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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Shinn’

I’ve had very mixed experiences with the work of American playwright Christopher Shinn, nurtured here by the Royal Court. I loved Then & Now, his last-but-one here at the Court (mind you, it did have a stunning performance by Eddie Redmayne), but felt his last one, Teddy Ferrara, at the Donmar, sank somewhere in mid-Atlantic. Here, there’s a great idea bursting to get out, but it can’t find its way through the snails pace narrative, with a central character who’s a complete arse.

Luke is a young silicone valley billionaire who gets a message from god telling him to follow the violence, so he begins a messianic tour of schools where there have been shootings, campuses where there have been rapes, troubled workplaces and people’s homes. Unsurprisingly, there as many disciples as there are detractors; he’s loved and loathed in equal measure, though the media attention certainly makes an impact. The celebrity circus all becomes too much for him, though, so he returns to his family home until the media gets bored and disappears in search of the next circus. He reconnects with old school flame Kate and eventually gets it together with his assistant Sheila before a rescheduled visit to the Equator Fulfilment Centre, a thinly disguised Amazon, to tell the world his plans for the future.

The first half is achingly slow, though the pace does pick up in the second, but it doesn’t sustain its 2h50m length. Like Teddy Ferrara, its quintessentially American, awash with political correctness, causes of all sorts and celebrity obsession. Although it does come to a conclusion, it doesn’t really go anywhere, and Luke is such an unsympathetic character you just want to shake him and tell him to get a life and do something more productive with his billions.

Ian Rickson’s staging is uncharacteristically dull, as is Ultz non-existent design, and though he does his best with the material, there are a lot of better uses of Ben Wishaw’s extraordinary talent. There’s a fine supporting cast, so its not the Ben Wishaw Show, not that you’d notice from the fan presence. I spent most of the interval deciding if I could be bothered to return. I’m glad I did, as it picked up, though that might have something to do with the large glass of wine I took in with me.

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Plays usually cross the Atlantic with ease, but I’m not sure this one has. It’s set on a US college campus, somewhere that’s so uniquely American that it effectively distances a non-American audience; well me, anyway. The subject matter of Christopher Shinn’s play should engage and impassion, but it left me rather cold.

It doesn’t revolve around the the title character, but around openly gay Gabe, moving between his somewhat complicated personal life and college life for the LGBT community. Gabe has recently started a relationship with Drew, who writes for the college rag. His best friend Tim, outgoing student president, is (apparently) straight. Tim and his girlfriend Jenny and Drew’s black gay colleague Nicky are involved in Gabe and Drew’s relationship in surprising and not always plausible ways. 

Teddy Ferrara and disabled gay Jay enter Gabe’s life as leader of the college LGBT society, the former wanting someone to talk to and the latter wanting a relationship. As the college president hosts the first meeting of a group set up in response to the college’s diversity committee, Drew’s paper publishes speculation that a recent suicide victim was gay, suggesting gay campus life might be difficult. Teddy Ferrara discovers his room-mate is streaming his casual sex with partners picked up on the internet and his suicide soon follows.

Even though the setting is uniquely American, Shinn’s play, like Neil LaBute’s, are cynically un-American and his characters manipulative and self-centred, even the victims. There’s a lot of story, the issues are relevant and important, but its all very slow and unengaging I’m afraid. I didn’t really care about anyone, which makes it hard to care about the issues. It left me cold.

There are some fine performances, particularly from Mathew Marsh as the clumsy college president and would-be senator, Ryan McPartland in the title role and Pamela Nomvete as lecturer Emma. The accents are uniformly excellent. Hildegard Bechtler’s design is as cold and clinical as the play and Dominic Cooke’s staging lacks pace.

I think it would have worked a lot better if it had been relocated to the UK and shortened by twenty minutes. As it is, a disappointment for me.

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