Monday, June 01, 2009
Twelve years ago I wrote an attack on theatre. Luvvies across the land stamped their feet, wept and fainted. I was even on a radio show recorded in a theatre with me on the stage and hundreds of incandescent theatricals in the auditorium. Good times. On Saturday, earnestly determined to entertain a friend from America, we went to see Duet for One at the Vaudeville. Juliet Stevenson's performance, I had been told, was magnificent and Charles Spencer, dean of reviewers, had called the show 'a masterclass in restraint and subtlety'. This was, no doubt about it, a hot ticket. It was, of course, crap. Stevenson's performance reminded me of an Eric Clapton concert I saw many years ago. He played his set - massively accomplished and boring - then did his encore. Plainly tired and bored by himself, he knocked out some bog standard, low life heavy metal. The audience roared. 'That's all,' I could see him thinking, 'it takes.' Similarly, Stevenson did loads of low life, coach party acting and the undemanding audience went home happy. That's all it takes. The play itself - a two-hander about a psychiatrist and a violinist dying of MS - was pathetic. Apart from Stevenson's histrionics and the psychiatrist's German accent and love of violin music (it is well known that all psychiatrists have German accents and love violin music), nothing happened. 'We seem to be back where we started,' said my American friend at the end, 'I think the writer could have done with another thirty days of deep thought.' At the end of which process, he should have taken up a new career. And so the luvvies march on, telling everybody that theatre is special, different, sacred while the rest of us watch House, read Geoffrey Hill and, on the advice of John Gray, William Carlos Williams - 'It is passion/earlier and later than thought/that rises above thought....'
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:31 am