Studio Theatre's TYNAN

There is a strange level of meta-reality to sitting in a theatre on press night for a play about Kenneth Tynan, one of the most influential critics of modern times. It’s strange to listen to Tynan’s thoughts on the role of a critic, in a room with other critics, all of whom can never even able to hope to reach the level of importance that this man did. One is also naturally forced to wonder what Kenneth Tynan himself would think of this play. I don’t think he would find it a particularly arresting work of theatre.

Playwrights Richard Nelson and Colin Chambers have taken Tynan’s diaries and condensed them into a 90-minute one-man play. Such an endeavor begs the question, what do we get from this play that we can’t get from reading the diaries? In this case, the answer is nothing.

The play suffers from its lack of dramatic structure. There is no plot line, not even an arc for the character to follow. The text just jumps from anecdotes about “Larry” (Olivier) to anecdotes about Oh, Calcutta. It’s a piece that has no appeal to anyone who isn’t a theatre artist in-the-know. Furthermore, the fact that the playwrights don’t notice this as a problem makes me think they just weren’t paying attention. They include a section where Tynan dismisses such navel-gazing, narcissistic plays, plays about the kind of people watching them. Theatre, he says, is for learning about other people.

The playwrights seem to think they are being edgy by delving into Tynan’s sex life, particularly his infidelity and interest in spankings. It’s a device that becomes repetitive rather than illuminating, particularly since far more interesting things have been said about Tynan’s sexual proclivities. Take for instance, his ex-wife’s description: “To cane a woman on her bare buttocks, to hurt and humiliate her, was what gave him his greatest sexual satisfaction." In comparison with that Tynan’s repeated interest in “spankings” it feels like the stories were put in by 7-year-olds snickering in the corner.

The production at Studio Theatre is performed by Philip Goodwin, a charismatic, intelligent actor, who does everything he can with this wet mop of a play. There’s nothing wrong with the acting, nothing wrong with the directing. The problem is with the script; it starts with a provocative, controversial man and ends with as a stolid evening of theatre.

2 stars
Through February 6


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