Clocks and Whistles was writer Samuel Adamson's debut play at the Bush Theatre in 1996 in a production directed by then-artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, with a cast including Kate Beckinsale, John Light and Neil Stuke. It was later produced in Germany and New York. The play led to him becoming Pearson Writer in Residence at the Bush from 1997 to 1998
Twenty six-year-old ex-journalist and ex-editor, Samuel Adamson, sets his clever first play, Clocks and Whistles, in a self-conscious world where people keep diaries, write poems and discuss an article in the Independent about whether London is a setting of diminishing interest for contemporary novelists. It clearly isn't for contemporary dramatists.
With only five characters and 20 scenes, Clocks and Whistles might be a TV play; but it works in Dominic Dromgoole's exemplary farewell production at the Bush, as the action moves around Paul Andrews's crafty set, between night-club, balcony, park, pub, party, flats, flats, and the steps outside flats. The characters circle in a watchful, wary kind of mating ritual.
They circle, primarily, round Anne, a needy, nervy actress, played with teasing comedy by Kate Beckinsale. Whether she is tucking her short hair behind her ear, running a finger along the top of the table, or tying one of her bijou presents with raffia, she does so with a developed sense of her own market value. The sun-dried tomatoes, she admits with healthy disdain, are for "some lighting technician who wants my babies". Beckinsale is pert, funny and acidic. But her performance goes further. There's callowness and hesitancy too.
She's well-partnered. Neil Stuke plays the easy-going working-class lad, who sits on the steps outside his Paddington flat, knows everyone's business and writes terrible poems. Stuke brings brio and attack, though anyone who doubts he is a realist should see the way he kisses Beckinsale. There is no mucking about.
Many first plays have a writer-type at the emotional centre. And this one's in publishing, keeps a diary, and withholds his feelings. John Light excels as the troubled, grimacing Henry. He's gay, but he adores Beckinsale. She's straight, but has an affair with Stuke. He's bisexual and has them both. No wonder there are references to Cabaret.
As the predatory sugar-daddy, Michael Cashman widens his beady eyes, and leans in on Henry with the challenge, "Don't you shop at a different department store?", while Melanie Thaw, as the sculptress neighbour, drops by to share a bottle of wine on the balcony and seems to want more. Dromgoole draws out highly detailed performances: rapid exchanges of looks, misjudged farewells, toying with props; there's a tremendous amount happening on a tiny stage.
Robert Butler, The Independent 1997
Author: Samuel Adamson; Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole; Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Michael Cashman, John Light, Neil Stuke