News | Information | TV | Theatre | Films | Music | Photos | Interviews / Articles | Reviews | Downloads | Media | Links | Contact | Shop | Fans | Doctor Who
Treats Press Night Reviews

Billie's Genuine Emotinal Power Is A Treat | 09/03/2007

Treats was despised, derided and written off by critics at its 1976 Royal Court premiere as an "arid, barren, dreary waste". How wrong those reviewers were!

This chilling, black comedy of sexual manners by Christopher Hampton deals with far more than the eternal triangle of two middle-class chaps coming to grief and violence over the body of a sexy girl.

Laurence Boswell's production makes the problem as clear as a psychotherapist's court report, thanks to the power with which Billie Piper, in an impressive West End debut of genuine emotional power, and dynamic Kris Marshall, together with Laurence Fox's over-doltish man in the middle, act out their love-relations.

Treats spotlights a life dilemma: what happens when you are locked into the pains and insecure pleasures of a sado-masochistic relationship.

Hampton explains that Treats inverted the famous process of Ibsen's The Doll's House, where the heroine walks out on her controlling husband. Instead he considers the problems posed when a girl comes back to her man.

Hampton has not, I deduce, done any serious rewriting, aside from changing the odd reference, but the language sounds distinctly Seventies formal, while Jeremy Herbert's design offers a mystifying mix of objects from the Seventies and 2007: a typewriter jostles with CDs, DVDs, a flat screen TV and a computer.

Wherever we are, though, a timeless pattern of sexual behaviour is at once elaborated.

Marshall's international reporter, an outrageous sociopath called Dave, shatters a window and breaks into the life of his former lover, Piper's demure Ann, who lives now with Fox's dull, weedy Patrick.

Not content with knocking Patrick to the ground, Dave, who displays the seductive potency of a charming, self-centred adolescent, tearfully attempts to reclaim Ann, as if she were a cherished piece of luggage left too long in Lost Property. In a sense she is.

The charismatic Marshall, a natural actor right down to his toe nails, draws the comic maximum from Dave's shamelessness and revels in the man's unspeakable egotism, while Fox's Patrick looks on in dumb-founded, long-suffering passivity.

Piper's voluptuous Ann, exuding a fine contempt and distaste for this intruder, accuses Dave of having bullied and terrorised her, not to mention sleeping with some 42 women while with her.

"When I look at the marriages of my friends all I can see is easy pickings," he explains in witty justification.

Women who love too much will recognise the repartee: the accusation and cruel, insouciant response. A history of masochistic suffering and sadistic dominance becomes apparent.

Up to the interval, though, Treats rates as a superficial and trivial comedy of manners, whose three characters are mere types and never given professional identities or detailed personalities.

Hampton has, though, prepared his ground with psychological astuteness for the devastating second act.

Ann, true to her masochistic promptings succumbs to Dave. "Why do you treat me so badly," she asks. "Why do you let me" he counters, confessing he thought it was what she wanted.

Poised to resume their sexual relationship, he lands a blow upon her and walks out, his control asserted and soon achieved.

Ann, who rains down contempt upon the spurned, surely masochistic Patrick, does return to Dave, who is last seen raising a hand to prevent her from coming close. They are set for a wretched marriage.

Treats enthralls, with its convincing demonstration of how sado-masochists have little long-term fun.


Treats Opening Night Review | The Guardian 09/03/2007

The tension was unbearable. Would the first night of Treats, postponed from a week ago, ever take place? What was the mystery bug that had laid low its star, Billie Piper, making her stage debut? One suspects the off-stage dramas were more than a match for anything that takes place in this capable revival of Christopher Hampton's diagrammatically neat but strangely hermetic 1976 play.

Hampton has revealed that he wrote the play partly in response to the New York success of his version of Ibsen's A Doll's House: instead of a play about a woman who decisively walks out, he would create one about a woman who inconclusively stays put. Accordingly we see Ann, currently living with a fellow interpreter called Patrick, shattered by the disruptive return of her ex-lover, Dave. Where Patrick is nerdily nice, Dave, a journalist by profession, is wild, promiscuous and physically abusive. And, over the course of nine mathematically arranged scenes, we see Dave insinuating himself back into Ann's fluctuating affections.

My problem in 1976 was that I couldn't believe in Ann's restricted possibilities: why, in the age of women's lib, was she forced to choose between an amiable wimp and a destructive neurotic? And, by updating the action to the present, Hampton makes her dilemma even less credible.

In this version, the characters are all on mobiles and the coke-snorting Dave, having just returned from Basra, hates any politician whose name begins with a B. But the idea that Ann, who expresses a vague yearning for freedom, would be less empowered than Ibsen's Nora and stuck between two impossible men strikes me as inherently implausible.

As a born ironist, Hampton inevitably plays some intriguing variations on the eternal triangle. Pre-empting Pinter's Betrayal, which appeared two years later, Hampton suggests the strongest bond in the play is really between the two men. In one astutely observed scene he shows how Dave, in picking over his failed relationship with Ann, turns to Patrick for instinctive support: it becomes a classic case of what Rene Girard called "triangular desire" in which two men are drawn together by their urge to possess the same woman. Like the hero of The Philanthropist, Patrick is also another of Hampton's studies of irresolution, at one point announcing: "I'm an incurable optimist, that's the misery of it." But it seems a curiously airless play; and, in Laurence Boswell's production, one is left admiring the dexterity of the three performers.

Clearly the main focus is on Ms Piper and she intelligently suggests hidden reserves of strength inside the indecisive Ann.

Asked by Dave how good Patrick was as a lover, she tartly replies "no worse than you" and she itemises Patrick's flaws with a cool authority. Piper has poise and presence on stage and it is not her fault if I found it hard to credit her character's apparent surrender to the bullying hack.

Kris Marshall also implies, in moments of solitude, that there are redeeming private insecurities to the repulsive Dave. But the most intriguing performance comes from Laurence Fox who lends the hapless Patrick a gangling ineffectualness that makes it impossible for him to extract a key from its ring. We all love a loser and Fox has a dithering helplessness that suggests he would make a wonderful Konstantin in The Seagull. But, although the performances are fine, it is a play in which the shrewdness of Hampton's observation cannot entirely compensate for the narrowness of the world on display.


Treat Yourself To A Sick Note Billie | The Telegraph 09/03/2007

Writing in 1991 about a recent revival of his play Treats (1976) Christopher Hampton remarked that he was “pleased to see the piece had not entirely lost its capacity to irritate.”

Well, I’m glad causing irritation gives you so much pleasure, Chris, because Treats certainly irritated the hell out of me at its latest revival last night with Billie Piper heading the cast.

There has been much feverish press speculation about the delayed press night of this production and the fact that Miss Piper has missed a couple of preview performances.

Could I hazard the suggestion that the play itself might have made her sick?

In its mixture of self-regarding cleverness and tendentious sexual politics Treats takes some beating.

Hampton wrote it after witnessing the whooping feminist reaction to his translation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in which the heroine, Nora, walks out on her husband, famously slamming the front door behind her.

So he decided to write a play about a modern-day woman who chooses to remain with her emotionally abusive, physically violent partner despite having every incentive and opportunity to leave.

When his heroine Ann slams the door, it is not because she is walking out but because she has come back home to the man who has busted her lip and slapped her hard across the face.

I am certainly not suggesting that a dramatist should not tackle such a relationship. Theatre is often at its best when exploring the dark and disastrous promptings of Eros.

No, what infuriates me is that while the two men in Ann’s life, the bullying, womanising journalist Dave (Kris Marshall) and the hopeless nerd Patrick (Laurence Fox) witter on interminably, Hampton offers virtually no clue into what makes his heroine tick.

For much of the time Ann is an almost entirely passive figure, and when she finally turns on the hapless but well-meaning Patrick and returns to the boorish Dave, we are vouchsafed zero insight into her feelings.

Is it just that she and Dave have great sex together? Well it might be, but unfortunately neither Hampton’s text nor Laurence Boswell’s flaccid production achieve the faintest frisson of erotic desire. Or is Hampton suggesting that, you know what, lads, some women actually like to be slapped about a bit?

Well, perhaps they do, but if you are going to take such a provocative view, should you not at least have the courtesy to give the woman in question a chance to explain herself? All poor Ann gets to do is sob a lot and then smile fetchingly at her brutish partner.

But then there has always been something of the nearly man about Christopher Hampton. He is excellent at epigrammatic elegance - “I’m an incurable optimist, that’s the misery of it” observes the pathetic Patrick here - and this piece is structured with a clever mathematical precision.

But when it comes to what Yeats described as the foul ragand- bone-shop of the heart, Hampton is usually a dead loss unless he is translating someone else’s work.

I count myself among Billie Piper’s most fervent fans but the wonderful emotional warmth and spontaneity she displayed in Dr Who is almost entirely absent here. It is no help that she has chosen to deliver Hampton’s lightly updated script in an unpersuasive posh accent, but I suspect the real clue to this performance’s disappointing awkwardness is that she finds it impossible to get inside the head of such a lazily drawn character.

Kris Marshall exudes an edgy sense of danger as Dave, Laurence Fox, his recessive face resembling something on a fishmonger’s slab, has some amusingly geeky moments as Patrick.

But this is a mechanical and soulless little play that reminds us why Hampton has never quite made it into the premier league of British dramatists.


First Night  Of Treats | The Observer 09/03/3007

Would she or wouldn't she? Rarely has a leading lady caused so much drama before even stepping on stage. With press night already postponed by a week and the rumour mill churning out free publicity on everything from Billie Piper's extreme stage fright to her break-up from or engagement to her on- and off-stage beau Laurence Fox, one fully expected one of theatreland's overworked understudies to appear in her place.

But, as the lid lifted off Jeremy Herbert's giant blue-and-yellow present of a set, there was the distinctive blonde actress calmly sitting on a beige Ikea sofa. She plays Ann, who is ensconced in domestic bliss with her nice-but-dull boyfriend Patrick (Fox). Their peace is shattered when Dave (Kris Marshall), Ann's macho ex, bursts into their home in a flurry of punches and broken glass and proposes to Ann. The love triangle is set.

Christopher Hampton wrote Treats in 1975, apparently as a response to his translation of A Doll's House, reasoning that there were just as many women trapped in destructive relationships in the 1970s as there had been in Ibsen's 1870s. Somewhere along the way this promising premise seems to have been boiled down to a rehashing of the classic problem-page dilemma - should Ann stay with the guy who treats her well but is "too nice" or go with the alluring, but abusive, bad boy? It's a tired idea, further weighed down by a schematic structure which gives each of the trio a solo scene, a scene with each of the other characters and three ensemble scenes.

It is Ann who suffers the most from this. In the first half she barely utters 20 lines and by the end of the play we have no idea of what makes her tick. Faced with this two-dimensional character, Piper finds it hard to shine. While watchable enough, she spends much of the play pulling the same disapproving face.

As bully-boy Dave, Marshall has a good sense of comedy, which makes his dark side all the more menacing. As the "bore of international reputation" Fox gives a performance which is amusing and touching. Both are given the best lines but they are absurd extremes and it's hard to see why Ann would want anything to do with either of them.

All three actors have come to the West End from higher profile television roles. What a shame then that they have ended up in the closest theatre gets to soap opera.

While Hampton's script does have some fizzing lines and some interesting (and one genuinely shocking) moments, Laurence Boswell's production wobbles uncomfortably between door-slamming farce and a darker investigation of the mutual dependence of abuser and victim. As the play went on, the present box became an entirely appropriate setting - the production promises much but once you get beneath the shiny wrapping, the treat inside is really rather disappointing.


The Method In Billie's Maladies | The Observer 09/03/2007

What a fortnight it has been for the luminous Billie Piper, star of Treats, which opened at London's Garrick Theatre last week. By opening night on Thursday - already delayed because of her ill health - the sideshow that is her private life threatened to overshadow the entire production. The run-up to the opening has been a tabloid dream. Billie was, said the Daily Mail, 'on the brink', unable to cope with the demands of eight performances a week and close to collapse. Was she even cut out for the theatre? (Piper's role as Ann in Christopher Hampton's emotionally taut play is her stage debut.) Things started to go wrong when she first failed to appear in a preview one night the week before last, citing gastric flu. Her understudy stepped in once more last Tuesday.

Later the same day it was reported that she had become engaged to her on-off boyfriend and co-star Laurence Fox (son of actor James, nephew of actor Edward and producer Robert, cousin of actress Emilia. Please keep up). The two have only been dating since late last year so the supposedly imminent engagement announcement added to rumours that Billie was 'set to wed' because she was pregnant.

'The hottest show in town' - Piper's life - now had all the perfect elements: flighty leading lady in crisis, brooding scion of acting dynasty, a mystery illness, pregnancy rumours, shotgun wedding, stage fright. And, of course, the (potentially Machiavellian?) millionaire ex-husband. Chris Evans attended a performance on Monday, reporting on his blog that Billie and Laurence had come back to his house afterwards and that Laurence is, apparently, 'a nice guy, so bloody fit and handsome'. Evans is never far away from any story featuring his ex-wife. Piper was recently pictured crying on his shoulder in a north London branch of Starbucks. According to the Daily Mail and the Sun, Evans had interrupted a gym session with his girlfriend, golf pro Natasha Shishmanian, to rush to crisis talks with Billie. (How do they know these things?) One irrelevant but telling detail emerged: Evans apparently dislikes talking on the phone and so always prefers to attend to such matters in person. Which curiously endeared me to him.

At some point during all this Piper was rushed to hospital where she was reportedly seen 'clutching her stomach' - again fuelling the pregnancy rumours. One night, there was also some sort of 'collapse' just before she was about to go on stage. Another night one of the crew played a Doctor Who ringtone from the wings in the middle of one of her scenes.

Of course what has not really been mentioned is the nature of the character Piper is playing. Treats was written in 1975 by Christopher Hampton. It is a response to Ibsen's A Doll's House and is about the sacrifices women will make for men. It is a complicated, ambitious play with only three parts: Piper plays Ann, a victim of domestic violence caught between two men - Dave, the attractive bully (Kris Marshall), and Patrick, the kind weakling (Fox). Ann has the least to say but in order for the play to work at all she must dominate the stage emotionally. For the first act she is detached, cold, unfathomable. Then suddenly, as the play changes direction in the second act, she breaks down.

On opening night Piper managed this transition extraordinarily. In fact I was so affected by her performance that I felt an emotional wreck myself as the curtain came down. In act one she is robotic - not a criticism, as this is just what the part needs. But in act two you cannot take your eyes off her. There is a heart-breaking vulnerability and intimacy to her acting. There is one almost unbearably cruel scene where she cries endlessly. The part is, I suspect, designed for an actress older than Piper, 24, but she pulls it off almost too convincingly. She is obviously 'living' the emotions of the role in order to make it work. This is either a brilliant strategy (and the mark of an actor with huge potential) or it is a dangerous experiment. As I woke up in the middle of the night still haunted by Ann's breakdown, I predict that for Piper it is a gamble that will pay off. On the brink? Yes. Of being recognised as a serious actor of considerable talent.


The Girl Who Can't Help Being Billie | The Daily Mail 09/03/2007

Sweet Billie Piper is easily the most interesting thing in the romantic tangle Treats.

Billie did fine in her West End debut last night. She turned up, first of all, which was an improvement on at least one recent night.

She remembered her lines, moved fluently, took off her shirt at one point and looked jolly pretty.

She even broke down into a convincing puddle of tears, as required of her character – although Billie has had some practice at that in her private life, if the paparazzi shots are to be believed.

The audience seemed pleased to see her and loved her Sister Wendy smile. Yes, we can count this launch an adequate success.

But the play itself, a 1976 love triangle effort by Christopher Hampton, is a slender work. It is a B-side sort of drama, neatly symmetrical, tightly spun but hardly an earth mover.

And watching Miss Piper, who here performs alongside Laurence Fox who is reportedly her real life fiance, it was hard to wrench away one's mind from the over-hyped notorietyof this leading lady.

Billie plays Ann, an interpreter who has recently broken up with raddled journalist Dave (Kris Marshall). Her live-in lover is now Patrick (Mr Fox), a gentle, trusting soul who 'looks like someone who has just stepped in to an empty lift shaft'. Patrick is on the dull side.

Mr Fox mugs up the gormlessness of his character to the full. He produces an array of vacant, horsey expressions - at moments he would not disgrace the winner's enclosure at Aintree.

This face-pulling wins some laughs but in truth is probably overdone.

Mr Marshall's Dave is sexier than dull Patrick but, being a cocaine snorter with violent inclinations, he is more dangerous.

Ann has to decide which she prefers. Theatrical purposes demand a pretty obvious answer.

In the 1970s Treats had some edgy observations to make about feminism (those were the early days of the bra burners' magazine, Spare Rib). How free really were young women? Sadly, this production is set in 21st century London.

The programme suggests that this change was made at Billie's suggestion. Maybe she or her image-makers thought it would be easier for her to 'do modern', or that she'd look more comely in a modern setting.

Bad idea. Without the 1970s political context the play becomes little more than a workmanlike soap opera.

Artistically Billie has been undone by the cult and cronies of celebrity.

This happens to certain types of showbiz stars. You look at them acting and it is impossible to get past the too-familiar public mask.

Such stars become, thanks to the efforts of unscrupulous publicists and avaricious producers, set figures in the audience's mind.

The art of the actor is to inhabit different lives and to create personas.

Billie may have poshed up her accent last night but she was, I'm afraid, seldom more than Billie. I never felt I was watching Ann.

Don't blame her. Blame the men in the background, pulling the strings. It's not that different to what happens in Mr Hampton's play to poor Ann.

What the other critics say...
Daily Telegraph, Charles Spencer: The wonderful emotional warmth and spontaneity she displayed in Dr Who is almost entirely absent here.

The Independent, Alice Jones: Faced with this two dimensional character, Piper finds it hard to shine. While watchable enough, she spends much of the play pulling the same disapproving face.

The Times, Benedict Nightingale: Piper (coped) decently enough with the tricky part of Ann.

The Guardian, Michael Billington: Piper has poise and presence on stage and it is not her fault if I found it hard to credit her character's apparent surrender to the bullying hack.