Review – Damned by Despair, National Theatre

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Dear Heavenly Father,

Forgive us our many sins. Forgive us for trespassing on previews and speaking ill of them. Forgive us for drinking too much holy wine. And forgive us for giving into temptation by departing at intervals.

And forgive us for our fundamentalism, believing that if we truly seek forgiveness it may be granted whatever our sins, for surely this is the message of Damned by Despair.

Forgive those who delivered that message: Roman Catholic monk Tirso de Molina who wrote it, Frank McGuinness who gave us his new version and director Bijan Sheibani.

For in this 17th-century story Paulo (Sebastian Armesto) has atoned for his sins by spending 10 years in a desert but apparently this is not enough as The Devil (Amanda Lawrence) tells him that he will share the same fate as Enrico (Bertie Carvel) who he meets in contemporary Naples and turns out to be a very, very bad man indeed but still loves his father. If Enrico is doomed to hell then surely Paulo will join him on the toasting fork too?

And forgive us for being reminded of Bobby Crush in Liberace: Live from Heaven where the audience decided whether Liberace should go to heaven or hell. Could the National audience please vote on Paulo’s fate too?

And take pity on those who were cast. Especially favoured players like Lawrence who is wonderfully sinister even when eating a Zoom ice lolly. And Carvel too, for surely he must be wishing he’s stayed with Matilda.

Forgive us for sometimes not understanding the motivations of some of the characters for we know not what they do or why.

And forgive the decision to try and inject humour by reenacting a scene from Reservoir Dogs stuck in the middle of Act 1.

And forgive the extreme violence for it is strangely bloodless and we give thanks for the gunshots for they helped us stay awake.

And take pity on us too for returning after the interval and forgive us looking to see how many had departed. And forgive our sin of envying those who did.

And those who do not wish to know should turn the other cheek by looking away now. Forgive us for asking the question: why, when Enrico is hanged, do we see him stripped, put laboriously into a stage harness and redressed before the noose is put round his neck?

And forgive us for asking too, why, before he is hanged and knowing he is to be hanged, does he do a gymnastic exercise on the rings that hang from his chains?

But we must give thanks for those who advertised a running of 2 hours 35 minutes which is now slashed to 2 hours 10 minutes. For there must be some at the National who are now in a state of panic.

And forgive us for tittering at the man who wrote an open letter to Nicholas Hytner on the NT facebook page asking that he withdraw the production “for the sake of the reputation of the National Theatre and and any compassion you have for the unfortunate actors taking part in it”.

And forgive us for now looking back on Fram nostalgically.

And forgive us if – despite their titles – we do not wish to see revivals of de Molina’s The Bashful Man in the Palace or even Don Gil of the Green Stockings.

And blessed are the meek who do not heed our warnings. For they will visit the hallowed Olivier auditorium and surely see tumbleweed trespassing in the aisles.

And those who ignore us should seek out offers or purchase the cheapest seats and move forward to inherit the more expensive ones, for surely there will be even more empty ones than at this unusually poorly-attended preview.

And forgive us for believing the Damned by Despair might test anyone’s faith (and patience).

And forgive us our rating. For it was a very close call and nearly even more lowly, but the broken glass must only be in Paradise Found.


26 Responses to “Review – Damned by Despair, National Theatre”

  1. Oh dear! But may you be blessed for your suffering.

  2. theycallmechristophe Says:

    Bugger. I’m going on Thursday.

  3. JMC Says:

    It seems a shame that poor old Tirso de Molina is getting blamed in any of this; the production doesn’t give the play the ghost of a chance.

    I am quite surprised that you don’t dwell a little more on the sheer absurdity of the central casting…

  4. Dominick Says:

    Was going to risk this tonight, not going to bother now, even though part of me does want to see if it really is as bad as you say 🙂 but no I shall save my pennies for something else.

    Bless you !

  5. webcowgirl Says:

    So it was truly Framtastic, eh? Definitely one of those cases when the blogosphere/Twittersphere has saved me!

  6. JustNathan Says:

    We’re just of to be Damned by Despair this evening. Full of trepidation, but see this article ‘in praise of bad productions’, which has the thesis that ‘bad productions are essential to great theatre’

  7. David Cottis Says:

    I’m in agreement with JMC on this one – I hated the production but was glad I saw it, because it sent me off to read the Laurence Boswell translation of what could (in happier circumstances) be a fascinating play.

  8. nikkimusingsandthoughts Says:

    Saw this last night you have expressed exactly how I was feeling…The many empty seats should have been my warning, but I held on to the end hoping for a glimmer of hope of a good production

  9. Nicky Says:

    May the Fire Risk Assesser walk in and put an end to the whole production. I give it 2 days at best.

  10. Baldassaro Says:

    Blimey, if it’s worse than Fram, it must be an absolute stinker! I was tempted to go by some cheap ticket offers, and still might, if only out of a sense of morbid curiosity…

  11. Tom Says:

    May well be truly horrible. But really shouldn’t review a preview.

  12. charles Says:

    agree with the reviewer, it was painful, and unnecessary

  13. andrew melville Says:

    Have to see, and I’ve seen most things at the national for the last couple of years, I thought this was brilliant. The reviewer has no soul. There were several sublime moments in this play. Carvel starts out annoying and ends up brilliant. Lawrence is mental, in a good way. Just because there is not much blood, and the set is ultra-artificial looking, doesn’t make it a bad production. Don’t worry too much about all this fluff, which the reviewer is clearly very concerned about, and just feel it.

  14. Diogenes Says:

    Saw this in second preview. Long discussion in interval do we stay. Large contingent left, never seen so many. We stayed , wrong decision. We looked for turkey on the restaurant menu, found none, but it will appear.
    Might in the original have been interesting, but with McGuiness bludgeoning his prejudices, poor acting, no ensemble and cr+p staging, T E RR I B LE


  15. abookflog Says:

    Press night. Just returned. Laughably bad. Rory Keenan and Amanda Lawrence are great, but this ranks as the worst show (director, I’m looking at you!) I’ve seen at the National. And Frank McGuiness–why? WHY? Worth seeing to the extent that watching a failure of this size is both instructive and bizarrely alluring.

  16. Sandown Says:

    Further to the two comments above, it is not clear why the National Theatre of Great Britain should offer its grandest stage to be used by Frank McGuinness, an alien Irish Catholic, to “bludgeon his prejudices” on us through the work of a largely-forgotten 17th century Spaniard.

    Perhaps Nick Hytner can enlighten us on that ?

  17. Joseph Long Says:

    Well, I saw it on Sat 6, still a preview night, so not to be judged and condemned. Seemed to me only very few left at interval, and applause was strong and sustained at the end. Yes, to a some of the complaints. Some dodgy production choices, the pace and confidence of performance still to be found in the big scenes, perhaps more cutting and tightening still to be done. That’s what previews are for, isn’t it? And let’s face it, the play is closer to a Medieval Morality Play than to Noel Coward. It’s full of Calvinist stuff about faith and redemption, when all we want perhaps is a turkey dinner and a glass of wine. The National has put on a meaty, heady play, disturbing, ironic (nasty ironic), not comfort food. Good for them. JL. ps: I’m Irish too, does that make me an ‘alien’?

  18. john Geoffrey Morris Says:

    On leaving the National (11/10/12) after “Dammed by Dispair” I walked behind a school group, one young man said ” how can I write four pages about that ” , a young woman answered ” I liked the bits with guns”.It ended at 9.35, so there was half an hour missing, which must have been truly awful because what is left is so bad and often unwatchable.The publicity leaflet (quote “A fast-paced adventure story embracing bandits and beautiful women between glimpses of heaven and hell ) was not helpful, where was the red lighting for hell , where was heaven,as for adventure and a story they were also missing. I felt sorry for the beautiful women and men who had to wade through the stilted unmemorable dialogue. Frank Mcguiness and Bijan Sheibani obviously forgot the line later in the play about riding away on horses when motor scooters were driven into the cafe scene near the beginning.I try to go to the theatre often and have seen most recent National productions.Please stay away from this one, it does not desearve to be sat though, no matter how low a seat price you are offered

  19. Michael Keenan Says:

    Yes, I’m partly Irish too and think comments re Frank McGuiness’ nationality slightly uncalled-for, especially since most of his text couldn’t be deciphered: no-one seems to have mentioned that. Putting a difficult play in the hands of a not-very-experienced director and young actors (though Sharvel, Keenan – no relation as far as I know – Best and Lawrence were a treat) looks like carelessness. Making them do it in the Olivier looks like sadism.

  20. ikonos44 Says:

    It did feel a bit am-dram at times but it wasn’t that bad. Fram was awful, but remember that 3 -hour Ibsen at the National a few years back? I could actually feel my legs going numb during that.

  21. […] is another funny review with similar sentiments but they managed to suffer it through to the […]

  22. Tony McSean Says:

    Credit to you for staying for the second half – hope over experience isn’t always the path of the wise

  23. Edith Waldmann Says:

    I thought it was excruciating. The scant audience drifted out in low key perplexed mood- The Emperor’s Clothes story. I read Giles Fraser’s excellent article and thought a chorus could be used to explain and give commentary. Also NOT set in MODERN Naples. Golf scene was deplorable. And so on! 30 yrs of enchanted National Theatre experience- but there is always an exception!
    Edith Waldmann

  24. rt Says:

    2 hours 35 minutes has now become a neat two hours inc interval. Some of the last performances have been replaced by the Magistrate. I thought it remarkably lively though couldn’t understand any of the characters or their relation with the plot/script. I most objected to the translation: a series of aggressively modern slang clichés.

    It’s not the worse thing the National has put on. Productions occasionally flounder eg the Trojan War will not take place. Thee and Me was possibly the first NT production on the South Bank to be pulled early.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: