Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 7th December 2002

What the Night is For / The Lying Kind / Kiki & Herb

The Spectator - 7th December 2002

With the exception of Romeo & Juliet: The Musical, I can't think of another play this year that has been as savagely panned as What the Night is For. "There are times," wrote Susannah Clapp in The Observer "when people should promptly leave the auditorium and ask for their money back." I feel that way about 75% of the plays I see. Why single out What the Night is For? The answer, of course, is that it's got a celebrity in the cast: Gillian Anderson, better known as Agent Scully in The X-Files. It's as though the critics have decided that enough is enough. This is their patch and they don't want anyone from outside their world treading on it. No more celebrities in the West End, thank you very much.

In fact, anyone who loves the theatre should thank God that a star of Gillian Anderson's magnitude is willing to appear on the London stage. Without the presence of Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Glenn Close, Matt Damon and Sean Bean, to name but a few, the West End wouldn't have had nearly such a good year. The actors that the critics rave about don't put bums on seats. People like Gillian Anderson do.

What the Night is For is a new play by Michael Weller in which a pair of ex-lovers are reunited in a hotel room after 10 years and have to decide whether to get back together. On the night I saw it, Gillian Anderson was a little stiff in the first half, but she warmed up considerably in the second, and Roger Allam, her co-star, is always a joy to watch. The problem isn't the performers, but the writing. Michael Weller simply hasn't created interesting enough characters to account for the explosive effect they have on each other. Throughout the play, there's a jarring discrepancy between the depth of their feelings and the shallowness of their personalities. We never really understand why they're prepared to leave their spouses and abandon their children for the sake of pursuing one another.

What the Night is For isn't the best thing on in the West End at the moment, but it certainly isn't the worst. A case in point is The Lying Kind, Anthony Neilson's new play at the Royal Court. I was really looking forward to this, having been a big fan of Stitching, Neilson's last play. But The Lying Kind is that most painful of theatrical experiences: an unfunny farce. I find Ray Cooney hard enough to take and he's the reining champion of the genre, but compared to The Lying Kind, Caught In The Net and Run For Your Wife are up their with Fawlty Towers.

For once, the fault doesn't lie with the plot. The Lying Kind actually has a pretty ingenious plot. The thing that makes it so heavy going is that there's nothing at stake. You simply don't care about any of the characters. It starts off with two policemen arguing outside a house about which one of them is going to tell the elderly couple that live inside that their daughter has just been killed in a car crash. When you realise that this isn't just a preliminary sketch, that the whole play is going to revolve around this set up, your heart sinks. It's just not enough of a story to justify one hour and forty minutes.

Along with Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill, Anthony Neilson is one of the "in yer face" playwrights that put the Royal Court back on the theatrical map in the mid-90s. This school is renowned for its shock tactics and The Lying Kind contains its fair share of off-colour moments. In one scene, for instance, a septuagenarian woman removes her granny knickers and starts mooning the audience. The overall message is that if you try and avoid confronting people with unpalatable truths, if you tell them white lies, you'll end up doing them more harm than good. The truth hurts, Neilson seems to be saying. But it's a pain we should all be forced to endure. Well, maybe. The problem with The Lying Kind is that it doesn't contain nearly enough truth to justify the medieval levels of pain it inflicts on its audience.

By far the most enjoyable thing I've seen recently was Kiki and Herb, a gay cabaret duo at the Soho Theatre. I hesitate to recommend a drag act to Spectator readers, but these two American performers are probably the best in the business. They viciously send up the cabaret genre, yet retain enough of its conventions to put on a terrifically entertaining show. What's so impressive is that they manage to inject some real feelings into the proceedings so that by the end you're almost moved. The show doesn't start until 9.30pm, so if you find yourself bored rigid at an office party in Soho in the next couple of weeks, sneak off and check them out. This is one night in the theatre you won't regret.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter RT @GoodwinMJ: Now The Queen turns up outside the office. Normal. Everything about today is completely normal. link  (18 minutes ago)


The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film