Mini-review – Privates on Parade – Michael Grandage season at the Noel Coward Theater


This ill thought start to the Michael Grandage season left me so puzzled as to why it had been picked that I actually did a little research before I started writing this up (normally I go for a “straight from the gut” impression without even the benefit of reading the program – let a show stand on its own merits, I say). Was it actually written in an era where the degree of raw racism it showed was funny? I had just the night before seen Our Boys so the filthy mouths of servicemen (lots of talk about sex and their own genitals) was fresh in my mind. But the gap between these plays was … well, there was a joke one of these nights about Moses parting the Red Sea, and on one hand there was Egypt and the other the Promised Land.

And Michael Grandage was the one with the mummy jokes.

Right, so it SEEMED likely to be awesome, and there’s no doubt that Simon Russell Beale is astounding and on form as a very gay post-war entertainer, with lots of star turns in deluxe drag (loved his Marlene Dietrich!). I was ready for laughs and delighted at the nudity and surprised that so much of the show was dance numbers …

And then the interval came around and I couldn’t believe it had only been, what, 70 minutes. It felt like two hours! And it already felt like it was ready to be over!

The problem, I think, comes down to the script. I’m sure there’s a lot of jokes in there that maybe rang a little truer in 1977 when England was closer to the memory of empire, but all of the crap about stupid chinks/brown faced people/half castes or what have you just got on my tits. Yeah, sure, when Britain cleared out Singapore became a massive superpower (the point made at the end), but you know what? We’ve moved on, and I’m not even a “we” yet. That means we’re left with a story about an intelligent young man who sells out his ideals for a chance at power, and an older man who sells out the people under his command to make some point about empire. That leaves about two potential human beings in the whole cast, and to be honest, Silvia Morgan was a stereotype, too.

That left Mr. Beale all alone to carry the show. Magnificent though he was, it simply was not enough. Bah. I guess I’ll just consider this one my “freebie” as when you bought the entire season, it was discounted so that one of the tickets was essential free. What am I going to do with the second one I bought for closing night? AAARGH!

(This review is for a preview peroformance that took place on December 4th, 2012. It continues through March 2nd.)

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8 Responses to “Mini-review – Privates on Parade – Michael Grandage season at the Noel Coward Theater”

  1. liz smith Says:

    I thought it was so bad, left at the interval.

    Like an incredibly poor and musical Carry On!

    Saw it on Saturday

  2. JohnnyFox Says:

    Just come back from press night. SRB played so much to the gallery that I think his eye-rolling alone added fifteen minutes to the show … at 2 hours 50 it felt longer than the entire series of Tenko.

  3. JohnnyFox Says:

    However Billington (who reviewed a preview but embargoed till tonight – he wasn’t there this evening) gave it 5 stars.

  4. Soup Says:

    The racist jibes didn’t bother me too much, I think that would have been pretty true to the time and place, but god did it drag. You’re on the money about how the first half felt like it lasted hours.

    I’m still in shock about Billington’s 5 star review. 4 I could take, especially if they’ve managed to tighten up the dull bits. But 5 is just ridiculous.

    I suppose that just goes to show Grandage’s hold on critics’ imaginations. Either that or Mr B pulled a Peter-Hall and slept through most of it.

  5. Theatre Review: Privates On Parade @ Noel Coward Theatre | Londonist Says:

    […] critics rushed to hand out five-star accolades, bloggers were more cautious and some clearly shifted uncomfortably in their seats at the casual racism and […]

  6. Stewart Pringle Says:

    I very much enjoyed it. I had no problems with the use of racist language (being of the opinion that it would be infinitely worse to pretend British soldiers weren’t casually racist in 1948) though did find the presentation of the servants as essentially faceless agents of suspicious creepiness to be something of an Orientalist throwback.

    Grandage hadn’t made any efforts at reconstructing the somewhat dated presumptions and stereotypes inherent in the script, and so there was a tang of the museum-piece about it, but it was also filled with brilliant performances and contains some fantastic dialogue. I saw it on an early preview and didn’t find it to drag at all (and I’m bloody impatient). The numbers were superb (partic ‘Could You Please Inform Us’ that opened the second act) and Simon Russell Beale demonstrated that you can pack a properly nuanced character into a part that at first glance looks like a campy knees up.

  7. MaryJay Says:

    I loved the show, I thought it was silly in the best of ways and I though Simon Russell Beal performed excellently and with depth! It has made me want to go to a few more in the season. I see tickets here: but does anyone know where I can get £10 tickets?? Or are they all gone?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Aw, Miss Mary Jay, I see you were trying to send people through to your company’s website via a not so clever link and pretend comment, but I’m wise to your ways. I’ve changed the URL you inserted to refer back directly to Delfont Mackintosh. Naughty naughty!

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