The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore
other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to
normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Thames Television 1978 and YouTube 2022
digs in the farthest corners of YouTube uncover this 1978 television
play by Alan Bennett, starring Prunella Scales and Patricia Routledge
and featuring Pete Postlethwaite.
is not really a success, but nothing written by Bennett can be without
interest, and none of the three performers is capable of being anything
but enjoyable to watch.
because this may ring some distant memory bells for some I should note
that a stage version, retitled Green Forms, was tried out in 2003 but
never came to London.)
Scales and Routledge play workers in some obscure office of an unidentified large corporation. They receive papers, do something to them, and pass them on, and the two actors brilliantly convey a sense of dedicated irrelevance so that we guess that while the company might eventually grind to a halt without whatever it is that their characters do, the universe as a whole would hardly notice.
(Postlethwaite pops in briefly as a fellow employee who rambles on a bit
about the virtues of unionising, which seems about as irrelevant as
the women notice an odd series of requisition forms, all coming from the
same source and all oddly specific to their own little office – i.e.,
they too have a missing lampshade, broken window blind, etc. - and
suddenly we are in the menacing world of early Harold Pinter.
that context Postlethwaite's rambling has the feel of some early Pinter
sketches and plays in which he captured the empty but fascinating music
of ordinary talk.)
therein lies the play's inescapable limitation. On his own turf Alan
Bennett is peerless, but whenever he stretches himself or tries to enter
someone else's artistic territory he loses his own power and become a
pale imitation of someone better at what he's attempting.
Pinteresque menace doesn't really catch hold here, nor does another
quality to the play. Without spoiling the plot twists, let's just say
that the menace is real and the women's days in this paper-pushing
office are numbered.
the perspective of four decades later we can see that Alan Bennett is
anticipating the cold-blooded bottom-line thinking of the decade about
to begin. The menace in Doris And Doreen is not Pinter but Thatcher.
that kind of social-political semi-allegory is much more David Hare's
bailiwick – Hare addressed the state of the nation's soul that same year
in Plenty, and Thatcherism a decade later in The Secret Rapture – and
tepid imitation Hare is not what we come to Alan Bennett for.
three actors are working so comfortably within their familiar ranges
that there is little evidence of director Stephen Frears's contribution,
and George Fenton's obtrusive music score – all portentous and
melodramatic chords even when nothing melodramatic is happening – just
gets silly after a while.
Fans of the actors will enjoy them doing what they can do with such ease, and Bennett completists will find the evidence of his limitations instructive. But there's not much more to attract the casual viewer.
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