Regular reviews of new London theatre, from the West End and the National Theatre to the fringe, plus occasional dispatches from around the UK and beyond.
There are no tangible divisions or barriers in Christopher’s world. When he walks about the streets, trying to track down the murderer of the neighbour’s dog, the houses have no walls. Christopher’s world is a without boundaries – or, at least, without divisions that he can easily recognise or understand.
But for much of the time, we’re simply badgered and bullied by a number of aggressive types, the threat of execution held – ridiculously – over our heads. It feels silly. It also feels completely out of synch with Kafka’s novel, which doesn’t look death in the eye until the very final moment.
The classic Kneehigh touches - the karaoke sessions, a moon that doubles up as a clock and the spooky cold music that trembles beneath every scene - only make the dialogue sound weaker still. While these kooky visual and aural touches scream out ‘THEATRE’, the dialogue whispers ‘television’.
This disorientating disconnect between sound and reality lies at the heart of this show. At first, we resist the obvious inconsistencies between what we hear and what we know to be possible. But the 3D soundscape, which is so convincing and so overwhelming, gradually wears us down
Everything becomes grindingly over-explicit, as the ‘austerity’ measures are picked apart by an angry throng. There are a few gems of economic insight in here but it’s really tough to stay engaged.
When Odysseus and Penelope are finally reunited, the stark black and white set is suddenly flooded with colour. It feels like nothing less than the beginning of a new and better world.
Her head’s a mess and her hair’s in an even worse state. No wonder that prying neighbours and colleagues keep popping over to check up on her; Rachael Stirling looks like she’s shortcircuiting and set to blow.
And what a pleasure it is to mull such vagaries in Fletcher’s company. He has an extraordinary capacity to engage, doling out eye contact around an audience in such a way that makes you feel certain statements are intended for you alone, sometimes accusatory, sometimes almost a gift.
Yes, it’s there in the central love story between ‘Katherine’ and ‘Petruchio’ but this musical isn’t really about the love between a man and a woman. It’s about Cole’s love for theatre. As the two gangsters find their groove, their eyes light up. And, when the applause comes, they take endless encores.
There’s a glorious and typically pertinent scene, when the two escape to a nearby loony asylum. It’s no coincidence that it is here – in this abandoned mad house – that the two patients fall in love. As every good writer will tell us, the line between love and insanity is an absurdly fine one.