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The first London outing of this Sam Shepard play 33 years ago had a great intimate space (the Cottesloe) and one of those magnificent but rare ‘double-acts’ (Bob Hoskins & Anthony Sher). The 1994 revival had an even better space (the Donmar) and Mark Rylance, as Lee, showing us the sort of physical acting he would later perfect as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. This third production has a lot to live up to!

Shepard’s play has chalk-and-cheese brothers pitted against one another. Lee is a loser, sometime criminal and rather dangerous. Austin is a successful screenwriter who’s house-sitting for their mom on holiday in Alaska. Lee turns up at mom’s unexpectedly and harasses and intimidates his brother, but gets him to write a synopsis of his idea for a movie. When Austin’s producer arrives, Lee strikes up an unlikely relationship with him, playing golf and persuading him to buy his screenplay. The tables are turned in the second half when both brothers get drunk and things get very wild indeed.

It seems less ground-breaking and for some reason less plausible in 2014, and the contrast between the brooding first half and the manic second half seemed too imbalanced this time around, but it’s a great vehicle for two actors and Alex Fearns & Eugene O’Hare certainly rise to the occasion and perform as if their lives depended on it (perhaps more so on the night I went, which was being filmed) . Fearns in particular is manic, terrifying and fearless as Lee, always on the edge.

Philip Breen’s staging on Max Jones’ realistic impressive oppressive one-room set is excellent, though the frequent scene breaks where screens come down mean the tension diffuses and they did get on my nerves a bit after a while. I love the way the soundscape of crickets in the first half and coyotes in the second mirrors the atmosphere and events. There’s good support from Steven Elliott as the producer and a late entry by Barbara Rafferty as mom, but this really is a two-hander.

We see too little Shepard revived these days and its great to see this once more, in another great intimate space with equally fine performances.

 

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