Reviews: Tell-tale signs
Thursday 19 March 1998
Centre stage, a television set was snowing helplessly. "Must be Channel 5," quipped a wag in the audience as we took our seats. And that was the high point of the evening. Imported as the second leg of the Donmar Warehouse "Four Corners" season, Northern Stage Company's production of Tell Me by Matthew Dunster, has nothing to declare but its own furious, stylised futility. A preternaturally dysfunctional family, caricature of a depressive wife, a misogynist husband who spouts jokes Chubby Brown himself might balk at, and a hectoring religious-maniac son who ceaselessly recites Revelations, go off their heads round a second chronically-disabled son who spasms on a sofa, while the TV set shows footage of the beautiful mobile being he might have been.
The spirit of the show has a nasty edge to it. It's as though A Day In The Death of Joe Egg had been re-written from a nihilistic viewpoint without the despairing wit, humanity and moral authority that Peter Nicholls had gained from personal experience. Full of arty rewinds and whooshing auditory equivalents of the whip-pan, it feels like a synthetic nervous breakdown rather than a responsibly experimental piece of theatre. When the roof starts to leak and water gushes down on the disabled youth as he has a thrashing fit, there's such a triumphant complacency of desolation in this contrived image, you'd need to have a heart of stone not to snort with laughter.
Also heavily stylised in a way that often heightens its humanity is the show that now replaces Tell Me in the Four Corners season. When David Greig's Timeless was premiered at last year's Edinburgh Festival in a co-production with Tramway, most critics, myself included, raised two- and-a-quarter cheers. The complaint was that manner threatened to overwhelm matter, given such obtrusive devices as an on-stage string quartet which strains with bitter-sweet intensity or jokily drowns out dialogue, lots of ritualised miming of social flinches and tics, a fugue-like build-up of catch-phrases and key words and cubist-angled grouping of bodies.
Watching Timeless a second time, I find I'm much more straightforwardly moved by the tension the piece generates between the colloquial, comically- observed outer world of this quartet of Scots 20-30-somethings (all defensive professional insecurity and swerving sexual attraction) and the anxious lyric rapture of their inner lives. Moving backwards and forwards in time - full of anticipation and regret, and, more importantly, the anticipation of regret - the piece is obsessed by a moment of timeless joy and togetherness the foursome once shared watching the dawn come up on a beach near a power station. Virginia Woolf meets John Byrne. As performed by an admirable cast (Keith Macpherson, Paul Thomas Hickey, Molly Innes and Kate Dickie), the alternations between affected social casualness and surreally-disclosed private vulnerability are tremendously sympathetic without being sentimental, except perhaps in a final song which sounds like a dud copy of one of the Elvis Costello/Brodsky quartet Juliet Letters.
You may still feel that there's too much of the technical exercise about Timeless, but unlike Tell Me, it has a fully-functioning heart.
Life & Style blogs
Teenagers irritable because early school hours mess with their biological clocks
The Fappening: After the third wave of leaked celebrity photos, why can't we stop it?
Londoners agree to give up first-born child in exchange for free internet
The truth about student sex workers: it's far from Belle Du Jour
FireChat: The internet-free messaging app that's sweeping the world
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- 1 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 2 Expert urges cat lovers to own just one animal each
- 3 Sainsbury's '50p challenge' poster telling staff to encourage customers to spend more placed in shop window instead of staff room
- 4 Yes, the iPhone 6 is a miracle, but it's Apple's tax affairs that deserve a double take
- 5 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- < Previous
- Next >
Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...
Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...
£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...