Sunday, 15 November 2009

Pains of Youth, National Theatre, 11 Nov 2009

It says everything about my take on Pains of Youth that the real highlight of the night was seeing Gillian Anderson on my route to the toilet during the interval. And I don't like Gillian Anderson. Not one bit.

It's a shame, too, this production, because I was fairly excited about my second Katie Mitchell after ...some trace of her blew my theatrical mind last year. And I was also excited to see George Streatfeild after so many years - he was the first West End actor that left a lasting impression on me, when I was visiting London with my college friends and caught a revival of Journey's End. And of course Martin Crimp is one of my favourite writers.

So, this production had everything going to for it (including Leo Bill in it, memorable for his rendering of the word "pimp" in arguably the best tv drama ever made, Julian Jarrold's "Crime and Punishment", but I digress). I went into the Cottesloe theatre with hope in my heart - this was a stage that had rarely failed to enchant me so I was confident and trsuting.

Boy was I wrong.

I haven't been so thoroughly bored by a play since... well, since Riflemind, and that's saying something. While I appreciated what Katie Mitchell was trying to do with the direction and set design, the fault was not in the production - or in the underused cast, full of brilliant actors (like Cara Horgan, who needs to go on to better things) none of which were able to make me connect with the characters. Only Streatfeild managed to resonate in any way with the amoral, charming and manipulative Freder, a character who probably deserved a better play, too.

The story concerns a bunch of medical students in Vienna in the 1920s and there's much neurosis and promiscuity. Some of its themes must have been quite shocking when it was first staged (like Desiree's lesbian desire for Marie, or suicide) but sound trite and merely sensationalist now, without any real heart behind the story. I don't know if Martin Crimp's version is mistakingly dull or if that's the best he could do with the original but there was none of the sharpness and poetry we can normally find in the author. The characters are self-indulging and ridiculous and not in a way that's entertaining or provokes debate. You just want them so shut up.

In short, a real waste of money and time, and one of the biggest disappointments of the season.

The Independent.
The Guardian.
The Telegraph.
Sans Taste.

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