Magazine article The Spectator

Keep on Running

Magazine article The Spectator

Keep on Running

Article excerpt

Theatre Keep on running The Maths Tutor Hampstead Romeo and Juliet Young Vic Oedipus Old Fire Station, Oxford, and touring

Only a swine would be a theatre critic. Think of it. You show up at 7.30, you glug back a glass of pre-warmed Shiraz, you slouch into the stalls with your unsmiling colleagues, you sit there blinking and staring through 90 minutes of laborious artifice (over which numerous gifted artists have sweated for many months) and when it's over, instead of slinking home in a mood of wordless lamentation, you rush to a telephone and repeat your meanest thoughts to a copytaker for the national press. To put it mildly, this is heartless cruelty. The truth is worse. Most reviewers are borderline psychotics.

And like all psychotics, they know how to camouflage their symptoms. I went to see The Maths Tutor, Clare McIntyre's new playlet in Hampstead, last week. I slumped in my seat, quelling many a fractious yawn and toying with the idea of bunking off at half time. I stayed, but only to watch the luscious Sally Dexter mischievously sending up the script. Next day I skimmed the papers, but instead of finding my fellow reviewers dutifully burning the play to a crisp, I discovered them warming the dough of praise and placing their approvalpies in the fan-oven at 250F. I was staggered. Had I even been to the same play? What I saw was a humourless, preachy melodrama with flimsy characters, insipid dialogue and a storyline whose lumbering parts seemed to compete with each other, like sad lobsters jousting over a mollusc, to win this year's prize for improbability. But according to the national press, the evening was a minor triumph, a stimulating and superbly acted piece of blah blah blah. Well, if the broadsheet reviewers aren't psychos, maybe they're too well-mannered for the job. Not me, though. If this show opens at a theatre near you, run in the opposite direction.

Better news at the Young Vic, where an Icelandic circus troupe are swinging their way though Romeo and Juliet. I admit I'm a purist when it comes to the stage. Experimental theatre, I suspect, is often guided by self-delusion. To borrow an analogy from Eros and its contemporary refinement, bondage, a chap who clads the missus in waders and a hooded catsuit isn't exploring his undiscovered sexuality - he just wants a new missus. …

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