Harvey Weinstein has a lot to answer for. Quite apart from the obvious abuse of power, women and generally being an arsehole, he also, it seems, inspired David Mamet to write Bitter Wheat.
When I discovered that John Malkovich was coming to the West End and would be performing in a David Mamet play, it would be fair to say I was tremendously excited. An amazing actor in a play by a great playwright…what was there NOT to be excited about? I bought tickets quickly.
My excitement abated somewhat when it was announced that the selfish train guards of our train line were going to go on strike for four days, including today when we were due to travel into town. It was going to be a pain because of the skeleton service but not impossible and the flat is always there in case of insuperable difficulties.
My excitement was abated further when we realised that Mirinda wouldn’t be accompanying me because of her illness. She (and I) was most concerned with her suddenly exploding into a coughing fit. This is a big part of her present ailment and is loud and hacking and not pleasant for anyone. She decided, what with the train guards and her health, that she’d stay home and I’d go on my own.
To be fair, the trains weren’t too bad if you ignore the hour wait at Woking on the way home with not much more than a freight train for company.
But the play…the play was not very good. It was like watching a first draft of a promising new work by an up and coming writer. It’s not what one expects from one of our greatest living playwrights. A shame but there you go.
There was a sweet irony in the first scene which had a writer arguing with Barney (the main character) about having to do a rewrite before getting any money. Of course, we didn’t know just how ironic it was until we were a good way into the play but this should have been a portent.
John Malkovich was, as I expected, very good but I’d posit that no actor could rise above the mediocrity of the material on offer. His singular dimension character (Barney Fein) was never going to be easy. He has no redeeming features and very little for an actor to work on for personality. It’s fortunate that John isn’t a Method actor because it would be very difficult justifying a lot of who, why, what and where. ‘When’ would not be difficult.
He does have a magnetism on stage which makes it difficult to see anyone else performing with him. This is also exacerbated by the material. If a great actor struggles with it, what hope mere mortals? For this reason, the rest of the cast were largely a bit lacklustre.
Mind you, I was impressed by Ioanna Kimbook who was making her West End debut as the South Korean, Yung Kim Li. It should be stated that she was playing a South Korean actor who grew up in Kent while being a South Korean actor who grew up in Kent. In her own words she was “…playing myself, basically…”
Something else that spoiled a perfectly good night out was the audience. Well, not the entire audience but a bit of it. In particular the incredibly rude bit sitting next to me. I realise that long ago it was okay to make a lot of noise and ignore the action on the stage but these days it’s a bit disrespectful to everyone else to make a phone call and continue texting throughout the first half hour of a performance as if one was at home with only a goldfish for company.
And laugh! This guy’s laugh was loud, obnoxious and wholly inappropriate. It was as if he had been paid to laugh but was only a fifth rate laugher. He clearly didn’t understand the fact that the last bit of the first act was disgusting rather than funny and needed to be discouraged rather than cheered on. I guess he could have been a fully paid up member of the Patriarchy, as Deborah Frances-White would no doubt say.
Anyway, it was an interesting night out and I’m very glad I saw John Malkovich but, really, I’d rather see a play that’s finished rather than one that still belongs pre-printer.
The title comes from a conversation I overheard on the stairs as I was heading for my seat. It came from a young (13ish) year old American kid to, I think, his brother. He would probably have been happier at LegoLand.