Lawrence After Arabia by Howard Brenton, Hampstead Theatre, 21 May 2016

Feisal_I_of_Iraq
It has been said that his majesty and I bear some slight resemblance… https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Feisal_I_of_Iraq.jpg

Oh dear.

It sounded like a good idea when we booked it. Such an interesting period of Middle-Eastern history. Howard Brenton, who did such an interesting job on Ai Weiwei, taking on an interesting character in T. E. Lawrence. Timely, as it is the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement this year…

The problem is, that period was also a period when English theatre was in its dull Edwardian through 1920s drawing room drama doldrums. Howard Brenton seems to think it a good idea to parody the very worst of that period’s drama for this play. Director John Dove takes the idea further with a staid, static style to the piece. There are some good actors in this play but frankly we couldn’t care less what happened to any of the characters, which doesn’t give the cast much room for manoevre.

Neither Janie nor I could tell you too much detail about the first half; we both slept through much of it. It was a deathly dull hour, even when sleep spares you much of it. It would have been a deathly dull two hours, but we agreed to cut our losses and leave at the interval. So we can’t tell you anything about the second half. I am reliably informed by Grant (someone I know from the gym who did suffer the whole thing) that it gets no better in the second half.

The Hampstead Theatre area for this play has lots of good reviews – here , so it has clearly received good reviews, not least in both of the Telegraphs. The audience certainly looked like they had all been bussed in from Telegraph reader central casting. However:

Congratulations to all of you critics for managing to stay awake sufficiently to review the piece, or alternatively for covering up your lack of wakefulness deftly in your columns.

I did wake up for the bit where Lawrence shows off the thawb, bisht and igal, the garments of a bedouin leader, gifted to him by Prince (later King) Faisal. I liked that bit. Firstly, I am said by some to resemble Faisal (see picture above); I certainly resemble him far more than the actor who plays him in this play.

Secondly I have a fine collection of natty thawbs, bestowed upon me by one of Janie’s wealthy Saudi clients. Indeed I do much of my writing at the flat wearing a thawb; especially in the summer when it is a very sensible way to dress when writing.

But I digress. The play is deathly dull. Did I mention that before? Is irritating when people waste your time simply repeating stuff they have said before? Or is it a quirky, whimsical touch, that could maintain your interest and tickle your sense of humour for a couple of hours.

On a positive note, the programme is a really interesting read. We highly recommend it. The programme is well worth the trip to Swiss Cottage and its £3.50 cover price. Just don’t waste your time and money on this turkey of a play.

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