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Playhouse Presents: The Minor Character, Sky Arts | reviews, news & interviews

Playhouse Presents: The Minor Character, Sky Arts

Playhouse Presents: The Minor Character, Sky Arts

The first in a series of ten short plays is a compelling but rather empty experiment

The Minor Character: David Tennant as reptilian protagonist Will

For those who saw David Tennant’s outstanding Hamlet either during the production’s 2008 run at the RSC or in its later television incarnation, there’s likely to be some built-in intrigue to his role in the debut instalment of new Sky Arts series Playhouse Presents, not least because his cut-glass vocals and pervasive melancholy are more than a tad reminiscent of his take on the Dane.

For those who saw David Tennant’s outstanding Hamlet either during the production’s 2008 run at the RSC or in its later television incarnation, there’s likely to be some built-in intrigue to his role in the debut instalment of new Sky Arts series Playhouse Presents, not least because his cut-glass vocals and pervasive melancholy are more than a tad reminiscent of his take on the Dane.

But his character in the Will Self-penned short play, the first of 10, is sullenly self-absorbed to an extent that makes Hamlet look positively ebullient by comparison. A bored, bitter artist living in the suburbs of London, Tennant’s Will spends his half-hour monologue reflecting on a dinner party with friends some two years prior. He’s scornful and frequently resentful of his middle-class, middle-aged pals, but his acerbic observations give way to a sobering (and more than slightly meta) revelation about his social circle, and his own role within it. Without entirely giving the game away, the more apt theatrical comparison might be to Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, centred as it is on two minor characters spun into protagonists. 

Each episode of Playhouse Presents looks set to pivot on a single high-profile performer much as this does on Tennant – names touted for upcoming instalments include Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Eddie Marsan, Olivia Williams and, startlingly, Tom Jones. Tennant, whose perennially boyish face is just starting to show the faintest signs of maturing, fascinates here in part because of just how repugnant he consistently is. It’s frankly a feat for him to be anything other than wildly likeable, but this scathing, reptilian turn could not be further from it.

What’s slightly problematic is that none of the other players in Will’s thinly drawn circle of friends are exactly lovable either – as seen through his authorial perspective they’re a sorry bunch of bourgeois caricatures. As compelling as it is to take in the ugly undercurrent of malevolence that pervades their dinner party, and every gathering that follows, you’re unlikely to be too sorry when Minor Character’s compact running time is up and you’re no longer required to spend time with these people. Setting a promisingly probing precedent for the series, this is nonetheless a fascinating but rather empty dramatic experiment.

It’s a feat for Tennant to be anything other than wildly likeable, but this scathing, reptilian turn could not be further from it

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Comments

Arty-farty claptrap. Don't bother!

why are there no sub titles on sky arts playhouse - those of us who are hearing impaired have missed some great plays by the look of it. It is not sufficient to say "turn up your hearing aids" - it doesnt work that way - some of us can hear sound but cannot distinguish wht is actually being said and rely totally on subtitles - is this not discriminatory against the deaf?

I've watched 3 of these plays in the hope that they would improve, but I can honestly say they are the most tedious rubbish I've seen in ages. Truly dreadful!

'The Man', by Sandi Toksgiv,starring Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamakerwas was the most self-indulgent, 'let's get together with some arty chums and educate the unintelligent masses', program that I've ever seen in my life. The mantra of all writers these days is 'show, don't tell', but this did absolutely nothing else but 'tell'. If you or I had written this patronising, arty farty, self-indulgent rubbish it would have been instantly rejected as the total claptrap it is.

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