Category Archives: Dead Rat


The last American import Rufus Norris brought to the National – The Motherf—-er with the Hat – was a five-mouse delight, a bold choice which rightly just won a Best Play award. Less welcome is this Wallace Shawn premiere, with the author himself bagging the weirdest and probably the most rewarding role, as a moribund old has-been TV actor , Dick.

He doesn’t turn up for the first fifteen minutes, which are occupied by a long narrative monologue by Robert (Josh Hamilton) who explains that it’s a ten-year reunion of the team from his play “Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars”. It was convened by Ted, who wrote the music and now does occasional advertising jingles, and includes Annette the wardrobe mistress – large , glum, and broke – and Bill the producer, now a “talent agent”. The only other one who is still successful is Tom (Simon Shepherd in matinee-idol mode) as the hero of Robert’s ongoing TV soap. Robert now feels, and smugly announces, that theatre “came to seem a rather narrow corner”, and that the 30-minute TV show is the thing. Coming to this endless monologue cold, you muse that the man is a right prat, and worriedly hope that this is deliberate. Then Dick (Shawn himself) materializes, pretty drunk and lately “beaten up by some friends, a short battering, informal” , and finally the rest of them arrive.



And indeed they are all pretty frightful, endlessly and circularly discussing (in a sort of Beckett-and-soda manner) who liked who, who was a good actor, and which of their acquaintance has dropped dead. Some relief is offered by the landlady (Anna Calder-Marshall, playing it just sufficiently odd) and the maid, the wonderful Sinéad Matthews, always a treat. The tedium of the men’s conversation – mostly woefully static, despite being directed by Ian Rickson – is relieved a bit by Shawn’s surrealism: there is a government somewhere which is doing a universally approved “programme of murdering” people who “pose a threat to us”. Topical, at least. It transpires that the maid has just got back from a murdering job “mainly in Nigeria and Indonesia”, and Matthews’ account of this – and her final meltdown- provide the few streaks of arresting sincerity in the piece.



It’s all too artfully knowing and nudgingly self-referential to engage you much, despite the best efforts of a fine cast. It would help, perhaps, if he went the full horror-movie,  and had Calder-Matthews poisoning the lot of them with her Emerald Surprise punch.


At one point, at least, it is properly confirmed that Robert is indeed a prize prat , with Dick doing a reading from his celebrated play. It is pure Game-of-Thrones or sub-Tolkien nonsense, full of names like Beltramidon and Queen Ameldra of Garmor, and warriors eating “the meat of the golden antelope” after defeating some Marmidons.

Shawn’s play lasts 105 minutes. It is more than enough.
box office 020 7452 3000 to 30 March
rating one. 1 Meece Rating Just. For Sinead Matthews. Otherwise,  verging on  Dead Rat

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ISLANDS Bush Theatre, W12

This week sees the World Economic Forum in Davos. Today Oxfam said that 1% of the world’s people own nearly half its wealth. Tax havens – many of them relics of the British Empire and privileged by successive UK governments – siphon trillions from the world economy. Christian aid reckons that a thousand children die every day as a result of tax evasion…

Timely, then, for the Bush to put on a play attacking that evasive, greedy world. Unfortunately it is this one, by Caroline Horton. Who also, in studiedly grotesque costume and manner, plays the lead, and over whose vision director Omar Elerian has not visibly cast any veil of sanity or discipline. The result is a 105-minute marathon of strutting absurdism, with little humour and only rare streaks of useful metaphor. Most of which you wouldn’t get anyway, unless you read up beforehand. ENRON it ain’t.

Of all the wasted opportunities for intelligent, joyful angry stage agitprop in recent years, it takes the biscuit. It makes Russell Brand’s ramblings look erudite, and Anders Lustgarten’s “If you won’t let us dream..” seem almost like real political theatre. And on that last occasion, one friend’s verdict was “Waste of good actors! Why doesn’t the bloody man just stand on the stage in a tinfoil hat and read out a list of his prejudices?” In this, they virtually do just that.

But you might want to go, if fond of sub-Jarry absurdism and overstretched metaphors about shit and sodomy. And, to be fair, good physical work (the director is a leCoq man and Horton has a gift for physical menace). Oliver Townsend’s costumes are interesting, though possibly the male tutus, stilettoes and peculiar tights are a hangover from his Dick Whittington. Horton’s diamanté crash helmet and silver lamé testicles certainly have a panto vibe.

The conceit (allow the word its double meaning, so un-self-challenging is it) is that Horton’ss “Mary” is a teenager imagining an island – Haven – with no rules, unlimited ‘cherries’ of wealth, and screamy dragged-up acolytes – Seiriol Davies and John Biddle. They float above “ShitWorld” which is the rest of us , and lure Adam and Eve (Hannah Ringham and Simon Startin) to be exploited. And that’s it. Sometimes there is a shouty phone-call from a thwarted regulator, sometimes fragments of news actuality – Thatcher, Reagan, Cameron, Osborne – coming out of the onstage lavatory or sewer lid. But it is over an hour before the point starts properly to emerge; before that there are tedious gross-out irrelevancies. Horton, for instance, delivers a nastily detailed description of a bullfight (though heaven knows bullfights are populist entertainments, more shitworld than taxhaven) in order to say “I suppose when the killing is shared one feels less guilt”. Creeeaaaaak!

The best line – the only spark of wit – was a defiant chap in the bowler saying “We will fight them on the pleasant beaches and in the streets, and in the organic bakeries”) and it is quite a nice idea to have “Adam” forced to strip, trousers-down, to represent Austerity Measures and NHS privatization. But it’s a waste. “Devised in consultation with experts on offshore finance” it still can only offer self-regarding theatre-wonk clowning and a shrieky insistence that we’re all in the shit and callous rich bastards did it.

Nothing wrong with that conclusion, absolutely not. But it works better when you actually argue and demonstrate it. What’s the point of agitprop which doesn’t even try to persuade?
BOX OFFICE 020 8743 5050 to 29 feb
Rating – no, can’t do it.

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SPEED THE PLOW Playhouse Theatre, SW1


David Mamet’s angostura sharpness is not everyone’s taste , but few playwrights have such rat-a-tat rhythm and economical impetus. And this swipe at the movie business, a three-hander in three scenes, had a success with Spacey and Goldblum a few years back, and a sensation on Broadway when Madonna took the role of the gorgeous temp who nearly overturns the settled cynicism of two producers dedicated to the simple Hollywood philosophy “get asses on seats, give ‘em the one they saw last year”.
And that’s the draw here: celebrity casting gives that role to Lindsay Lohan: once a Disney moppet, lately a fading movie performer, model, pop star, and – here’s the hook – serial addict, arrestee and rehabee, a reputedly almost “unemployable” wild-child. Creditable to defy this past with a West End debut under the usually infallible director Lindsay Posner, and it is not the toughest of ingenue roles, but all the same it would have been wiser for Lindsay the younger to do some humbler spadework on her stage skills first.

In the first act, no problem: Bob the studio producer (Richard Schiff) and Charlie his old colleague (Nigel Lindsay) are hatching a proposal to sell their boss, the invisible Ross, a prison action movie with a big star. Bob offers Karen the temp the job of doing a “courtesy read” of another book submitted. He plans – nudge nudge – to discuss it with her in his apartment. So far, frankly, an ansaphone could do Lohan’s few yes-sir lines, and she has not the skill to seem human in her reactions when the men continue their fusillade of sexual metaphor (“We’re whores!”) over her head. Schiff and Nigel Lindsay do this with high-speed brilliance, though it is hard to care much about either of these caricatures.

The middle act – between Bob and Karen – is the challenge, though it does allow Lohan to keep her hand pretty firmly on the book they are discussing and sometimes read from it. She got away with only one audible prompt. But the whole point is that she is breathtakingly pretty (tumbling hair, marvellous legs, very short tunic) and that Karen’s enthusiasm for the book requires the spouting of New Age nonsense, so if some of the words fall out backwards, who cares? . The book is called “The Bridge – Radiation, half-life and the decay of sanity” , pretentious bollocks about the end of the world, A Return To The Self and mystical roundness of life. This falls, haphazardly, from her perfect lips, accompanied by an announcement that she will sleep with the raddled old baldie as part of this whole philosophy. So here is an unsubtle middle-aged male fantasy, being ropily performed by a unsubtle tabloid scandalette. Hard to know who is exploiting whom.

The point, of course, that Bob is so overwhelmed by this available goddess that the final scene next morning is the best and funniest. Superb horror and rage erupt from Nigel Lindsay as Charlie, thwarted of his prison-movie , while the converted Bob deploys a stunned-mullet stubbornness. Embedded within it, if you care to engage with it, is the question of whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to bumble vapidly on and earn a living (Charlie “We aren’t put here to mope!”) or to take arms for some enormous wacko principle (Bob bleats “I wanted to do good!”).

It could only work if the female catalyst shone, and became hypnotically real enough to convince us – even for a few moments – that this radiation-holocaust-God-redemption stuff had any value. That doesn’t happen.
box office to 6 Dec

rating (no, can’t do it. Sorry. The men do their noble best, but…Dead Rat

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Sometimes you have to check out the Fringe regulars, especially when tagged with “sizzling” by the Scottish Express and “well worth getting out of bed for” by the Indy.  So I bought a ticket for this hardy annual – and the show was indeed packed, sold out in a venue on the large side of medium.
But it’s pretty terrible. Sloppy, self-indulgent, witless sub-sixth-form larking by five players old enough to know better. We live, after all, in the post-Reduced-Shakespeare age. This stuff can be smarter, by a factor of about fifty times. Here, the loose  plot has a girl shipwrecked on an island populated by Shakespeare characters who switch randomly around, mainly as an excuse to chuck out prithees and sirrahs and extract bad jokes from overfamiliar lines from the Dictionary Of Hackneyed Quotations. When Prince Hal strolls on with a union jack towel saying “once more unto the beach dear friends”, and the audience obediently guffaws, you know where you are. You’re in middle-aged 1950s philistinism, a world scared of poetry and feeling, demanding nothing more than validation of its fear of the archaic, the heroic, the complex. Smirk at a Yorick skull! Put Shakespeare in his place!



There are three middling good jokes – Hamlet taking a selfie, “hashtag thatisthequestion”, and a four-wall-breaking moment when a Romeo looks at the ceiling with “But soft, what light from yonder lighting rig breaks?”, followed by “things can only get meta”. And it’s a nice idea that ever since Plomley you can always find a copy of the Complete Works on a desert island.  The rap at the end has at least been worked on, and updated to put Richard III in the car-park. But sizzling? Worth getting up for? What were they thinking?
Rating…oh dear.   Dead Rat

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