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Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Was the name of the play, the Almeida theatre, the playwright - Harley Granville Barker.

the website can be found here

this is what the back of the leaflet said:
'A scandal half-stifled is worse than a scandal'

Radical politician Henry Trebell sees his personal and political lives collide.

An affair with a married woman threatens Trebell’s power and passionate ideals; her insistence on a woman's right to choose bring private scandal into the public spotlight.

Controversially banned by the Lord Chamberlain on its release, Waste is a rich portrait of early 20th Century society with strong resonances and relevance for today.

let me put it this way: I walked out in the interval.

I've never done that before, and I have seen some pretty dire operas and plays in my time, but really - I have actually watched paint dry, and it was far more interesting than this. I'm not going to do a Ben Brantley-style review here, I am going to give credit where credit is due, and criticism where criticism is due.

To start: The set was beautiful - the first one was a drawing room on a summer night - big french doors open to let in the fresh air and the moonlight (which was really well done), a grand piano, sofas, books, and a lamp, with the sounds of birds settling down for the night. The set seemed to be on some kind of revolving floor, so it turned round and became an office, which was also beautifully done - what I thought was a really nice touch was that it had two doors off to the side - one of them was closed, and the other one, to the right was open - now, normally when this is done like that, it's just blank behind, either with a blackout curtain behind it, or just the wings.. but the designer had turned it into a tiny little room, with green wallpaper, a picture hanging up, a little desk, and an actor pottering around in there, so it gave much more of a feel of an office, rather than just a set. I really do take my hat off to the set designer - Peter McKintosh- he has done an absolutely amazing job! I'd love to see more of his work in other productions!

Jessica Turner and Helen Lindsay. Photo by Johan Persson

Act 1, scene 1. the lights come up. There are 8 characters on stage, which is already far too much for my brain to cope with. It is set in the 1920s. The costumes are brilliant - I'm a bit of a period costume geek, and am very pernickity about getting details right, but they did a grand job. My only criticism is that one of the actresses had her bob too long, but that doesn't really matter too much.

Then they started to speak. And instantly I lost interest. Politics isn't really my game, but I tried to pay attention, thinking it might develop into an actual storyline, but it didn't.

I did A-level history, which was basically studying British History from 1785-1922 (ish) and then the war years (1927-1950 - Hitler's rise to power to the end of rationing in England) so I should have had at least some vague idea about what they were talking about, even though I'd missed five years. No such luck - absolutely NO idea what was going on.

I think if you are really really interested in and knowledgeable about british politics, and the personal histories of all the policical figures of the 1920s, this would be right up your street. Sadly, for me, it was not. The gossip about these politicians would have been vaguely entertaining if it shed some light on their characters, to give me something to be able to connect to, but it didn't, and really was just a bunch of people sitting around talking shop.

Fortunately, the play was injected with humour, and the wit was absolutely razor sharp, and well delivered, so to me, that was its saving grace, or I would have actually fallen asleep during it.

The acting was pedestrian, at best. Not one of the actors 'shone', or stood out for me. The main character, played by Will Keen bored me absolutely senseless - everything he said sounded like he had the script in his hand and was just reading it out. Peter Eyre has an absolutely fantastic speaking voice - rich, deep, well projected, melodious... but his intonation was that of a priest reading a sermon. Nancy Carrol was the only member of the cast who seemed to put in any effort into her part, and seemed to be the only one who was a half-way decent actor... but the character made me want to throttle her. Every single time she came on stage I found myself rolling my eyes and squirming. I don't know if the playwright intended to create somebody so bloody irritating or not -

I thought we were supposed to feel sympathy for her - I mean, she is married, hasn't had sex with her husband for over a year, has, in fact, left him although is still technically married. She has a brief affair with a politician (Will Keen), gets knocked up, doesn't want to keep it because she thinks a baby will ruin her life, because she doesn't ever want to have children (so you have sex without protection? yeah coz that's NEVER going to get you in that situation you stupid woman) because she doesn't want to see them growing up which would only serve as a constent reminder to her that she is getting older... and apparently at the end, she kills herself after trying to have an abortion.

She's pretty messed up, so I should feel pity, or disgust, or.. I dunno.. something! right? But she is just SO neurotic and bipolar, clingy, self absorped, and needy that all I wanted to do was to scream.

"do you love me? you hate me, say you love me, i love you"
he says he loves her
" i hate you, you're just lying, if you even loved me a little it would help... am i pretty? why don't you love me?"

AARGH! for fucks sake!

In the first act, which was about an hour and a half long (it felt like eternity) about an hour of it was just her doing that. The whole time.

Absolutely did my head in.

I never wear watches - I don't even own a watch, and I very rarely carry my mobile phone around with me, because I'd rather not be constantly reminded of the time. I wore a watch for a week once, and by about wednesday, I found myself looking at it every five minutes - I never want to become a slave to time again. But sitting in that theatre for that hour and a half, I have never wished, more desparately in my life, that I had a watch. I was craning my neck to see if anyone else around me had a watch that I could see, to see how much longer the torture would last.

What didn't help was the actual theatre itself. The seating is crammed. The little plaques in the back of each seat saying who it had been donated by was a nice touch, but the leg room is a joke. My friend and I are short - I'm 5ft 3, she's 5ft1, but our knees were right up against the back of the seats in front. The guy sitting next to her had to sit sideways in his chair, and I'd say that he wasn't much over five foot 7 or 8.

Also, there are far too many columns - I'd say if you are going to go and see something else at the Almeida, to very carefully choose your seats, because there are pillars everywhere. It was no skin off my nose that I couldn't see half the stage for this production, but I'd have been quite put out if it was something that I was actually enjoying, or I'd paid more than £6 for my ticket.... the fact that it was so cheap made it very easy for me to walk out at the interval with no feeling of guilt whatsoever. If I'd paid a bit more, I might have stuck it out to see if it got any better and to feel like I got my money's worth, but I'd have willingly paid the usher £6 on top of my ticket, just to let me out.


martha said...

[ah, i figured out this blogger account thing!]

i get that you were cramped. [and i've been to the almeida .. the old and the new spaces .. i get it .. but that's really not review worthy ..] .. and i get that there are viewing obstructions .. but note that the almeida's own web site and seating chart on line helps you figure this out i recall . .they're pretty up front about it.

but this review is about plot and not the production.

and .. i'm ranting back at you kid .. its not fair (nor is it professional) to 'review' anything you leave 1/2 way through. ain't done. you are entitled to say: i was insufficiently entertained to stay through the whole thing. but for crissake you have no business reviewing an entire production, even informaally .. you haven't given the grace to watch from start to finish.

from this review .. i get that you [1] didn't know what you were getting into before you entered (we've all been there .. surprised by history when you expected or, more to the point, were more in the mood for, farce [2] you didn't pay attention to lobby displays or didn't purchase the program .. or both .. so didn't do that kind of audience 'studying up' that is possible to help get you in the world of the play ...

and gosh .. i guess i disagree with your point in our prior exchange about the wooden-ness or 'gay carefree' ness of this era of this play. check your cultural stereotypes my dear. the 20s were a dire time for many .. and even for those who supposedly had it all. perhaps reading the play itself would help here?

i guess i'm responding this way because i do sometimes review, i do see a lot of theatre (as you know), i LOVE the art form, and while you have had a strong reaction to this production and these particular performances on this night .. this comes off as snarky rant rather than a real attempt to engage with the play.

and, dear tash, you didn't stay through to the end. not kosher. certainly not kosher to do that then rant about what you saw ..a partial representation of what your fellow theatre artists have done. [p.s. you give away major plot points .. e.g. the "apparently at the end of the play" ... not very elegant and the kind of thing that aggravates me as a reader of reviews...]

end of *my* rant.

Tash said...

Hey Mammy! like we've already discussed at great length elsewhere(this reply is mainly for the benefit of anyone actually who reads this blog)I hear ya, but I don't agree with everything you've said - mainly as this is more of a rant than a review :D
How the heck do I add you as a friend on this thing? I've been trying to figure it out for the past half hour...maybe I'm just dumb.