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Squint? You'll be straining to hear!



Review by Paul Nelson

THE squint in the title of the play at Chelsea Theatre, is mainly one of those narrow slots in a wall in mediaeval churches where people excluded from the service can watch the Mass.

There is one in a small church in York which I have visited where lepers were allowed to hear Mass.

The word also means a narrowing of the eyes so that you can get a clearer view, and an affliction where the eyes are not in line.

I feel I have to take time explaining this meaning of the word, because the play, Squint, currently at the Chelsea Theatre, is so simple and childish that I am tempted to hyphenate every word of this review.

To be-gin with.

All the people in the play are addicts. Booze, drugs, even sex, you name it. They have all tried to master their particular curse.

Fortunately, we are only exposed to four examples, or we could have been subjected to more revelations regarding that when a character is hooked on whatever, it is hard to stop it. Well isn't that a revelation?

Here we are treated to the addictions of four people - an artist, a critic, a PR man and a nun who provide the plot.

We have to undergo their angst and presumably sympathise with their plight.

Where the play gets really out of hand, is when we hear, very late on, that a stalwart of a doctor who has signed a death certificate, after ten at night, is well sluiced, at which point I openly laughed.

Maybe more offstage characters spoken about are in the same boat. How about the mother superior? Come on, is this a serious look at addictions and religion (I will come to that) or isn't it?

The play is not assisted by the cast, who, for the most part, are inaudible. Now this is not the Coliseum, it is the intimate and delightful Chelsea Theatre and a point I have laboured over the years, is that the director should forget the script he has been working with for months, and just once sit in the theatre's back row and test whether he can hear his production or not.

In the present case, the important last lines of the play, where one of the leading characters has slashed her body all over with a razor blade, is totally inaudible and the play becomes even more of a joke.

The plot. Hugh, is an art critic, he is also a piss artist. He goes seriously back on to the sauce when he has to adjudicate an exhibition where he announces that the panel (presumably it can't really have been his choice alone) have decided that this year there will be no prize, as no exhibit warrants an award.

He is pissed when he makes his speech because his bird, Courtney, has an exhibit that contains her own blood (not unsurprisingly, I thought this might have been part of the plot, it wasn't, other than the fact that she never ceases to mutilate herself with razors).

Hugh has been through Alcoholics Anonymous and has funked it.

Courtney is a Hirst kind of artist whose work he seems to be unable to stomach. As for her addiction, she is a mainliner, and frequently attacks her own body with sharp instruments, a fact hammered into us with small projections of slides of lacerated arms and so forth.

If you don't clock these, you may miss a point, though what you miss is a moot point.

She is adored by Jack, another alcoholic, but a representative of some sort of organisation that represents artists. I may have got that wrong, but it is difficult to follow a plot when you cannot hear the lines.

There is an abbey of a religious order that is being demolished on the grounds that it is a useless building.

In mediaeval times, miracles had happened in a small room adjacent to the chapel that can no longer be precisely pinpointed. If the whereabouts of that could be detected, and it depends on where the position of the 'squint' can be ascertained, the demolition of the entire building can be averted.

In this religious order, there is a nun (for want of a better word, it's an Anglican order now, though it has mediaeval roots) and she (Ruth) has been a sex partner of Hugh. When you see the play there will be little wonder that after that she took holy orders.

Now let the play begin.

Courtney has been slashing herself. Her contribution to the unnamed Art Prize has been rejected by Hugh, her lover.

Not very interesting, I know, but the set at the back of the stage has been slashed, rather like an advert for Silk Cut cigarettes - Geddit?

Hugh, pissed, announces there will be no award this year, as none of the exhibits come up to scratch.

He gets involved in trying to find the whereabouts of the chapel with the annexe which has the squint, and, during a bout with the bottle, after a reminiscent sexual fling with Ruth, falls from a scaffolding to his death.

This is cause for rejoicing among the audience at least, as he is the main reason we do not catch the dialogue, he has a habit of swallowing the second part of any word and the whole becomes therefore unclear.

He revives after the previously mentioned GP's certificate is proven insecure evidence.

In fact, Hugh tells us, he is prone to some sort of falling sickness (catalepsy), but with the doctor's certificate of death, here is a modern day miracle, just as in days of yore, and the ruins of the abbey, the presence and habitation of the nuns, can be saved.

Well this seems to go by the board. I leave you to discover why, because it brings me to the points I have previously mentioned.

The cast, with glaring omissions, is inaudible. The last crucial lines of the play delivered by Courtney could well have been the Gettysburg address for all we know.

This, coupled with Hugh's habit of dropping the last syllable of his words, renders the play incoherent. He shouts a lot, but that is no compensation.

We are thus left with what we can glean from Ruth and Jack to figure out the plot.

I am not deaf and I was sitting in the second row, at some points not six yards from the performers. I really found it hard to refrain from shouting 'speak up', though I think these days that would be taken as bad manners rather than, as in the past, merely asking for clarification.

I do not have a television set, so an artiste's past telly glories mean nothing to me. I can walk past so-called world stars in the street unaware they are who they are, but to see them in the flesh on stage means nothing more to me than whether they can cut the mustard or not.

I am unimpressed by 'telly' fame, especially when it comes to the basic actor's tool, audibility.

Therefore, boos to Patsy Palmer and Rory Murray. If you are going to use actors like these, provide us with a copy of the script. Hoorays for Joe Shaw and (special cheers) Sadie Shimmin.

Both knew the perameters of their characters and fulfilled them. For all I know, the other two did, but as they were largely inaudible I will never know.

Throwing the sand in our eyes as to whether there was a modern day miracle which might have saved the religious building from being demolished by introducing catalepsy, and in particular, a temporary attack of it, the author blew the plot to a point where I decided the word 'codswallop' was not inappropriate.

I don't recommend this. I would hate you to have to sit through the deadly inaudibility and the grim lack of credible plot.

Squint by Tony Craze. Directed by Sue Dunderdale, Design Carrie Southall, Lighting Flick Ansell, Sound John Leonard for Aura, WITH: Rory Murray (Hugh), Patsy Palmer (Courtney), Joe Shaw (Jack), Sadie Shimmin (Ruth). Presented by the Chelsea Theatre at The Chelsea Theatre, Worlds End Square, London, SW10. Tickets 0870 990 8454.

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