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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Patterson’

Imagine if you hoovered up the contents of playwright Bruce Norris’ brain just after a brain-storming session on how to present the financial crisis as theatre, pointed your vacuum pipe at the stage floor and switched from suck to blow. Well, that’s what The Low Road seemed to me. A download.

This is my fourth Norris play and up to now I’ve either liked or loved them all. This seemed to me the perfect subject for him. His ‘big idea’ of an allegory, setting the play in the late 1700’s in the US, is inspired. The trouble is it gets totally out of control, swamps what he’s trying to say and ends up as an overlong, occasionally funny, often clever but ultimately dull mess.

It’s narrated by Bill Patterson as Scottish philosopher-economist of the period, Adam Smith. We start with the illegitimate son of Washington left in a basket on the doorstep of Mrs Trumpett’s brothel and end with his illegitimate grandson, the product of a rape, orphaned and left with his mother’s retarded brother ‘poor Tim’. In between we see young Jim grow up to be brilliant but morally bankrupt. He uses his genius to make a fortune for his benefactor which he then steals. There’s a brief flash forward to a Q&A at a present day economic conference where his descendent, a banker (obviously), is a panel member and proceedings are interrupted by protesters, we debate slavery (at length) and there’s an epilogue involving aliens!

With some judicious editing and a firmer directorial hand, this could have been another Enron – a biting, illuminating and entertaining satire on real events. Instead it’s a patchy, overlong jumble which leaves you frustrated and dissatisfied. There’s a big hard-working cast of 18 playing c.50 parts between them. Johnny Flynn as Jim has done nothing better. Elizabeth Berrington successfully morphs from brothel madam to contemporary conference host back to 18th century society hostess. Simon Paisley Day’s transformation from British army captain to ‘poor Tim’ to modern American banker is extraordinary. If only someone had taken control and turned the download into a play.

Dominic Cooke started at the Royal Court on a low with some absurdist revivals. It was uphill from there and it has been a truly great period for them. Sadly, with this and Narrative upstairs, he ends on a low – but with anarchy rather than absurdity.

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