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A CurtainUp London London Review
Parlour Song

They've built seventy eight houses on that site. And every single house is the same as ours. Same layout. Same front door. . .Same units. Same taps. . . Exactly the same.— Ned
Parlour Song
Toby Jones as Ned
(Photo: Simon Annand)
I have rarely felt as disconnected as I did watching Jez Butterworth's Parlour Song in its European opening at the Almeida. There is no doubt that the play has a very fine cast and a talented director but the fragmentary nature of the play failed to hit home but fractured in purpose. Ostensibly this is a play about a failing marriage, a marriage which we can never see why or how it got off the ground in the first place with bumbling Ned (Toby Jones) married to sex siren, supercilious Joy (Amanda Drew) but who never look like a couple from the outset.

The opening scene has Ned dragging his neighbour Dale (Andrew Lincoln) into his house to watch yet another demolition documentary video made by Ned from the buffer zone when he demolishes unwanted modern architectural monstrosities for a living. There is the tall tower which crashes down into the dust in a heavy handed symbol of male erectile failure, a visual opposite to the waves lapping onshore. We hear that the municipal shopping centres are threatened next, with the awful 1960s Arndale Centres on the redevelopment list. Hunky carwash supremo Dale will soon be calling round, not to watch videos, but to have sex and play sexy Scrabble (if you can make the word, you can have it) with Ned's wife Joy. Speaking as one who has tried to play Scrabble, not with the follow through of those exact rules, but with a rule that only rude words can be entered, it is near impossible to be saucy with the poor choice of letter mix.

Butterworth has been compared with Pinter but Parlour Song wasn't brimming over with menace as I felt so uninvolved with the disappearance of items of sentimental value from Ned's home. There was however a theme for me in the existence of the 1,000 year old forest in which these suburban sprawl houses have been built, the forest of course being cut down to make way for these identical pro-forma homes. We also see the impermanence of modern building as 1960s tower blocks and shopping centres, once thought to be state of the art are demolished just 50 years into their ugly life. Ned and Dale's houses adjoin in Jeremy Herbert's interesting glass walled pivoting set.

There is much to laugh at in the hapless efforts of balding, middle aged spread Ned to regain the affection of his wife, whether it is the hysterical tongue practice by tape for oral sex, with hand actions after he hears that a lover's hands are always on the go, or working out with weights on the instruction of Dale or taking Rogaine hoping it will bring back his hair. The physical comedy from Toby Jones is absolutely delightful. Amanda Drew as the inappropriately named Joy is cold and cruel to her husband in a performance redolent of Pinter's women. Andrew Lincoln's fitness workout moves are very amusing as he encourages the awkward Ned to exercise.

Elyse Sommer's review of this play in New York go here Parlour Song

Parlour Song
Written by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Ian Rickson

Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Amanda Drew and Toby Jones
Design: Jeremy Herbert
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Paul Groothuis
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Video: Jeremy Herbert, Stephen Williams
Running time: One hour 40 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 9th May 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th March 2009 performance at the Almeida, Almeida Street, London N1(Tube: The Angel Islington)

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