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29 June 2011
Lullaby Off Barbican Broadway

Michael Coveney:

The minute I heard about Duckie's Lullaby I was determined not to go. (Note from editor: We sent another reviewer who had a much different take - click here to read the review.)

Now some of the journalists who packed their jim-jams and toothbrushes for the experience are paying the price. Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph recounts how he was woken three times by a couple of irate Sapphists in the bed next to him and told to stop snoring. Not only that, he reports (though not in his review) that one of them suggested he lie flat on his stomach and bury his head in the pillow, ie, suffocate himself. Perish the thought, or perish the critic.

The mystery to me is why anyone thought an overnight production like Lullaby would be worth going to in the first place. I once experienced a charming bed-time Italian show for children mid-morning at the BAC; it involved getting tucked up for a story, which had wonderfully spooky sound effects going on around that delighted the children and amused the adults. We didn't have to go to sleep. It lasted about 50 minutes. It was unpretentious and unthreatening. And then we all had a nice cup of tea.

I now see that it was that show that gave Duckie, the vaudeville company based at the Vauxhall Tavern, the idea for this one. And they say they're aiming for cocoa and cosiness rather than any terrorist-style Living Theatre sex and confrontation effects.

Like much that's lauded as immersive, or environmental, or even "new" in our theatre, it sounds to me like twee nonsense to me, unrelated to cultural or genuinely experimental imperative - about as challenging as Listen with Mother or A Book at Bed-time.

The Times' critic Libby Purves reveals how she invested in new night gear for the occasion of reviewing Lullaby. She had Ruth Leon on her Radio 4 Midweek programme this morning, but neither touched on the subject. Instead, they were still discussing Ruth's new book on her late husband and fellow critic Sheridan Morley's sad decline with depression into neediness.

Ruth reiterated her ambition to spend her life doing the same job in the same room with the same man, so spending the night at Lullaby might have been ideal. Libby touched on the fact that "some people" were still having trouble with the fact that Ruth actually wrote Sherry's reviews for him over the last few years of his life.

Ruth herself believes that she sees nothing unreasonable about this. If her husband ran a sweetshop, she said, and he went out for the day, who would object if she stood in for him at the counter and sold the lemon sherberts herself? In other words, you keep the business going at all costs. But is theatre reviewing the same as selling sweets? Here comes a show, here's a quarter pound of review, madam, that should do the job nicely. Be careful not to break your teeth.

Ruth also says that everyone knew about this long-running deception (we didn't, actually) but liked Sherry so much that we wanted to protect him. It was a lively programme, on which Libby's other guests were Kennneth Cranham and Noel Tovey, both fascinating and very entertaining. Noel, an Australian dancer and director I've known forever, was in the original cast of Oh! Calcutta! in London. No jim-jams required.

His one-man show, Little Black Bastard, which was on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, is back in London at a venue I've never heard of, un-listed, as far as I can see, in Time Out; but it is well worth seeking out. It tells an incredible, and incredibly upsetting, story of childhood misery and abuse in downtown Melbourne, leading to all sorts of drugs and decadence.

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