatre”

  1. margarita Says:

    I’ve yet to see this production but would like to mention the marvellous film CRADLE WILL ROCK, directed by Tim Robbins, that also tells this story.

  2. Sandown Says:

    The Tim Robbins film CRADLE WILL ROCK (perhaps the “THE” was lost on the cutting-room floor ?) might be described as a Hollywood leftist version of the story.

    As for this new version being “All True”, one may note that the original production — which is simply a Marxist propaganda piece — was not a Broadway musical in the sense of being staged by commercial producers.

    It was due to be mounted by the Federal Theatre Project, an organization lavishly financed by the American government. But having run through their entire annual quota of taxpayers’ money, the company was told in June 1937 that they could not put on “any new play or musical performance” until the accounts had been straightened out.

    Naturally this was subsequently presented as a brutal act of state censorship, aided and abetted by the trade unions. In reality the play itself advocates both Communist state control and a union takeover of industry.

    Another interesting historical footnote: in 1964, the original composer and author, Marc Blitzstein, was beaten to death by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up in a bar in Martinique.

  3. margarita Says:

    I’m concerned for you and bored without you. Are you away ? Have you gone off theatre ? Don’t you realise that we’re missing being entertained & informed ?

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