Secrets and Lies by Mike Leigh is one of my favourite films: one of those I can watch every single time it’s shown on TV (there are a few others that never cease to delight me). It’s wonderful: funny, profound, heartbreaking, delicate. The acting is superb. You care deeply for the characters: they are real people with real emotions.
It’s the way Mike Leigh develops his projects: he chooses a subject; selects a handful of actors and tells them to go out there and work out their characters. The scripts evolve through research and improvisation. Very often the actors don’t know what the others are actually playing. In Vera Drake, for instance, only Imelda Staunton, who plays the title role, knew that her character was an abortionist, so when the police come to arrest her the look of utter horror on the faces of the other characters is absolutely genuine.
So, considering what gems Mike Leigh can create (there were also Abigail’s Party and Nuts in May, among others), what was it my partner and I saw last night at the National Theatre? What was that lightweight, banal, lazy, superficial, cliché-ridden play? We bought our tickets ages ago; at the time, of course, no one knew what the play was about – not even Mike Leigh himself. It was announced as “A New Play by Mike Leigh” and it sold out within minutes because… well, because of what I said above. We all trusted him to produce something exhilarating.
It now has a title – it’s called Two Thousand Years – but it’s not worth seeing. It was fascinating while it was a mystery. Now it’s as interesting as listening to a trivial conversation at a party.
Some critics are already saying it deserves to transfer to the West End, after its run at the NT (btw, if you hate E M Forster and love this play I can't be your best friend; don't bother) : it makes me wonder whether we saw the same play. But, then, I didn’t like David Hare’s Amy’s View and Alan Bennett’s The History Boys either (to name but two), and they were hailed as masterpieces.
A slap to Mike Leigh for disappointing us!