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30 June 2011
Thatís what comes from too much pills and liquour

Mark Shenton: The Stage

It turns out that the critical restraint I showed yesterday in writing about Duckie’s Lullaby was entirely unnecessary: the embargo on writing about it critically, which we were asked to observe until lunchtime today, had in fact collapsed, not just thanks to the Guardian blog I mentioned yesterday, but by a review that ran on the news pages of the Daily Telegraph on Monday filed by someone called Matthew Moore.

His isn’t, of course, a name I recognise from the arts pages; nor one by the Barbican’s press office. He had simply bought a ticket and filed a three-star review. Weirdly, no one on the Telegraph’s news desk (which published the review) bothered to check with their own arts desk that the paper’s own chief theatre critic Charles Spencer was also reviewing it — and did yesterday, with a one-star review of his own.

But if confusion reigns, clearly, between different sections of the same paper, so readers may now be equally confused by the different responses that their two reports brought to it. It’s nevertheless instructive for other reasons. Of course, one’s reactions to any piece of theatre are always subjective and personal, but even more so for a show which puts one’s own sleeping habits on show.

For Mr Moore, anxieties about etiquette preceded the show itself: “What sort of pyjamas are appropriate for the theatre? Should you bring your slippers? Exactly who books a triple bed?” (I hadn’t, but was given one anyway by producer Simon Casson for extra comfort with my partner; a thoughtful touch, though I was a bit worried at first that Matt Wolf or Terri Paddock, also in attendance on Tuesday night, might have tried to join us).

For Charlie, on the other hand, “a dire night became downright humiliating” when his own snoring became a source of high drama. He was woken repeatedly by his neighbour: “I apologised, went back to sleep and she woke me up and told me I was snoring again. I said she company had provided ear plugs and perhaps they would help. She said she was wearing the earplugs and was still being kept awake by no snores. I felt guilty and exhausted and drifted off and she woke me a third time. I tried to stay awake but eventually fell asleep back into swinish slumber. This time exhaustion had evidently overcome her too because I wasn’t woken again.”

At least at Lullaby, of course, inducing sleep (and its by-products like snoring) was the intention of its makers. Falling asleep in the theatre at other times, of course, is a hazard for everyone: going to a Wednesday matinee at Richmond, for instance, often feels like an extended slumber party.

But for theatre critics, it is to be professionally avoided as much as possible. We’ve had monumental sleepers in the stalls in the past — the late Sheridan Morley, Milton Shulman and John Gross were all famous for it over here, while in New York the late Clive Barnes was also a regular sleeper. It still goes on — one colleague snored gently behind me through a show at the National’s Cottesloe and subsequently gave it a five-star rave, though he couldn’t have seen much of it, while in New York I once saw the Toronto Star critic Richard Ouzounian sound asleep across the aisle from me during a press performance of American Idiot, which has led me to dub him Ousnoozian.

But I have some sympathy. At the time I was amazed that he could sleep through such a loud rock show; but going back to it, purely for pleasure, on a subsequent trip, my own jetlagged self did exactly the same thing.

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