This week, Phil checks out the theatre listings in Paris and leafs through the Dickens back catalogue in London
THEATRE | Art Imitating Strife
Flicking through the Paris theatre listings in a wave of Left Bank nostalgia this week, PORT almost spilled his morning Pernod over Le Monde and Gallic-shrugged in resignation. Amid the performance art and the Serge Gainsbourg impersonators was a notice for a play based on last year’s ill-fated encounter between Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel chambermaid.
Let’s just remind ourselves what happened: as the MD of the International Monetary Fund and a contender for the French presidency, DSK was what America’s Vice President Joe Biden might call “a big fucking deal” – that is, he was until nine minutes of, er, sordid hoovering in the Sofitel New York led to charges of sexual assault. Six million alleged dollars later, the case has been settled, DSK has been turfed out of the marital home in the Place des Vosges, and Suite 2806 has just enjoyed its premiere in the French capital’s Théâtre Daunou.
Suite 2806, or – let’s be honest, DSK: The Musical – is just the latest in a long line of productions inspired by real events. Like much of the most popular theatre to have emerged over the past decade, “any resemblance to reality is nothing but coincidence”, as the playbill has it.
Ever since Big Brother slithered onto our screens at the start of the millennium, theatreland has increasingly drawn inspiration from what tellyland now routinely refers to as “structured reality”. From Jerry Springer: The Opera, which parodies the grotesques who appeared on the ex-mayor’s eponymous TV show, to Posh, which depicts rich students abusing their privileges in a country pub, contemporary theatre rarely bothers to employ metaphor when coming up with plots anymore. The most original lines in modern plays are the legal waivers attached to them.
Clearly, the theatregoing public is enjoying the vogue for voyeurism: Jerry and Posh were smash hits, and Suite 2806’s first night was a sell-out. So what other real-life recent events might canny playwrights think about mining in the hope of box-office gold next year?
• In Sweet 2018, a scowling finance minister called Scorge Sosborne is forced to admit that he mixed up the country’s bank account with his own bank account, leading him to believe that the nation had far more money than is actually the case. Set amid the dustbins and sink estates of a
country on the brink of collapse, this lighthearted romp through a debt-ridden world is reviewed by The Guardian as “too bleak, even for us”.
• In Twitter: The Musical, what is thought to be the West End’s biggest ever cast of 140 characters supplies a stream of never-ending improv. Even though it’s a dream gig for an actor, it’s a nightmare for audiences. The production becomes a fixture, despite the fact that no one’s listening.
• In Musical: The Musical, ex-stage stars and every contestant to have ever appeared on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! present the stark realities of the acting profession via the medium of song. The breakout single, “Talent Is But a Number”, goes to the top of the charts in 79 countries and stays there forever.
In an interview for the French current affairs magazine Le Point, DSK laid it bare: “I long thought that I could lead my life as I wanted,” he said, before remembering he was supposed to be performing an exercise in damage control and adding: “I was too out of step with French society.” But box office receipts suggest otherwise. As long as there’s a stage or screen in between, society loves dancing to the same tune.
VISITOR ATTRACTIONS | Bleak House
On Monday, the day-to-day existence of London’s favourite writer Charles Dickens will be revealed when a house he lived in is opened to the public. Following a £3 million refurbishment, 48 Doughty Street in Holborn will once again open its doors to museum shop-lovers all over the world.
PORT doesn’t want to put a downer on the bicentenary of one of our best writers, but let’s hope the Charles Dickens Museum doesn’t remind us of the time we went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. A vast monument to Vietnam’s most famous son, and an inexhaustible source of Minhology, the place left no corner of the communist leader’s remarkable existence undocumented.
From his early days, where he never put a foot wrong and showed a remarkable aptitude for pretty much everything, to his final days, in which his every word was engraved in stone, the Minh museum was less a celebration of the man and more a manifesto. Among the bric-a-brac, and PORT kids you not, was a framed pencil he once used.
The Dickens Museum website warns the faint of heart that “Visitors entering the building will feel as if Dickens has just left the building and might return at any moment”, though quite how this is to be achieved is left unsaid. Perhaps Ye Olde Poste-it note will be glued to the door using
cat guts, bearing the legend “Gone for milke”; or perhaps there’ll be a stencilled silhouette of a man climbing the stairs, arm outstretched and ready for petticoat-feeling like a 19th century pervert.
Of course, many will argue that the museum is money well spent – a good way to remember someone who has made such a contribution to the life of our country. As a charitable soul, though, PORT wonders if Dickens would have spent the three million on something else, like that famous hospital for kids round the corner. Besides, if the public really wanted to get the measure of who Charles Dickens was, they could always try reading one of his books.