11 May 2010

Love the Sinner - National Theatre - Monday 9th May 2010


An international group of church leaders converge in an African hotel to contend the need for Christian doctrine to change with the times. In a neighbouring room, a brief sexual encounter between Joseph, a local porter, and Michael, a British conference volunteer, leads to a direct and potent challenge to both Michael, as he returns to England to grapple with ethics of his own, and to the liberal claims and professed compassion of the affluent West and its church.

Daniel: Scott Handy
Tom/Bill : Sam Graham
James/Dave: Fraser James
Matthew/Harry: Robert Gwilym
John/Revd Farley: Paul Bentall
Simon/Official: Richard Rees
Hannah/Alison: Nancy Crane
Stephen: Ian Redford
Paul: Louis Mahoney
Michael: Jonathan Cullen
Joseph: Fiston Barek
Shelley: Charlotte Randle

Creative Team:
Writer: Drew Pautz
Director: Matthew Dunster
Designer: Anna Fleischle
Lighting: Philip Gladwell
Music: Jules Maxwell

Rearranging the letters that make up the words “Cottesloe Theatre” with the help of my trusty Scrabble set I came up with “To the electorates” (very timely) and “The Settee Locator” (there weren’t enough letters to make the phrase “Cold dark hole of a theatre down the side of the National” or “What a load of rubbish”). I needed a settee locator after having suffered two and a bit hours of probably the worst play I’ve seen so far this year – badly written, wildly uneven and appallingly acted. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a machine gun with the safety catch off being operated by a complete novice, firing off in all directions trying to hit several targets and missing every one of them.

The story itself wanders about like a saint in the wilderness, trying desperately to be “relevant” and “topical” but eventually just getting totally lost and refusing to pull over and ask for directions. At a theological conference debating homosexuality and the Church, being held in a hotel in an unnamed African country, rampantly heterosexual yet strangely beige and ineffective Michael is a humble note-taker among wildly stereotyped vicars of various nations (who cannot agree on whose turn it is to order coffee, let alone decide whether Jesus would have ever condoned poofery). Michael then falls prey to the manly charms of Joseph, a porter in the hotel. Whether Joseph does this kind of thing regularly or has set Michael up for blackmail (he wants to leave Africa and start a new life in England) is never made clear. There are (allegedly humorous) misunderstandings of the “Oh…er… this young man was helping me find my passport” kind when Joseph is discovered in Michael’s bedroom. Back in England, Michael’s wife can hear her biological clock ticking loudly and is arguing her case for IVF treatment, although he seems more concerned about the family of squirrels in their loft (cue for a very heavy-handed and extended metaphor about the resettlement of families and how the displacement of the male usually leads to the breakup and eventual death of the entire colony). He starts to have problems at work (he runs a firm making donation envelopes for churches – surely somewhat of a niche business but he seems to employ at least six people) and is in the middle of a tense meeting when his wife turns up explaining that Joseph has managed to get to England and has (somehow) tracked Michael down (no explanation given as to how Joseph has managed to pay for the flight over) then, when the meeting is over, they decide to make love on the table (cue for nudity and then broad farce when one of the employees tries to come back into the room). At some kind of press conference held in the local church and attended by the Bishop and several of the delegates from the African conference, Michael is discovered hiding Joseph in the basement. Joseph has been badly beaten by thugs in Africa because of his homosexuality (a point which is rammed down the audiences’ throat not via the text but through Joseph displaying his scarred back to the audience for the first 10 minutes of this scene). The bishop takes Joseph under his wing and promises to help him towards a better life. The end. Bewildered and perfunctory applause from the audience.

Reading through the scant programme notes, it turns out that the author, Drew Pautz, was for many years a theatre lighting designer. Obviously, Mr. Pautz watched several productions while programming his Super Troupers to fade up stage left and thought he would have a go at this playwriting lark himself. This is the result and I can only devoutly wish that he had stuck to his lighting desk.
Badly written, it was no better acted. Jonathan Cullen and Charlotte Randall play Michael and his wife with all the subtlety of Elyot and Amanda in Cowards Private Lives, flailing wildly at each other like a pair of demented windmills (some of the most poorly directed stage fighting I’ve ever seen) and verbally. Fiston Barek looks embarrassed most of the time at having to play a hideously stereotyped Joseph. The rest of the cast do their best to bring life to caricatured roles and fail miserably. One can only have sympathy with them. Even the set seemed to be longing to disassociate itself from the play – at one point, in the main characters’ winter-bound flat, Ms. Randall lent on the windowframe and it fell out completely, leaving it wide open to the elements for the rest of the scene. As the two main characters have just been arguing about the extent of the damage caused to their loft by a nest of squirrels, I wondered whether Mr. Nutkin and his family had spent the preceding weeks planning an invasion of the living room and gradually gnawing through the frame in shifts during the hours of darkness in order to gain entry. They certainly would have had the entire family working constant overtime shifts had they found themselves holed up in the Cottesloe Theatre, desperate to get away from this train wreck of a play.   Love the Sinner?  Is this Mr. Pautz's plea for tolerance of this badly written piece of rubbish?

What the critics thought:





Anonymous said...

Oh, Russell, you should stick to your day job... But thanks for this entertainingly rubbish review of a brilliant play!

rtb said...

What can't you understand about other peoples' opinions? viz that I am as much entitled to mine as you are to yours. Reviews are only other peoples' opinions, and plenty of the pro reviewers shared mine.

I note you are too cowardly to identify yourself....