Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Plague Over England: Review. Where's the cock?

At long last I got to see Nicholas de Jongh’s Plague Over England last night, his account of Sir John Gielgud’s arrest and conviction for cottaging in the witchhunty 50s. London's Duchess Theatre is a perfect venue since it looks like a mouldering 50s wedding cake itself or something on Miss Havisham’s spider webbed banqueting table, and even as a young child I imagined her hymen as a tatty net curtain in need of laundering. Last night I dreamt of 50s dust motes dancing in my lungs and men’s pee patches left or right of the fly. It’s always best if I keep my fantasies under rein.

The play itself has a fustiness that works well as atmosphere, less so as 21st Century theatre. In its way it’s as prim and proper as its Home Secretary: we see men’s backs at urinals, furtive glances, baggy pressed trousers. Everyone speaks elliptically – a script made up of “…” and “…”: politicians and lawyers allude to grave and unnatural offences, all perfectly realistic I’m sure. What’s never mentioned is the problem here: cock. Clothes and language collude in veiling the thing that is the cause of all the fuss. Where is the cock?

De Jongh would do better to strip all his actors (and Celia Imrie as Sybil Thorndike and another) and have them naked upon the stage. This would import a timeless element in the 50s nonsense and strengthen undermining absurdity. While we do not know precisely what Gielgud got up to in the lav, I would have him stroking the cock of the “pretty policeman” (as a pig agent provocateur was called) and perhaps sucking it too – again, this may not be realistic (because all Gielgud had to do was look invitingly at the copper to get arrested) but it would underline his sexual needs. At the moment he just seems a bit frisky and fancy-free, a bit libido-lite when he’s not quoting Shakespeare or trying to be Oscar and fannying around.

An act of cock-mouth sex would also have the effect of upsetting most of the grey pube theatre critics in the audience who are no less homophobic than the grey flannelled fools on the stage. It would flush out the creased and carbuncled swine - and yes, I mean you, cunty of the Sunday Times.

I would have songs and dancing, off-stage videos screening porn – gay and straight – and when Mrs Thatcher is elected Tory leader I would have her emerge naked in a strap-on dildo as a mark of power, her new shadow Cabinet ministers (all wearing Gielgud masks) stroking it half admiringly, half fearfully. In the ignorant world de Jongh focuses on, cock is power. The fuss he dramatises is simply about compromised perceptions of cock and the prevailing fantasies of the time.

Michael Feast makes a pleasing Gielgud in miniature, his voice has something of the “silver trumpet muffled in silk” of the original: he is a surface creature, all whimsy, gaiety, ciggie smoke and signet ring on pinkie. He is not in the least sexual. The multiple roles the actors play confused me a bit: you wonder whether Steve Hansell’s homophobic copper is jail bait when he reappears as a gay opportunist – in fact not. The alternating split stage sequence where Gregory and Terry make love while the Home Sec dreams of a queerless world doesn't work: what we needed was a graphically sexual interlude - real erections, culminating in orgasm - to remind ourselves why we go to such lengths to have sex in the first place. It's all so ordinary and universal. So average.

Worth seeing, however. Click here to book.

8 comments:

Not Sheridan Morley said...

As one of the "grey pube theatre critics" you spitefully complain of in this most peculiar of "reviews" - running several weeks after the play opened - I can assure you that our little tribe (of grey pube national theatre critics) is generally not in the least homophobic.

This however does not preclude jokes which, thanks to the blessing of irony, make homosexuals or homosexuality the butt. Like many rabble-rousers you attempt to pin a label as part of your campaign to homosexualise just about every aspect of national life, judging by the content of this website which should carry an 18 or R health rating.

While I am here, may I instruct you a little in the art of theatre reviewing? Ordinarily it is the custom to outline the plot: readers find it useful. I assume you have readers, but who knows? Instead, you cursorily allude to one or two of your off-colour fantasies, such as the one of Miss Havisham's hymen, before launching into a pornographic re-imagining of de Jongh's play; a play which if forged under your direction would result in a police raid and likely prosecution for obscenity. If this resulted in your imprisonment, then at least some good would come of the production. Whether you would end up in a men's or women's jail is not something I can comment on with authority.

A review should place a work in some sort of historical context and evaluate cast, production, sets, direction, treatment of theme (inter alia) and adjudge the overal theatrical experience, whatever the sytle of the work. Your "review" is simply an excuse to parade your own prejudices while taking potshots (some of them very sly) at various individuals who command a byline. I suspect you are a jealous and bitter person. Certainly you are vindictive in the extreme. You are a trouble-maker, a shit-stirrer.

What is apparent to me is that you have an irrational hostility to the 50s and to heterosexual men and to just about anything that does not conform to your weird, Jarmanesque dreamscape.

Madame Arcati is one of the reasons why blogs can never be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Who is this twerp who can't get Madame's jazzing up the possibilities of life?

Madame Arcati said...

One grey pube looks and writes very much like another. I have a vision of a theatrical coral reef of scrotes, disembodied ball sacs swimming this way and that, with hairlike fragments dancing on the tidal ebb and flow.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the moron Not Sheridan Morley would care to comment on this from the Daily Mail re: Natasha Richardson's death:

"Natasha struck down by the eternal curse of the Redgraves. Scandal and illness have plagued the family since Sir Michael was revealed to be bisexual."

Paul Dacre should be arrested.

Bob Dylan's Grandma Had One Leg said...

Darwin Porter's outrageous biography of Marlon Brando goes into great detail about the blow-jobs Brando enjoyed from Sir John (he also loved Marlene Deitrich's because she scrubbed the kitchen floor afterwards like a good hausfrau).

Yes, someone shoot Paul Dacre. When I first saw the 'eternal curse of the Redgraves' I thought it would refer to poor Sir Michael's dreadful Parkinson's Disease-most unsettling if you saw him in a London restaurant with food dribbling from his mouth.

Anonymous said...

This is all good, isn’t it MA darling? Grey Pube’s comments are all good news, don’t you think? Your review being branded ‘peculiar’ by someone like GP can be nothing but good if it chases away the likes of him.

He wonders if you have any readers (you obscure blogger, you), but manages to find your review within… how long was it before he posted his comment, darling? He beat to the chase everyone of us four regulars to be the very first to post a comment. Mind you, he who never reads this blog, or takes it ‘seriously‘, learned enough about it to uncover your devious plan to “homosexualise just about every aspect of national life” (uh-oh, can we be tracked and raided for being part of your hideous little gang of followers? What would be the sentence?), give it an 18 or R rating (by Zeus I hope it does have it; I don‘t think you are interested in exchanging that many ideas with children still in school, are you?) and decide your style is that of a Jarmanesque dreamscape (see? All good! You‘re so talented, baby) before posting his very brief “by the way let me tell you how to make a proper review” post (at first glance, I though it was one of my comments and I wondered if I had started posting in my sleep…but then I began to read it - if I find out it is me writing in my sleep, I‘m going for electroshock treatments).

And all those epithets! Prejudiced, obscene, jealous, bitter, vindictive, trouble-maker, shit-stirrer; did he need a thesaurus? When he calls you rabble-rouser, which crowd do you suppose he thinks you instigate to feel hatred, act violently or show ‘irrational hostility‘? The likes of him? (As in ignorant, dimwitted and unsophisticated people that are totally intolerant of any observation that is not unconditional arselick praise - but he is NOT homophobic, ‘generally’ speaking of course). So Equus is artistic and worthy of acclaim but a play that discuses homosexuality+nudity is pornographic and worthy of a police raid even if it is theoretically proposed? When did the ban on free opinion and satire start? I have been saying for a while now that this era of PC is causing a lot of dangerous feelings to buildup …

Why do you suppose it is so important for a critic of his stature to scan the opinion of deluded and obscure bloggers like you and worry about giving you such a VINDICTIVE answer - including the thought of relief that your ideas may be worthy of your incarceration? Who is he afraid you will influence? After all, who reads you anyway? And this is the kind of reaction you get when you actually invite us to see the play reviewed! You must have hit a really sensitive nerve calling someone gray pube. Try something with limp dick, sweetie, I want to see what happens.

ox

p.s. Don’t you think for a moment that I am not wondering what were you doing imagining ragged ladies hymens as a child, you naughty you. I didn’t go about imagining the looks my own hymen, let alone ponder about other girls having one; heck I can’t imagine it now - ok, I can’t remember what it looked like but that is about the same.

Madame Arcati said...

Dear OX, thank you for your thoughts. My assumption is that the grey pube who offered me tuition was probably in a disinhibited state, thanks to a glass or two of lunchtime Pinot, when he decided to write to me. It has a hurried feel to it (there I go, reviewing again) and the tininess of mind that I associate with one critic in particular. A quick comparative prose analysis has confirmed my suspicion.

Madame Arcati said...

PS I have noticed quite a lot of traffic from theatre paper The Stage. My thanks.