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.
Immigrants’ tales are interspersed with an almost wordless tale of torture, attempted escape and failed asylum. The production is full of energy and inventiveness. Where it is less successful is in the emotional tone, which becomes increasingly jumbled as the show goes on.
Strip away the razzle dazzle, and what is left is a production stranded in its very own limbo. As Milton sagely observed, the mind is indeed capable of making a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell, but it is hard pushed to envisage either on this stage.
Maliphant is at his most cerebral when he is at his most physical and visceral. In Sylvie Guillem he has found a dancer who is perfectly attuned to the intellectual and physical challenge of his choreography.
There is still discomfiture about verbatim theatre, with many writers complaining that its works do not count as ‘proper plays.’ For all that, Cruising is well structured, funny and touching - irrespective of whether it is made up, entirely true, or fragments of truth edited into a more coherent entity.
Having seen the production and then gone back to the text, it struck me that in many ways the poetic truth of the original play is the transformative power of dreams. However, this theme was almost entirely obscured in the production.
Is the play unsuccessful if, in borrowing heavily from other literary tropes, it succeeds in speaking directly to an often overlooked ‘cultural mass’? Should it be criticised for its lack of originality when it can communicate to so many people using familiarity as a form of commonality between diverse audiences?
It’s hard to work the play out, and harder to know if it’s going to be worth your while. Red has just returned from a war, apparently traumatised by the experience, though in the abstract world conjured by the play it’s not clear what might have been considered normal.
The six-year span of the play parallels Boy’s development with that of the market place and the political landscape of Britain in the 1980s. The audience can enjoy its empathetic identification with Market Boy’s maturation, but the journey - and therefore Eldridge’s plot - is a predictable one.
Despite the general pleasantness, the play lacks something of the emotional grip such a desperate situation should have. Maybe because it is too clear where the play is going - the revelation of the man’s secret (although the play does make the point that there are always more secrets).
From the moment the curtain was raised on this astonishing production we are faced with a breathtaking image that not only sets the tone for the entire play but also for the project as a whole. For what we are watching is not just a play put together over a few weeks rehearsal and a couple of months research. The Soldier’s Taleon the Old Vic stage is a labour of love.
Waking and dreaming, reality and unreality, death and life are blurred and confused as much as night and day, which are immaterial in a production that refuses to provide any evidence of time and space. The set, sound and lights make a perfect, disjointed whole that anchors the story in limbo.
‘Stop the killing, and worry about the political implications later’, one might have said at the time. Well, we didn’t stop the killing, but it is later. The Overwhelming is an invitation to reflect on some hard questions about Rwanda.
Part of the reason for the play’s popularity lies in the endless reinventions of the staging, and the effect this has on our understanding of the fractured narratives that criss-cross the play, which resembles Eliot’s The Wasteland in terms both of style and of the sheer scale of the literary kleptomania.