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.
The actors don’t seem convinced by the comedy and there’s a faintly apologetic air to the whole night. It feels like we’re watching a soon-to-be-cancelled sitcom; even the audience’s laughter sound canned.
No one could have directed this piece better than Conor McPherson. He holds back way more than anyone else would dare. This is acting that doesn’t feel like acting, a play that doesn’t feel put on.
That surreal shine permeates Race - in the tidy plot, sharply angled characters and ice-pick edgy dialogue. But the dialogue is so fierce and the emotions generated so intense that these exposed machinations do not matter. This is a top notch New York law firm, after all. If you can’t get a bit of grand-standing theatrics in this place, then you might as well head to the blooming theatre
It is so useful to see America’s history boiled down to this simple journey with a tangible end point. It renders the complex bleedingly obvious. Of course America was going to hit a dead end – it’s written down in the map of the world! America’s arrested development was never a question of if – only when.
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.