Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 13th May 2006

Donkeys' Years / Footloose / Crooked

At the matinee performance of Donkeys' Years I attended, Michael Frayn was seated in the row behind me. Seeing this revival of a sex farce he wrote in 1977 must have been an odd experience for him, not least because he more or less single-handedly killed off the genre with Noises Off in 1982. I don't mean commercially, of course--Ray Cooney is still capable of putting bums on seats--I mean artistically. Noises Off deconstructed the Whitehall farce with such clinical precision that Frayn made it virtually impossible for any self-respecting playwright to try his hand at the genre again. It was the farce-to-end-all-farces. Why, then, has he allowed a play to be revived that's such a prime example of the sort of door-slamming comedy he was sending up?

The action unfolds over the course of a weekend reunion at a fictional Oxbridge college, with various middle-aged men getting progressively more unstuck--and drunk--as they try to relive the adventures of their youth. The play takes a little while to achieve lift off, but once the laughs start coming they're almost continuous, with the highpoint being the first 30 minutes of the second half. As a piece of writing, it's a beautifully-designed Swiss watch--Frayn once wrote a film called Clockwork--but I found it almost impossible to ignore the essential silliness of the genre.

For instance, the second half opens with the central character, played by David Haig, trying unsuccessfully to pull his trousers on--he puts his back out in the previous scene--and for the next 40 minutes he shuffles around the stage with them round his ankles. Is this funny? Certain people in the audience were in stitches, but I couldn't get passed the fact that it was so implausible. To enjoy a play like this you have to embrace the farcical universe and accept that it's governed by its own set of rules--and for those willing to do this Donkey's Years will undoubtedly hit the spot. For me, though, the suspension of disbelief required was too much. Seeing Donkeys' Years is a bit like watching a very slick production of Nothing On, the play-within-a-play in Noises Off. As a classic British farce, it works very well, but I couldn't help feeling that Frayn was right when, 24 years ago, he wrote the genre's obituary.

Footloose, too, stretches an audience's credulity to breaking point. As those who've seen the film will remember, the story revolves around the efforts of a teenage rebel, newly arrived from Chicago, to persuade the ruling clique of a small, Midwestern town to lift its ban on dancing. Now when I saw the film in 1984, I remember thinking that no small American town, however Conservative, could possibly hope to enforce an edict like that, so I was curious as to how a musical adaptation of the same story 22 years later would handle this problem. Would the action now take place in Tehran?

At first, I thought that the director, Karen Bruce, had cleverly decided to set the musical in the year the film came out, so at least the plot would be no more implausible than it was in 1984. But after about 15 minutes it began to dawn on me that the outfits the cast were wearing weren't intended to be a throwback to the 80s--this was just the costume designer's view of how young people dress today.

Then a second thought occurred to me. Perhaps Dean Pitchford--the man who wrote both the movie and the musical--never intended the dancing ban to be taken at face value. Maybe Footloose is an allegory about homosexuality. It's not really a story about a young man getting a redneck town council to take a more enlightened attitude towards dancing. It's about a gay man persuading a group of conservative churchgoers that homosexuality isn't a sin. In this light, the stage adaptation of Footloose forms part of a long and distinguished tradition in musical theatre in which the subject of homosexuality is addressed indirectly. Or, at least, it would if my theory is correct--which it almost certainly isn't.

Like Footloose, Crooked is set in a small, American town, though it has no qualms about dealing with homosexuality--and a number of other controversial subjects--head on. The central character is a precocious, 14-year-old girl and the play charts her relationship with the 16-year-old daughter of a local Baptist minister. The preacher's daughter is grotesquely overweight, as well as educationally sub-normal, and I braced myself for a sneering attack on Christian Fundamentalism. Happily, Crooked never descends to that level and, in fact, the friendship between the two teenage girls is just a device for triggering a crisis in the relationship between the 14-year-old and her mother. Crooked is a little under-powered, but it does have one great virtue: it's short. As one of my fellow critics said to me as the curtain went up: "Four of the most reassuring words in the English language: ninety minutes no interval."

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter RT @KonstantinKisin: And his appeal was just rejected...  (1 hour ago)


Why the left keeps losing by John Gray -
The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war by John Gray -
Cambridge and the exclusion of Jordan Peterson by Nigel Biggar -
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