Friday, May 04, 2007
Back To The Beginning
So, yes, Lyric Hammersmith last night, with the man who for reasons best know to himself prefers to be known as Juice, to see Absolute Beginners, Roy Williams adaptation of Colin MacInnes’ novel set in 1950s Notting Hill.
I’d been looking forwards to this one considerably; I have a lot of time for Williams, having seen one of his plays, Little Sweet Thing, tame and engage a theatre full of rowdy, gum-chewing and generally disinterested teenagers a couple of years ago. I also have a personal interest in the subject matter as my family lived in Notting Hill during the time the play is set, after coming to England from what was then Yugoslavia.
(Not that this interest had extended to actually reading MacInnes' book you understand, but I knew of it, and at least I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. Sample interval conversation, heard several times over: “so, have you read the book then?” “No, but I know of it.”)
Anyway, point of story being: expectations high, perhaps too high. Things started well enough. Visually the production is spectacular – the set is a Mondrian-esque collection of blocks that drift about the stage giving the city a kind of stylised vibrancy, London depicted as playground and party town, really quite striking. These blocks in turn open up to reveal rooms and spaces within spaces. Unfortunately the look of the thing sets the bar a little too high and the actual meat of the play never really delivers on this initial promise.
The unnamed hero – a wannabe photographer and a part of the ‘teenage generation’ that had suddenly sprung into existence – dashes about town in an attempt to scrape some cash together in order to impress his girlfriend Suze. He encounters an array of characters: shady media types, Teddy boys and beatniks, as well as some nasty Keep-England-White thugs; Soweto Kinch's tinkly jazz score plays throughout. The elements are all there for a thrilling evening of theatre, but for all its promise, it just didn’t work. Nothing clicked. The dialogue was flatly delivered and the pacing felt all off. The episodic first half was little more than a primer on 1950s London and the Notting Hill race riots, while at least giving the second half more of a dramatic focus, were portrayed by means of a Dance Sequence. Yes, that’s right. Lots of chaps twirling and tumbling. I know this was in keeping with the production’s overall stylised atmosphere. But, still. No. Bad.
The play was crying out to be grimier, to be tougher than it was. True, there was a scene towards the end, where the hero and his black friend Cool get into a fight over Suze, which had the requisite intensity that the rest of the play lacked, but it was too little too late – even the constantly shifting and sliding boxes, so exciting initially, had started to grate at that stage. So, to summarise, I was bit disappointed in this one. It felt like an opportunity missed. Plus one Notting Hill social group were significant, to me anyway, by their absence – where were all the Eastern Europeans? Because obviously that’s what this needed. A load of shouty Slavs, that would have helped I’m sure.