Smoking with Lulu

Janet Munsil

Soho Theatre

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

This three-hander is based on a head-on clash between hedonists. The initial idea of recreating a meeting between two iconic characters that led to a famous interview in the New Yorker magazine seems well-founded.

One of its two different strands tells of the story behind the interview between the critic and intellectual, Kenneth Tynan, and the now faded, bed ridden film star of 50 years before, Louise Brooks.

The other tries to show on stage Tynan's weird sexual worship of Brooks' most famous character, Lulu. Brooks is a woman who was driving men wild in the part fifty years before Anna Friel tried to make it her own. Sophie Millett has the task of playing the various fantasy figures that spring up in Tynan's dreams. These vary from the bound and beaten Lulu to another native of Kansas, that gay icon from Oz, Dorothy.

Is not clear that Munsil has succeeded in either of these plans. Peter Eyre, looking like Peter O'Toole playing Jeffrey Bernard, occasionally gives us a glimpse of the true Tynan. He was a man who was to die of excess at 53 but is now only remembered for initiating the use of four-letter words on live television and his creation of Oh Calcutta. This is very sad as he is arguably the greatest theatre critic of his day and this is now largely forgotten.

Coronation Street's Mavis, Thelma Barlow, plays the ageing and exceedingly irascible former actress. Somehow, the irritating old woman whose accent fluctuates between straight and Irish American never gives the impression of the screen goddess that we see projected behind her.

Brooks was an educated woman who would rather read Proust and Goethe than film magazines but this does not square with an old lady who defaces library books in effort to rewrite film history.

The main attraction of this play is likely to be for the serious film buffs who remember the New Yorker interview between Tynan and Brooks and for TV fans who love Mavis.