Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Black Album

Have you ever seen anything so bad that it makes you genuinely angry? Not like a blind puppy being kicked down some stairs. In the right context that can be quite funny. But in an artistic sense. Some execrable dollop of irredeemable hatefulness, paraded before you by a troupe of talentless no-hopers who luxuriate in the unshakeable belief that they are doing anything other than securing themselves starring roles in your most demented, blood-soaked fantasies. Have you? Have you ever seen anything like that?

I have. It was a play at the National Theatre (the National bloody Theatre) called The Black Album. I saw this on Tuesday - two days ago - which is how long it's taken for me to condense the swirling, coal-black fog of derision into anything resembling a coherent critique. I hate this play. I hate it more than I hate the people singing in Trafalgar Square in the O2 advert, which is a lot. And I only dredge up its foul memory a final time, in order to write this review as a public service. If can save at least one person from going through the ordeal that I experienced, I will consider my job done.

So: The Black Album. Adapted from his own novel by Hanif Kureishi (which, by all accounts, is a fairly decent read) it follows the (boring) exploits of a young Muslim named Shahid, who travels to London and gets caught up in the conflict between liberal Western permissiveness and nutjob Islamic fundamentalism. Of course, this cultural schism is merely the background tableau, upon which the playwright cleverly constructs a complex interwoven narrative of interesting characters and sparkling dialogue. You'd hope. In fact, Shahid shambles around the stage, bumping into other 'characters' and exchanging pointless and torpid opinions, some of which lead him to become 'angry' (shout) but mostly allow him to remain on 'normal' (speak in monotone dirge.) There is a story of a sort, involving an affair with a tutor or some such, but there really is no point in my recounting it here. You wouldn't be interested. I wasn't interested, and I was there. In fact, I was so not interested that towards the end of the first half I began to forget that it was a play, and the experience was reduced to a dim awareness that there were people-shaped blobs moving around in front of me making noises.

It's difficult, really, when faced with something so across-the-board awful, to pinpoint the main culprits. Would the writing not seem so dire if it had been delivered better? Would a sharper script have given the actors something more substantial to work with? As far as I can remember, the only line that got a smattering of titters was 'we don't turn the other buttock', which turned out not, to my surprise, to have been lifted from the script of the far superior Short Circuit. But even this half-decent (I'm being polite here) gag fell still-born from the actor's mouth and lay shuddering its last on the stage floor. The audience giggled nervously, but solemn apathy soon regained hold. Add to this the clumsy, amateurish stage direction, the lack of any pace or rhythm, and the general stodginess of the whole performance, and you are left with a big blob of pulsating shoddiness that any sane person would immediately lock in the cupboard under the stairs and forget about for the rest of their lives.

If it's at all possible to be both incredibly angry and incredibly bored at the same time, then that's what I was during this production. Had it been some improvisational skit by first-year drama students, it would still have been rubbish, but forgivably so. But for someone to have the sheer gall to present it at an internationally-renowned theatre and charge people money t0 watch it, well, whoever that person is, he should probably start syphoning off some of that gall and donating it to family and friends. He clearly has too much.

I needn't really tell you, at this point, not to go and see this play, but I'm going to anyway, because it's just possible you thought I was joking up till now: Do not go and see this play. I cannot stress this enough. You will hate it, and if you don't, then you're not the sort of person who should be allowed to go to the theatre. Effortlessly, it has taken up pride of place as the worst play I have ever seen (ousting with ease Nigel Planer's abysmal On The Ceiling) and I can't see it relinquishing this spot any time soon.

Oh, and to Jane, who very kindly took me to the theatre, and paid for the tickets: If you're reading this, sorry. But I expect you hated it too, didn't you?

1 comment:

  1. What? No ire left for the look-at-us-we're-edgy multimedia projections and crappy house music soundtrack?