Equus / Treats / King Of Hearts / The Tempest
Various venues
February / March, 2007

Richard Griffiths, of course, is currently struggling against a second contemporary theatrical blight: celeb-focused hysteria.  On the night I went to see Equus, a couple of young men were circulating among the punters outside the theatre at the interval, asking them, “Has he taken his clothes off yet?  We want to find out how big his penis is.”  Well, it could have been the size of a matchstick and still have dwarfed their brains.  (You can even spot a couple of coy willy-size references in the reviews reprinted here.)  As ever, it’s interesting to see people responding to the furore rather than the play.  There’s even a touch of that in Lloyd Evans’ way off-beam prediction that “The trade will adore it”.  And as for Tim Walker, in fulminating mode again, about “a 17-year-old superstar commanding thousands of his disciples to come and worship…” – I don’t actually think that Daniel Radcliffe is that astute a self-marketer.  He’s allowing himself to be used, certainly, but why fume as if he were the culpable one?  That’s not enough, though; Tim continues, “Let us anyway consider this disreputable little play on its own terms”, thus doing the precise opposite by getting his damning judgement in before he even begins.  (He also plumps for the wrong Firth as the star of the original production; Peter Firth, who played the role for the National Theatre, is no relation to Colin Firth, whom Tim names and who was 12 at the time.)

Pretty much every reviewer gets het up to some degree about the state of the play in the issue’s other famous-face opening, Treats.  There is near-universal observation that Christopher Hampton didn’t do a very good job of examining what leads people to return to abusive relationships.  I don’t recall seeing any claims that he meant to set about examining the whys, only to write about this strange, unsettling thing that sometimes happens.  We want the play to judge; it doesn’t, so we judge the play instead.  As regards star Billie Piper, note simply that elsewhere Quentin Letts admirably maintains the old-school practice of referring to actors as Mr or Miss Such-and-Such, but in Treats the cast apparently consists of “Mr Marshall”, “Mr Fox” and “Billie”.  Quentin is one of the last people I would have expected to succumb to the illusion that we’re all on first-name terms with some celebrities.


And, indeed, some royals.  No-one mentioned one of the finest bits of discreet set-dressing by King Of Hearts designer Tim Shortall: the politicians’ red boxes of state papers were monogrammed G-VII-R, a reference to Prince Charles’ remark once that as king he would be likely to take the regnal name of George VII.  Pity the play was so like much of Alistair Beaton’s other recent political-satire writing: time and again it got close to making really sharp observations, only to veer off towards fish-in-barrel easy targets or plain fantasy.  But then, I’m among the minority that didn’t rate his breakthrough stage work Feelgood either, believing that it wimped out of far more political shots than it dared take.

Final brief observation re. Rupert Goold’s magnificent Tempest: how many other recent stage works can you think of that deal with Arctic shamanism?  Only one occurs to me.  The parallels don’t work in detail, but in many respects the look and feel of this production are of Prospero’s Dark Materials, right down to (what is effectively) the death of its world’s God at the end.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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