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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
Theatre review: Fram 
14th-Apr-2008 11:44 pm
tragicomedavatar
In the interest of fairness: This is a review of a preview performance, the play has not yet had its press night.

Although exactly what they're going to do between now and then to improve it, short of cutting at least half the text, beats me.

Art versus politics. The manipulation of people by the media. Famine, and the selfishness of charity. Tonight cjg1 and I watched any attempt at discussing these and other large themes, crushed under the weight of Tony Harrison's ego. I'm trying and failing to think of anything I've seen at the theatre that's been quite as self-indulgent as the National Theatre's new premiere Fram - a level of self-indulgence that would make Russell T Davies blush. The start actually isn't too bad, as we join Aeschylus' translator Gilbert Murray (Jeff Rawle) and famous actress Sybil Thorndike (Sian Thomas) as they return from the dead in a framing device to tell the story of Arctic explorer and philanthropist Fridtjof Nansen (Jasper Britton.) The fact that the prologue lasts half an hour is an unfortunate sign of what's to come though.

Harrison also directs (along with Designer Bob Crowley) this production, and sadly this means any chance of someone reigning in his excesses is lost. The play lasts over three hours, much of which is spent repeating the same things over and over in increasingly trite verse. Not only have I rarely felt so patronised by a playwright, but what should be sobering stories about the early 20th Century famine in Russia are rendered meaningless. For instance we are told of victims picking the hay out of horse shit to make bread with, which I would have thought conjures up enough of a picture. But no, Harrison has to tell us again, explaining how the hay goes through the horse's digestive system and is then picked up and eaten, and then in case we weren't clear he explains it a couple more times. I swear at some point he helpfully tries to explain what a horse is.

Similarly, at the end Nansen, from beyond the grave, tells the story of some African boys for some reason. They stowed away on a plane and died of the cold, which was a bit like the Arctic but up in the sky, as we're told eight or nine times because we're too stupid to see the link the first time it's laboriously explained to us. They didn't have a two-man sleeping bag. No, but Nansen and his fellow explorer Johansen did. Yes, they did, but the African boys didn't. Which was bad. But the explorers did, which was good. Unlike the African boys. They didn't have a sleeping bag. The others did though. They had a two-man sleeping bag and kept warm. The boys didn't have one and died. I'm honestly not even coming close to how many times this got repeated for the hard of thinking.

Much of the time-wasting is downright bizarre. We could have just been told that Nansen's Arctic travels inspired a ballet, but no, we have to see about 10 minutes' worth. At the end of the first act we have the charity workers discussing how best to use the new media to get across their message, in a half-hour scene as drearily accurate (apart from the verse) as a real meeting - I felt like I should be taking minutes. While ironically having one of the characters imagine how useful it would be if TV had been invented works, this lengthy discussion of media manipulation by people at the birth of it woefully underestimates the audience's understanding of the issue from a modern viewpoint. Similarly, having Thorndike endlessly show how she doesn't have to be starving for real to act that part, just made me think "yes we know how acting works, we're in a theatre." In the second act a Kurdish poet with his eyes and lips sewn shut appears BECAUSE THIS HAS RELEVANCE TO MODERN LIFE DO. YOU. SEE!!!!! He proceeds to moan for about five minutes.

A talented cast do their best but are completely shafted by the script. Worst-off is Mark Addy as the suicidal Johansen, who even after his death sticks around for no real reason other than to provide completely pointless cynicism with no real answers (and, of course, to explain the thing about the horse shit another dozen times.) Rawle manages to inject some life every time he appears, but Fram is a sinking ship. The play is lumbered with a ridiculous amount of false endings. Christopher and I spent the last 15 minutes in fits of giggles, prompted when the girl in front of me started applauding in the desperate hope that if everyone acted like the damn thing was over, it really would be. Sadly she failed. I also snorted when Thorndike mentioned Murray's "attempt at writing a play" - when you think of it a bit of a shameful attempt to blame the play's failings on the character whose style Harrison is pastiching. Near the end the Drum stage failed and a stage manager had to come on and ask us to wait a few minutes for them to fix it - some people left, possibly escaping, or maybe thinking it was a postmodern ending. I'm still not sure it wasn't part of the show, it'd make about as much sense as anything else.

An absolute disaster. It'll probably win an Olivier.

Fram by Tony Harrison is booking until the 22nd of May at the National Theatre's Olivier stage.
Comments 
14th-Apr-2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
Nothing to do directly with this play, but rosepddle and I seem to have booked our accommodations today for our trip!!! We have requested the reservation for arrival on 31 July and departure on 10 August, and the bank is supposed to have sent the sterling bank draft out for the deposit today. Once the B&B confirms receipt and confirms we really DO have a place to stay, we'll start looking for our flight.

So ... keep us posted on what we want to do at the theatre 'round that time.
15th-Apr-2008 12:22 pm (UTC)
Hurrah! And there was you having nearly given up on coming over this year.

Apart from the obvious, it's a bit early to know what to recommend for August - I'm currently looking at stuff up to about mid-June. But keep an eye out and once I see stuff nearer those dates that looks good, I'll post about them.
15th-Apr-2008 10:36 am (UTC) - Fram
Anonymous
I couldn't agree more with the above. At the end of the first half I was bemused. By the end of the second - oh no, hold on there's a bit more - I was pissed off. Had also been through the giggles stage with the appearance of the two African boys on the ice floe. Profoundly patronising apart from anything else. As if we'd never heard of poverty and were far too comfortable and satisfied to give a stuff. And what was that thing with the corpse in the coffin coming alive a la Monty Python. Purleeese.
15th-Apr-2008 12:46 pm (UTC) - Re: Fram
Also, someone at the National should probably watch their own shows - then they might know that the whole "video sequences filmed in and around the building itself" thing is being horribly overdone there lately.
17th-Apr-2008 11:19 am (UTC) - Fram
Anonymous
Thanks for this witty review which is spot on and in marked contrast to the script of Fram. In fact, reading the review amused me so much it went a little way to help me get over the play itself. Perversely, I'm now rather glad I went.
17th-Apr-2008 12:29 pm (UTC) - Re: Fram
I think Christopher and I were glad we went within about five minutes of it finishing, because it was obvious we'll be laughing about it for years to come. Especially when, as soon as we left and started slagging it off, random strangers in the audience joined in. To quote The Simpsons - "Isn't it great that we hate all the same things?"
18th-Apr-2008 09:36 am (UTC) - Re: Fram
Anonymous
Two words. Chocolatey hands. That play was out of control.
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