Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Wild Party; Twelfth Night

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Wild Party; Twelfth Night

Article excerpt

It's every impresario's dream. Buy a little off-West End venue to try out stuff for fun. Andrew Lloyd Webber has snaffled up the St James Theatre (rebranded The Other Palace), which he intends to run as a warm-up track for new musicals. First off the blocks The Wild Party, a New York import set in the 1920s. We meet a couple of vaudeville veterans, Queenie and Burrs, whose romance has hit the rocks. To rekindle the flame they invite everyone they know around for a party. Hang on. A party? Booze, drugs, flirtation, seduction: the recipe for destroying a romance, not salvaging it. But never mind. The guests have started to arrive, direct from the Scott and Zelda Tribute Society. Everyone is talented, sophisticated and glamorously tragic. There's an out-of-work diva, a washed-up boxer, a needy movie star on the rise, a gigolo named Black who only wears white and never says a word, and a pair of singing teenagers who may or may not be transvestites. Add a troupe of high-kicking flappers who specialise in collapsing on to sofas while giggling hysterically and your line-up of Jazz Age clichés is complete.

The lethargic plot involves an adulterous liaison and the shooting of somebody or other. This is a classy and no doubt costly production. The tunes, the rhythms and the visual stylings brilliantly capture the atmosphere of the 1920s. But it's hard to care about these grasping, shallow hedonistic characters and their misguided search for contentment at an orgiastic drug binge. There's a pumped-up energy here but it feels tired, melancholy, and even, dare I say it, hard work.

A new Twelfth Night at the National. Yes, another one. The convoluted plot with its endless cross-dressing permutations doesn't just defy logic or subvert reason, it causes drowsiness. Simon Godwin's production casts Tamsin Greig as the despotic puritan Malvolio and transforms him with an ink-speck into Malvolia. And it works because it goes with the general drift of the nonsense. The lonesome Olivia runs her court like a lesbian collective so it's understandable that she should hire a lady butler with Sapphic leanings.

Tamsin Greig puts in a performance that isn't just a dazzling piece of Shakespearean interpretation, it's also a wonderful piece of Tamsin Greig. She plays Malvolia as a shrewd, calculating miserablist who rules her demesne with mysterious graces, tiptoeing around her opponents and lancing them with indecipherable stares. …

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