One’s heart has to go out to the jobbing actor. These days, unless you’re some A-list top-ender, the chances are that work is few and far between and so you take what’s offered at Equity minimum and are grateful for the work.
However, when somebody invites you to appear in something as artistically questionable as Forever Young, the hungry player might well be advised to take a moment of reflection about the value of immediate monetary gain over long-term reputation.
If ever there has been an example of more self-indulgent nonsense appearing on a stage,I have yet to encounter it. Forever Young has no plot whatsoever and paper-thin
dialogue that is used purely to segue a collection of tenuously-themed standard pop songs.
The hopelessly contrived visual gags were ancient when Benny Hill was doing them in the 1970s. Is the sight of a group of faux-geriatrics croaking out Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” funny? Possibly, if you’re inebriated or ten years old.
In the New Wolsey Theatre, it is the year 2050 and the theatre has become a retirement home for elderly actors. It’s an interesting concept – one that has potential for pathos and development of the characters.
Unfortunately, adapters Giles Croft and Stephan Bednarczyk, and the original Swiss deviser Erik Gedeon, take the easier route of creating a hotchpotch of musical numbers, which the elderly residents of the home – performed by poorly aged-up young actors – belt out for no apparent reason.
There are some poignant performances and these are highlighted in a second act clip-show of Shakespeare’s finest scenes but ultimately Forever Young is a four-minute sketch that’s eked out to a painful two-and-a-half-hours. On television, Catherine Tate’s foul-mouthed 'Nan' Taylor character works because she’s delivered in small doses. When the same idea is brought to the stage for that length of time, it becomes boring very quickly.
In the interests of fairness, it has to be reported that the opening night audience at the New Wolsey Theatre seemed to be lapping it up and there was an element of The Emperor’s New Clothes when the troupe was given a standing ovation. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste.