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Posts Tagged ‘My Child’

The two Mike Bartlett plays I’ve seen before this were short but substantial one-acters – My Child and Cock, both at the Royal Court – so I was surprised when I heard his latest at the NT’s Cottesloe was a marathon 3.25 hours. The other surprise was that the ‘epic play about climate change’ turned out to be more of a family drama with a climate change backdrop.

Designer Miriam Buether has done another extraordinary transformation, with an S-shaped orange catwalk lined with bar stools on the ground floor, two elevated stages at either end and projections on all four sides. It makes for a swift change from scene-to-scene – and there are a lot of scenes!

It centres around environmental academic Robert, who sold his soul to the corporate devil as a young man, casting out his three daughters when his wife dies. One eventually becomes Environment Minister in the new coalition government (up-to-date stuff this) and is also enticed to take the corporate shilling, the second is a troubled pregnant wife and the third a rebellious student. His son-in-law visits to find out why his wife’s earlier visit  has made her troubled only to receive a devastating revelation.

It’s epic in the way Angels in America was epic (though half the length and less substantial) and I found myself gripped from the start. Despite its length, the writing is sharp and succinct and Rupert Goold’s direction is full of his usual inventiveness including a B&Q full of kitchen sinks! The ensemble of 17 is excellent it would be invidious to single any out.

The Cottesloe was made for re-inventions like this and the play, though not a classic like Jerusalem (which is now be the benchmark for modern classics), is by far the best new play at the NT for some time. I much admired the ambition of it all and felt it was very satisfying if not exactly life-changing.

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The Royal Court main house has been turned into a boxing club, complete with ring, which later becomes a  boxing venue. Designer Miriam Buether is no stranger to such transformations (Relocated, My Child & Cock also here at the Royal Court) and this is just as impressive. It completely transports you to this (for me at least) alien world and in this case, back in time 20 – 25 years.

Roy Williams is just about the best playwright working in the UK today because he writes unpretentious plays which tell personal stories that illuminate and help us understand complex aspects of our society. This particular play shows us what it’s like to grow up black in 80’s Britain through the story of two boys whose lives diverge and later re-connect. Setting it in Thatcher’s Britain allows us to revisit a period of war (the Falklands), industrial strife and racism and wonder if anything has really changed. We’re still fighting wars, we seem to be heading for a new period of  strife and the spectre of racism has hardly gone away, just buried.

It was a captivating 90 minutes sitting front row ringside with more testosterone in the room than all the other London theatres added together. Sacha Wares’ staging, including amazingly real fight sequences, makes it all so totally believable that you wince at the racist comments and jump when a punch lands.

There isn’t a fault in the casting. Nigel Lindsay brings out all of the contradictions that inhabit trainer Charlie. Trevor Laird as Leon’s dad and Gary Beadle as Troy’s American give great cameos. Sarah Ridgeway really makes us feel for Becky, caught between her dad and Leon. Above all it’s the three boxing boys – Jason Maza, Anthony Welsh and Daniel Kaluuya – who bring the play alive with extraordinary presence and energy; they are mesmerizing.

Yet another triumph for Roy Williams and the Royal Court.

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