Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A sobering affair

Is not one of life's greatest cruelties that things rarely live up to expectations? Eager anticipation for the office Christmas party, the romantic birthday dinner, or the World Cup more often than not leaves you crestfallen, if not hung-over and resentful. But thankfully, there are also moments that are surprisingly exceptional (Tim Henman's career notwithstanding) that allow us to keep the dream alive.

As such, I won't allow my disappointing recent evening at the Royal Court to see the World Premiere (how expectation building can you get?) of Caryl Churchill's latest play, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You, cloud my judgement of new English theatre. Nor will I wax lyrical about all that was wrong with the 50 minute (and too long at that) show except to give you enough fodder pre-press night to keep you ahead of the season's gossip.

Amidst all the hype and secrecy Drunk Enough has commanded, the only information to come forth about the play's subject matter was a two-liner (as printed on the flyer): "Jack would do anything for Sam. Sam would do anything." Now, is it just me, or does that tagline in conjunction with the play's admittedly genius title, leave you hoping for a morally probing love story crossed with the answer to that never answered Meatloaf question of what that is in the song, "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)?

Well, cast hopes aside all ye who read here. What Churchill delivers instead is two characters - who you come to assume personify the US (Sam for Uncle Sam) & UK (Jack for Union Jack) who fall in love, and participate in a long list of nefarious political acts that the US and UK have committed over the years. And without criticism, the theatrical conceit of a homosexual relationship as a metaphor for the US & UK entente is absorbing to start; but, fairly quickly the long list of committed atrocities becomes tedious. There is no context apart from the surreal frame of the two men cuddling on a suspended sofa. The dialogue is choppy and the actors' voices are too subdued to maintain attention. And if that still leaves you in the balance, what if I admitted that people started walking out after ten minutes of the World Premiere?

My expectations were huge for a play that covered everything (the UK, the US, politics, relationships) that I love. But, sadly, sometimes love (drunk or not) just ain't enough.

Drunk Enough To Say I Love You
Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
London, SW3
020 7565 5000, to 22 Dec


Blogger Shep said...

"Love just ain't enough"

Lis, you heartless unromantic you.

Must be the weather...

1:11 pm  
Anonymous Dan Farming said...

So glad someobody has seen it AND reviewed it. There won't be anything in the newspapers for another 8 days.
Is it okay if I add your review to the discussion board on what's on stage?

1:12 pm  
Anonymous Henry said...

Such a shame to hear. Churchill is legendary and did such fun works like Far Away and Strange Days. Sadly sounds as if she is following in the wake of Harold Pinter?

1:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How disappointing. I have had tickets for months. The build up is huge. Royal Court, Caryl Churchill, holiday season winner etc. So unfortunate. Is this the end of that generation? Who is next?

1:25 pm  
Anonymous honkman said...

How sad I was expecting a hardcore porn version of David Hare's Stuff Happens.

Guess will return my £10 seats?!
Anybody want to buy them off me?

1:53 pm  
Anonymous Dave, a script writer said...

What a shame indeed!
Where has London's intelligent theatre gone if the Royal Court missfires so badly?
Has anybody else heard that Alan Cumming's play, Bent, is closing early? Maybe this should befall the same fate?

1:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that is what the red, white and blue adverts are all about? All makes sense now. Good conceit as you say but not sure the idea of a suspended shrink like couch does it for me. Not mesmerised by the sounds of it.

2:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great heads up
Thank you Miss City Slicker :-)

2:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I already have tickets for Caryl Churchills play and as I have to make a very long trip out of my way due to other commitments I'm hoping you're wrong. But thanks for the warning.
You say people walked out after 10 minutes but you don't say why...shock ?
Call me old fashioned but 10 minutes isn't very long, or it didn't use to be in the olden days,when having an attention span was still fashionable.
People Walking out is not necessarily proof of a bad play in itself. Has it got nothing going for it ?
Tell me your wrong pleeeeeease !

Yours expectantly Lilythepunk

2:26 pm  
Blogger Matt S. said...

Went on the 13th; good acting, and great staging (even if a drop didn't quite work and the lighting wasn't as well targetted as it should) BUT was there anything more than agit-prop? Was it just CC getting her views off her chest in as formal a way as possible? The interesting metaphor of human relations/international relations was left alone (and is a little trite), and the increasing abstraction as the sofa elevated (from gay lovers, possible government officials, to the powers that be (or us)) didn't really get anywhere (except a silly laugh from the audience at a joke at the World Trade Center's expense). I suppose there may be point about Chomsky to be made - e.g. the connections between radical politics and language, but it was oblique at best. And the aping of Blair-esque idiom of sound bites was interesting for a couple of minutes.
Perhaps drunk enough to have the usual pub conversation about world affairs?

2:57 pm  
Anonymous Charlie said...

I also have tickets for Dec and while great of you to stick your neck out and warn the others I too am hoping to prove you wrong.

But have to say Matt S your description not only confuses me but is making me even more put off.
Gay, elevation, Chomsky, heh?


3:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went last night too

Great staging?? Two blokes on a high chair suspended in the dark?

I will jopin the philistine and proud club and say it was "CRAP"

Save your coins and head to Rock n Roll. Up for Evening Standard play of the year and a REAL politico thriller. Or Frost/Nixon but we have talked that up here before.

Or wait for the mainstream critics to tell you the same unelss they are under the heavy hand of the powers that the Royal Court be.

Yours truly

3:27 pm  
Anonymous etroni said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:05 pm  
Blogger City Slicker said...

Lilythepunk - the main thing going for it (sadly) was it's brevity. I think people walked out because it was hard to follow, hard to hear and mostly just plain dull.

But, don't just take my word for it. The critics should be all over this next week and I will be curious to see what a more 'trained' mind and ear has to say. Perhaps as Matt S comments here there is more Chomsky-esqe levels to it that went over my head.

And if I had to pick out something going for it (besides the lovely leather seats at the Royal Court) it would have been the semblance of Blair's character to the PM himself. But there wasn't enough in the character to save the day. Rather akin to the real Tony himself. Which if that is what CC was trying to say it was lost on me.

4:07 pm  
Anonymous Jay said...

Thanks CS for your bravery

I too have tickets which I will also be looking to dispose of because from this conversation it sounds like 50 minutes too long...

4:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush and Blair as gay lovers?

Sounds too true to be good :-)

4:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The actress Cate Blanchett is going to direct the Harold Pinter play "A Kind of Alaska" according to The Carpetbagger, (NY Times blogger who reviews films)

Hardly would say he is on the way out

4:26 pm  
Blogger ems said...

I always find that if you go to something expecting the worst it ends up being ok - so now that CS's review has disappointed you it might be alright... (If you follow my logic).

5:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw the preview on Saturday. Nothing wrong with the writing, but plenty wrong with the acting which doesn't commit to the lyrical intent (i.e. the musicality of voice intended by the playwright). It's as if they are trying to play naturalism literally stranded in mid-air with the content of each sentence (lists of atrocities, yes) but what was going wrong in the PREVIEW was that the drama of the relationship was being ignored. At its worst, this means that the PRODUCTION (not the play) is neither literal or metaphoric.

Basically, this is Churchill exploring further the techniques she tried to develop in "This is a Chair". Personally, I loved it but I have strong reservations about many moments in the production. If it pisses off conservative US culture hoppers, that's a thumbs up surely? They can go and see Wicked.

5:42 pm  
Anonymous Glyn said...

Er, what does that last comment actually mean?

It is exactly phrases like lyrical intent and musicality of voice that make me prefer reviews in regular English. What do those expressions mean and how can you use one to simply the other?

Bet Wicked is more fun anyway unless you are a theatre snob.

5:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't dispose of your tickets Jay, go along and suffer like I'm going to do. I mean what if City Slicker is wrong...and everbody else, obviously.
I'll make sure that I get drunk enough to watch it.
I had assumed that it would be an anti Bush/Blair situation due to the sam/jack business. Do any of you who don't rate it like anything else by Caryl Churchill ? Just clutching at straws you understand.

If I were to sell the tickets I wouldn't be able to spend the money on Frost/Nixon for 2 reasons.
1)I've already bought those tickets.
2)There still would be nowhere near enough money to cover it.

'A Kind of Alaska' is a good play.
I saw a very good production of it at The Gate.

Pissing of conservative culture hoppers gets a thumbs up from me too.
If that's theatre snobbery long may it reign.

5:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I love Caryl Churchill. Have seen every production of hers at the Royal Court since 1992. Went on Saturday evening to this Premiere and left forty minutes into in disgust. It must be said I am afriad. Wonder if City Slicker stayed to the end?

5:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tickets too
Didn't realise only 50 minutes quite a shaft for £22 quid

7:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What do those expressions mean and how can you use one to simply the other?"

Er... and what does that mean? Last time I looked, "to simply" was not an infinitive verb. Verbs form an important component of the "regular English" you crave.

7:46 pm  
Anonymous Parta said...

agree great title shame about the content

and how can a play be good but the production bad? have to think about that one

9:54 pm  
Anonymous Lilythepunk said...

Because sometimes good plays are produced badly !
or acted badly !
Sometimes bad plays are acted well !
Sadly for those of us with tickets it sounds like we've got a 'full house'..... as it were.

10:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carly Churchill reminds me of Helen Mirren

12:32 am  
Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for an honest critique of the show. Only wish a trans-Atlantic romance would be lasting literally and figuratively.

4:36 am  
Blogger Matt S. said...

For those with tickets...
'Fret not - it's an interesting production, but with the exceptions of the (slight) play with language and formal, abstract staging, it's an obvious idea, without much drama or insight, leaving you wondering that there should be something more to it. But it looks good (at least from the stalls) and at 50 mins, at least you won't get a sore bum...

[earlier ref. to Chomsky was simply that he was known for his linguistic theory - how language means something - before he was a political activist/writer]

4:38 pm  
Anonymous Tanya said...

Today's headline:

Gordon Ramsey opens restaurant in New York

Tomorrow's headline:

Gordon Ramsey bludgeoned to death with spatula by irate diner in New York

11:15 pm  

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