04 May 2009

Parlour Song - Almeida Theatre - Saturday 1st May 2009


Demolition expert Ned lives in a nice new house on a nice new estate on the edge of the English countryside. He loves his job. Barbeques.Car Boot Sales. Outwardly his life is entirely unremarkable. Not unlike his friend and neighbour Dale. So why has he not slept a wink in six months? Why is he so terrified of his attractive wife Joy?And why is it every time he leaves on business, something else goes missing from his home?


Amanda Drew - Joy
Toby Jones – Ned
Andrew Lincoln - Dale

Production credits:

Jez Butterworth - Writer
Ian Rickson - Director
Jeremy Herbert - Designer
Peter Mumford - Lighting
Stephen Warbeck – Music
Paul Groothuis - Sound
Steven Williams - Video

Talk about running the gamut. From a classic 50’s play at the National Theatre to a new three-hander in the depths of Islington in two nights. I know which one I enjoyed more though, and it wasn’t the new three-hander. I’d be hard pressed to say why. Although I know where I stand on such deeply polarising issues as Last of the Summer Wine, Peanut Butter and Alan Titchmarsh (i.e. I loathe them all), for some reason I just didn’t feel swayed by this play into “loved it” or “hated it” territory. It was OK, and nothing more. It was reasonably well written, competently acted, adequately directed. I don’t know – has the “darkness behind surburbia’s net curtains” been done before? Yes, and by better playwrights than Jez Butterworth. Has the “My wife’s having an affair with my neighbour” been done before? Yes. The “mid-life crisis” drama? Yes. In fact, to misquote Lady Bracknell, everybody has more or less said what they wanted to say – which for the vast majority of them was not much in the first place. I don’t know what this play was trying to say. It would best be described as a “comedy thriller” – a dreadful catch-all phrase usually used to describe something which is neither a comedy or a thriller but the misbegotten bastard child of both.

Yes, there were some good performances –the scene in which Ned is listening to an oral sex instruction tape and, caught by his wife “doing the moves”, has to pretend that he’s listening to Eric Clapton, would bring a smile to the face of a statue (although heaven only knows what some of the Islingtonites in the audience were thinking: “Fellatio? Isn’t he a character in The Comedy of Errors?”) and the weightlifting scene was worthy of every laugh it got. And yes, Andrew Lincoln was spot on as Dale, the dimwitted, muscle-bound “Wigger”. ButAmanda Drew was incredibly irritating -she seemed to be doing an impersonation of Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies all night. And there were also long, unnecessary tracts of dialogue where I itched to get out my blue pencil – Ned’s tediously long description of the purchase of the birdbath being one of them; it went on and on and on and I became painfully aware of just how uncomfortable those dreadful double tip-up seats at the Almeida are.

There were also many questions left unanswered by the end. Is Ned going slowly mad or are his possessions really disappearing? If you were stealing things to fund your elopement, would you steal things as obvious as a lawnmower? If you had someone as horny as Dale in your bed, would you really waste time playing Scrabble? What's the meaning of the play's title? And what exactly is the point of Alan Titchmarsh?

What the critics thought:





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