Posts Tagged ‘Pests’

Mini-review and musings – A Taste of Honey – National Theatre

April 9, 2014

I was actually quite discouraged between the time I bought my tickets for A Taste of Honey at the National and the time I went to see it: the comments I saw on Twitter had been along the lines of “boring” and “stuck through the whole three hours but why.” But I’d made plans to go with a friend (who just wanted to see Lesley Sharp), so I felt stuck. How good could a play by a one-hit wonder be?

A few days after seeing it, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed myself. It’s always easier to enjoy a show when your expectations are set low, but I had no problem making it through to the end: but I think this is a bit because of its relevance to me, and my cultural experience – but also, oddly, because of having just come from seeing Pests two nights before. How poor women interact with each other and live their lives was on my mind. So, instead of doing a review here, I’m going to talk rather more about why this play was interesting to me, and how it was similar (and different) to Pests.

The concept of a glamorous, poor, and self-centered mother is one that’s sadly familiar to me. Helen (Sharp) is a bit of an extreme, so gorgeous and well dressed she’s hard to believe; but a woman who puts making herself happy over looking after her children is not unfamiliar to me. Her daughter, Josephine (Kate O’Flynn), doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a character; she’s just not really as rooted as you tend to be when money and looking after yourself are your top two musts in life. But, sadly, it was easy for me to accept that Helen would be pushing her young daughter out the door so that she could have better times with the men in her life; that’s just how things are for some people. And yet … I just didn’t feel sympathetic for Jo. She doesn’t treat the people in her life with affection – she doesn’t even seem to have feelings at all – and she whines constantly; she is grossly immature and so blocked into short-term thinking that you want to give her a slap.

But then … well, there were lines in the play I knew best from songs by the Smiths: “I dreamt about you last night/And I fell out of bed twice” (from “Reel Around the Fountain”) and “The dream is gone but the baby is real” (from “This night has opened my eyes”), and remembering those and the turbulent emotions of my teens, I was able to remember a lot of feelings Jo was probably having: experiencing (what you think is) love only through the hands of someone who wants to use you for sex; the horrible deadness caused by constantly having your dreams and aspirations shat on; realizing you’re really never going to get more than just the most damaging forms of happiness and going for it even though the consequences are likely to be a disaster for your life. Man, what a rollercoaster. I’m not sure why Morrisey picked on this play so strongly for influencing his own writing, but he and Sheelagh Delaney really captured that dead end miserabilism perfectly.

Side by side to this play about two women who sell each other out for sex (which I think is the “taste of honey”), I had a play about two sisters who actually do love each other to bits but who still utterly fail in the common sense department. Yes, I’m talking about Pink and Rolly, the two leavings at the bottoms of the garbage can of society who make up Pests. Pink is positively disgusting, crude, stupid, desperate to prove how much smarter she is than her little sister, and, as it turns out, nursing a deep and long held resentment against the things Rolly had as a child that she didn’t. Pink could easily be a modern Jo. But she looks out after her sister and genuinely cares for her; the ways she actively seeks to damage her sister’s life are, to her, only an attempt to not lose her. I couldn’t help but feel for Pink; she really does have nothing. The fact that she wants to make sure her sister has nothing, too, is awful; but Pink really seems to have convinced herself that she experiences happiness and there’s really nothing out there. And, even despite realizing the extent to which Pink has screwed her over, Rolly still loves and wants to look after her sister. It’s just heartbreaking. There’s no way you can’t see that these people have fallen even further down than the women of Taste of Honey: but it was Pests where I saw that real family love come out.

All in all, I think both of these shows were well worth my time; but I also recommend seeing them both together, and having a think about what it is that makes people tick. Kudos both to Delaney and Vivienne Franzman for making characters and situations that I could care about this much.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, April 7, 2014. A Taste of Honey continues through May 11th and it really is a modern classic.)

Mini-review – Pests – Royal Court Theatre

April 7, 2014

You’d think as an American that I’d like my theater to be all Hollywood, happy endings and mindless entertainment. But it’s not so. Although I don’t like blood and violence, I do like plays that are hard, that don’t have happy endings, that may deal with, shall we say, uncomfortable subjects. And Pests, at the Royal Court, is exactly that kind of play. The one liner I had (spoiler free, I think), was that it was about two sisters in a dysfunctional relationship, and that it was really good. It was hard, hard work as an audience member, and it left us with more questions than answers. But it was decidedly excellent, not just for plot and acting but frankly amazing language use. I say this as a warning that I shall now spoiler the rest of the play so I can have some fun talking about said questions.


Part of the reason I was so impressed by this play was its head on, authentic depiction of heroin addiction. Pink (Sinead Matthews), the older sister, is delusional, occasionally violent, and extremely driven … to do the wrong things. And her brain now has fucked wiring, whether caused by junk or other things isn’t certain, but it makes her behavior even more erratic. We’re handily clued into this by a creeping flickering that is projected on the stage as her sanity wavers. I could see in her highs (manic and sleepy happy junk induced) and lows (oddly never questioning her life) the same brain patterns I once saw in the junkies I knew in the arts scene in Phoenix. In a play, this knocked me flat. (Now, mind you, even with fake bruises and scabs, Sinead Matthews was too clean and healthy looking to be a real junkie living in the kind of situation depicted, but no reason to be too, too accurate.)

But what I loved even more about this play was the amazing relationship between the two sisters. When Pink and Rolly (Ellie Kendrick) first see each other, there’s a burst of kinetic energy that reads as aggression, full of swearing and tussling as it is. But the dynamic proves to be loving despite the fake scuffles. Or is it? Watching the two of them over the course of the play, it begins to seem that if anyone suffers from their toxic existence – and Pink goes for robbery and GBH as well as her stock in trade prostitution – it’s the sisters themselves, ruining their own lives and each other’s. At the end of the play, I expected to see sororicide …and my partner was sure it had happened.

As ever, I find seeing plays where the lives of the characters seem to exist before and after the moments where I am actually watching them exhilarating, and the mark of truly fine writing. Pests is such a play, and at the affordable Royal Court, it is a must-see.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 5th, 2014. It continues through May 3rd.)