Oh for a fondue set and a cuddly toy…
And on the conveyor belt tonight; a television set, a gramophone, a lifetime’s supply of yellow stationery, an animal print duvet, 3 ceramic Alsatian dog ornaments with matching standard lamp, a John Pasche/Rolling Stones lampshade, a set of photographs of celebrity criminals, 3 toilets, and a generously busy cast of 17 actors including Rory Kinnear, Siân Thomas, Sarah Crowden, Kate O’Flynn and the lovely Will from W1A.
If you are a little confused we should explain. Designer Miriam Buether has reconfigured the Young Vic’s audience into jury-style wooden seating on four sides of two long travelators. There’s a lot of rather nice smelling fresh unpainted wood (where it’s not painted in a very bright orange). And, oh, let’s be generous here, for about 10 minutes this is quite thrilling as the large cast walk up and down the frequently moving conveyors and manage, most impressively, to remember their lines and not to bump into the furniture.
Kinnear is Josef K whose 35th birthday (is it impolite to mention he’s 30 in the book?) is celebrated by a knock on the door and three agents arresting him for a series of crimes. A nightmare ensues as he’s questioned, humiliated and examined and awaits trial for the unidentified offences. But (SPOILER ALERT) we can identify the crimes; it’s subjecting the audience to such a drearily repetitive evening and forcing Kinnear’s soliloquies to be delivered in a language that lands irritatingly somewhere between Gollum, Nadsat and Stanley Unwin‘s “Unwinese”.
A brief respite came when W1A’s Hugh Skinner appeared (nicely doubling up as two completely different characters) but it was not to last. As Phil and Andrew picked the evening apart afterwards in a nearby hostelry they both simultaneously remarked “I’d love to see him in a comedy”, Andrew took it one step further by donning his casting director’s hat and suggesting “something by Noel Coward”.
Small compensations, which helped pass the time, included wondering about the backstage logistics of the staging, spotting this year’s latest theatrical novelty (cf. Carrie The Musical and Everyman) with more copious ‘stage’-mopping plus a new trend in the guise of birthdays kicking off descents into hell (cf. Everyman again). Plus, with the in-the-round staging and the audience frequently brightly illuminated, we were able to survey the crowd for others who also seemed to be losing the will to live. Not just us then.
Richard Jones helmed a terrific Government Inspector and a brilliant Too Clever By Half (one of the best things Phil has ever seen), at the Young and Old Vics respectively. The former had led Phil to forgive Mr Jones (Andrew almost forgave him) for seriously buggering up Annie Get Your Gun but we are now back to square one. Didn’t AGYG feature a conveyor belt too? How we try to forget.
Of course we are forced to mention this was a preview, but there is an exciting evening struggling to get out somewhere. Sadly it lies backstage. The Young Vic should consider selling a limited number of behind-the-scenes passes so punters can watch the conveyor-stage unloaded and the desks, chairs, beds, door frames, etc whisked through the tunnels beneath the audience and loaded again for another transit through the auditorium. The backstage crew must be applauded for doing it so efficiently and silently.
It may seem overly-harsh to award a rating lower than Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, (Phil was probably overly-generous with that) but at least that offered an interval for escape. At two hours straight through there was no such opportunity here.
But we will not be consulting the Trade Descriptions Act. At least there’s a big clue in the play’s title.
And if you don’t know what The Generation Game‘s conveyor belt was like, here’s how it looked 41 years ago. Classic entertainment.