The Writer, Almeida Theatre

May 7, 2018 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Yes, this is an angry play that is announced from the very first scene which involves a confrontation between a woman student and a director at the end of a performance. During the course of a fifteen minute tirade, it is revealed that she had been offered a job as a writer some years ago by the director/producer on condition that she sleep with him; shades of the Weinstein affair although the playwright insists that she delivered her play before the news of the Hollywood mogul’s grossly appalling behaviour was to hit the news. In this play, the woman refuses the “offer” and her career (inevitably?) goes nowhere. She remains angry.

To get to the point, the audience is treated to about a hundred f-words, a dozen or so c-words and others too numerous to count. Who is counting anyway? This is the new normal and we are all mostly unshockable. Then why do it? Dear writer, why not try a little harder, use your imagination, open up a dictionary to find a richer language to express your thoughts? We won’t be offended. What we do find offensive, if we care to admit it, is to be patronised with the obligatory bad language. We are left wondering if expletives are really the best way to portray anger on stage. One doubts that much is learned from the scene.

This is intended to be a revolutionary play or this is how some very experienced critics have responded to it. In fact if we are to accept this at face value, we are simply complicit in the maintaining of the lie that theatre by itself can effect real social change.

Committed writers don’t want to admit that they are ultimately only ever really in the entertainment business and that all their success depends on their own complicity in a system they claim to despise so much. They are the acceptable rebels, permitted to play the fool like the medieval court jester and occupying a clearly defined space but one that has its limits. If they were ever to transgress too much, to mount the barricades so to speak, and refuse to abide by the unspoken rules of the game they will surely be side-lined or crushed. They careers can be wiped out as quickly as they are made.

It is most telling that the biggest laugh of the evening – and probably an unintended one – comes when the writer declares that the aim of theatre should be to “overthrow capitalism and dismantle patriarchy”, implying rather absurdly that a few bold scripts and innovative productions could undermine centuries of oppression.

The audience knows that this is an absurdity and responds in the only manner they know, which is with laughter, in entirely the wrong place.

Far from being a revolutionary play, The Writer is hardly really a play at all. There is no real narrative, no character development and little connection between the five scenes, which are all self-contained sketches, only vaguely related to one another. You could pick one of the scenes out and play it as a stand-alone, nobody would notice.

After the battle of the sexes opener, we enter a domestic scene of role reversal with the man doing the cooking while the wife (the writer) returns from a “very important meeting”; she wants to preserve her integrity as an artist so refuses a lucrative offer to turn her play into a film script. Cue another confrontation during which dinner is poured over a laptop; a revolutionary act indeed. Prior to the clash, we are subjected to the first simulated coupling of the evening on a sofa; mercifully all intimate flesh is perfectly hidden from view, but we are obliged to endure several grunts of sexual ecstasy, although largely on the male’s part. This is a feminist play after all and the male targets are all too predictable.

The third scene is the most bizarre concerning a primordial return to nature fantasy with the writer escaping to the countryside and stripping off in the forest with a random stranger, to find her true self apparently. It’s just a tad self-indulgent and unclear if we are meant to take it very seriously. I don’t think that the audience did on the night I was there.

The denouement sees the set transformed into a luxury apartment and an obviously successful “writer” returning home to her (now female) partner who is preparing dinner like a good wife. Gay relationships, it seems to be saying here, are mere imitations of straight ones. “I can’t get no satisfaction” seems to be the true theme after all. If so, it is very facile. It’s not really about gender exploitation or women’s liberation at all.

Following another sexual encounter on the sofa, actually a different sofa, complete with more grunting and with the added thrill of a sex toy; which one can interpret as quite a reactionary message that women’s desires can only be satisfied by a phallic instrument, which in one’s humble opinion in an absurdity. I guess I’m missing the subtlety at this point. The final line fails to enlighten; it is a post coital, “would you like a biscuit?” The end. A nullity.

Is this the best of “revolutionary feminist theatre” that modern Britain can produce? Ever the optimist, I’d like to hope not.

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This post was written by David Morgan

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