Last night I saw this show.
Well, I saw half of it.
My heart sunk when I arrived at the theatre and realised that the company was Decadent Theatre , director Andrew Flynn. I had seen their adaptation of D C Pierre’s Vernon God Little, or, at least, the first half. If only I had done some research first, rather than relying on the name Patrick McCabe, whose brilliant novels, The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto, I have read, along with seeing both excellent film versions.
I should apologise. I am a theatre snob. Living in London for the last fourteen years, teaching English and Drama and Theatre Studies, I have been an avid theatre goer. I generally arrange about 20 trips per year for my students and I also go regularly, and often on my own, to other shows. Many theatres, such as the National, the Young Vic and the Almeida, all excellent, arrange “teachers’ preview evenings” at low prices.
In London, there is so much theatre that discrimination is necessary. I choose very carefully, using my knowledge of playwrights, directors, companies and actors. In order to keep within budget I rarely venture into the West End. Dragging myself out, after an exhausting day in an Inner London comprehensive school, taught me another strategy. If it’s not good enough, leave at half time. So I left Ben Wishaw’s Hamlet. I left The Rose Tattoo and many other shows. Listing them here would make my readers even more irritated. In self defence I would say that I have earned the title of aficionado, but I do admit to being a theatre snob.
Flynn used a playscript but, wanting to use a large ensemble, also drew on the novel. The result is both messy and, unutterably dull. As I saw in Vernon God Little Flynn has very few theatrical strategies to draw on. He moves his chorus of eight from one part of the small set to another – always ensuring that they literally have their backs against a wall and are out of the way. They form, in height order, a phalanx either upstage centre or stage left. They deliver, in chorus, largely incomprehensible lines or songs. Sometimes one or another will venture out to interact with the two central characters. Then they are sucked back into the lumpen mass of the pyramid. It’s about as boring and repetitive as doing the washing up.
The protagonists take turns in standing centre stage and declaiming, in addresses to the audience, their life histories. Eyes are wide, mouths are fully open (although diction and projection are not ideal) and bodies are at full stretch as if to take up as much of the embarrassing space as possible. Whilst the one has his moment of dominance the other sits slumped stage right, focussing in a vapid manner on the orator. Then they swap places in an all too predictable manner. The audience experience is rather like doing the drying up with a damp tea-towel.
The music was quite nice. I particularly enjoyed a rendition of Killing Me Softly with His Song but even this felt ironic as that was exactly what I thought the show was doing to me. So it was home for a glass of wine and a bit of quality TV. Perhaps the service engineer will come and mend my dishwasher today. That might put me me in a better mood?
Decadent Theatre. The Dead School 2016 dir. Andrew Flynn. Performance.
— Vernon God Little 2015 dir. Andrew Flynn. Performance.
Fox, Charles and Gimbel, Norman Killing Me Softly with His Song. 1971. Music.
McCabe, Patrick. Breakfast on Pluto. London: Picador. 1998. Print.
— The Butcher Boy. London: Picador. 1992. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. perf. Ben Wishaw. London: Old Vic. 2004. Performance.
Williams, Tenessee. The Rose Tattoo. London: Olivier Theatre. 2007. Performance.