Platinum by Hannah Patterson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 10 December 2016

Ged Ukulele Barefoot Ladd, not singing “This Land Is Your Land”

Hmm.

We very rarely see a dud downstairs at the Hampstead – Ed Hall’s project to put works on down there regularly has been a raging success as far as we are concerned.

But sadly, I feel obliged to report that this one, to us, was a dud.

The idea sounded great. An iconic 1970s protest songstress, now a recluse, with an estranged daughter and a fundamentally important secret about that iconic career.

Trouble is, that’s about it, plot-wise. The important secret has a rather “so what?”, tenuous feeling about it, while the motivation of the characters to behave as they do/had done in the past, if the secret was so important to them, was utterly dubious.

It was also difficult to care for even one of the three characters, each irritating in their own way: the iconic songstress, the estranged aspiring chanteuse daughter, and the Californian PhD student who has been studying the icon for six years only then to act as the catalyst for the wafer-thin plot to unfold.

Daisy nodded off about 20 minutes into the piece, once it became clear where it was (and wasn’t) going.

I persevered.

I wondered whether the PhD student’s explanation of protest song types, rhetorical and magnetic, was something the playwright had invented for him or whether it was an actual media studies/sociology course thing. Turns out it is the latter and that the explanation as expounded by the character can be found in the Wikipedia entry on protest songs under “types” and that this particular classification should be credited to the late R. Serge Denisoff, bless him.

The actors sang some protest songs along the way, closing with We Shall Overcome and at one point rendering This Land Is Your Land, quite well.

I rather like the latter song but Janie, tragically not steeped in media studies or the sociology of popular culture, perceives it as a nationalistic US song rather than Woody Guthrie’s intended protest song and has banned me from singing it on my ukulele in her presence. She should click the link I have added to the phrase This Land Is Your Land and look at some of the original lyrics. In particular, the verse that reads:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

…that verse might come back into fashion some time soon. But they didn’t sing that verse in this rather bland play. Pity.

Giving by Hannah Patterson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 June 2016

Janie wasn’t sure that she was in the mood for the theatre when we set off for Swiss Cottage that evening, especially when I said that the subject matter was big donor philanthropy. “More your sort of subject than mine,” she said.

Still, there was the promise of a different oriental restaurant to try afterwards, Singapore Garden, a result of Janie’s research. Plus the fact that the play was billed as a short one; 90 minutes without an interval.

Janie’s spirits were further dampened when we took our seats, as a group of four people asked us to budge along our row to the end. At first Janie simply said no, so they split their group around us. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t gone to the other side where there were at least two blocks big enough for their group. Still, I told Janie that I thought she had responded rather abruptly, so Janie relented and we ended up tucked in the corner. “They didn’t even say thank you and I’m stuck with a lousy view,” fumed Janie.

After a while, I turned to the gentleman next to me and arranged for us to sit more centrally while they took the four corner seats, which seemed fairer in the circumstances. One woman in front of us turned round and said to Janie,  “good on you; I hate it when people badger me like that.”  Oh for the relative simplicity of allocated seats.

Anyway, it turned out that this was a really good play/production. The set is simple but clever, as furniture representing different locations get tucked away into the walls of other locations; not original but well done in this play. The acting from all four was excellent.

The plot satisfying enough. We aren’t really made to dig too deep into the moral dilemmas around conscience-salving donors, but there is enough intrigue, love interest and moral uncertainty to keep you guessing and to make you think. Well worth the 90 minutes and the modest price for tickets downstairs. We continue to see the Hampstead Downstairs as a gem of a place with a terrific hit rate from our point of view.

Downstairs productions don’t get formal reviews, of course, but it is covered well on monkeymatterstheatre.com, also on the oughttobeclowns blogspot. The latter points out how very special  Sinéad Matthews is as an up and coming actress. We first spotted her more than 10 years ago, in The Wild Duck at the Donmar, when she was but a nipper.

Later, to add compliment to remedy, we thoroughly enjoyed our Singapore Garden dinner. Where has that place been all our lives? Well, it’s been in Swiss Cottage/South Hampstead for some while I gather.