Girl With A Pearl Earring / The Walworth Farce / Waste / Piaf
Various venues
September / October, 2008

Cometh the hour, cometh the early closures in the West End.  The cover stars of this issue, in Girl With A Pearl Earring, had in fact vacated the Haymarket even before the magazine went to press.  A clutch of other closure announcements (including a comfortable five months’ notice in the case of Avenue Q) have led to the inevitable rash of “crisis” articles.  Well done Michael Billington, then, for saying the nigh-unsayable in a blog at theatreblog/2008/oct/21/creditcrunch-theatre-westend – “The one possibility never discussed is that some shows close early because they are crap.”  While he goes on to make some more debatable judgments and connections, this is indeed something that it’s all too easy to overlook.  Girl With A Pearl Earring and Riflemind aren’t closing early because the global market has melted down: they’re closing because, in these instances, the market is actually working the way it’s so often claimed to.  The Invisible Hand is swatting them out of the way because there’s not enough demand for them, which is in turn because they’re not good enough.


Michael goes on to laud the current success of serious plays.  However, I’m not sure that’s something that we can congratulate ourselves about.  The day after No Man’s Land opened in the West End – a production by hot director Rupert Goold, lauded on its première at the Gate in Dublin, and combining serious and populist appeal with a cast including Michael Gambon, David Bradley and David Walliams – two of our heavyweight newspapers, The Times and the Independent, decided that the more newsworthy artistic event, the one they would cover in their front pages, was the first concert in the latest tour by Oasis.   Yet, thanks to the Nobel Prize and other recent accolades, it’s surely (if unexpectedly) the case that Harold Pinter is in fact a more contemporary cultural figure than the Gallagher brothers.  Oh, well, nobody said these things had to make sense.

It can all be a matter of the direction from which you approach matters.  For instance, in reviews of Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce at the National Theatre, a number of reviews compare Walsh’s writing to that of Martin McDonagh, with at least one implying that McDonagh was an influence on Walsh; in fact Walsh is older, has been writing longer, and is moreover actually Irish by birth and upbringing rather than simply by heritage like McDonagh.  Richard Woulfe rather gives himself away in his Tribune review by implicitly admitting that he has seen none of Walsh’s work before; at this point it becomes apparent that he has been inadvertently telling us more about his own process of classifying this writer than about any objective context.


Richard’s Tribune supremo Aleks Sierz wobbles a little, too, in his review of Waste at the Almeida.  Aleks can often be relied upon to buck the consensus, and he does so here: whilst most reviews laud an excellent production of a patchy play, Aleks finds it “long, tedious and emotionally repellent” – so tedious, in fact, that it lulled him into a state where he mistakes the protagonist’s sister for his wife.  (That’s why she hasn’t left him ere now, Aleks: it’s a different kind of devotion.)  Elsewhere among the reviews of Waste, Tim Walker observes, “If people are to have the right to freedom of expression, then the least one can expect of them is that they have something interesting to express”, which fulfils its own criterion by being aphoristic, if not discernibly logical.  And a merit point to Christopher Hart, the only one of us who dared to use – with absolute legitimacy in terms of the play and its plot – the word “antidisestablishmentarianism”.  (The FT objected, I can confide, because the word wouldn’t fit on a single line.  Well, I may never get another chance to use it as a paragraph cross-header, so…)

And finally, some unalloyed praise, in the territory of one of my more rabid obsessions.  I am full of admiration for Piaf director Jamie Lloyd, for his awareness that the show is not just a matter for the visual and auditory senses.  When one of his Parisian characters lights up a cigarette onstage, a few seconds later the Vaudeville auditorium is suffused with the authentic aroma of Gitanes.  None of your herbal rubbish there!

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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