Magazine article The Spectator

Academic Loser

Magazine article The Spectator

Academic Loser

Article excerpt

Butley

Duchess, booking until 27 August

Chicken Soup with Barley

Royal Court, until 9 July

Here's the thing. This box-set business. Do you get it? I tried. I failed. But everyone else goes stark raving mad about these fictional treasures. Once you've sampled a box set (or boxed-set? ), you're hooked. You won't be seen again until you've visited every corner of the dream kingdom encased within its magical walls. Didn't happen to me, though.

I sat through the first six minutes of The Wire in total bafflement. It seemed to be a style programme about a clique of young entrepreneurs posing on a sofa which, perhaps to facilitate the public's admiration of its proportions, had been stationed outdoors.

In England, the best families throw their homes open to the public. In Baltimore they throw their homes on to the street. Perhaps I was missing something.

The man who called that box set home, Dominic West, wants to make a career here as a light theatre actor. In his new play, Butley, he plays an angry, witty, bisexual English lecturer who loses everything he cares for in the space of a single day. West is excellent.

His handsome looks are rough-at-the-edges and approachable. He has a warm, expressive voice and a playful spirit, a sort of dashing silliness, that suits this frivolous material perfectly.

The script, Simon Gray's first big hit, is plotted artlessly, mechanically. One by one Butley's friends desert him, and his enemies, one by one, are rewarded with the success that eludes him. At least two of the roles are microscopic. Poor Amanda Drew, playing Butley's wife, has to get all glammed up for a West End hit and is forced off-stage and back to her dressing room after about ten lines. The climax is a showdown between a gay northern publisher and Butley over a disputed boyfriend. Butley's mockery of the Yorkshireman's self-regarding swagger, served up in a triple-thick accent, is deliciously funny. And it's a particular treat for modern audiences because new-fangled taboos restrain us from sticking it to the sticks with too much enthusiasm.

But even this highlight - which may baffle Americans by the way - is bedevilled by an unforeseen snag. Paul McGann, the publisher, can't do a Yorkshire accent.

He comes close-ish, at times, to places that aren't too far from his target county. A hint of Newcastle here, an echo of Nottingham there, but it's a very unconvincing tour of the A1. …

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