« on: March 16, 2016, 09:18:30 am »
Given how much I revere Wallace Shawn, it's taken me an awfully long time to finally get to see this, but last night, I finally did....!
I liked it - but not unquestioningly! I think it's quite a flawed work, not really up there with Shawn's best, but the overall effect is very strong. I think it's a bit problematic in that its political allegory is laid on a bit thick at times, and its talk of a regime involved in "targeting" is perhaps a little simplistically laid out in the fairly casual way the characters are either against it or complicit in it. I don't think the play is remotely a tacit approval of Syrian airstrikes - rather, I think it's a criticism of a simplistic approach to how the 'West' seeks to stamp out "people that want to harm us" (voiced particularly by Bill in opposition to Ted and Annette, and Robert's admonitions to Jane over some of her involvement with the regime, and how she might be failing to protect Dick and, by extension, Nellie), and how the 'West' doesn't understand that such action is only likely to inflame more hostility.
That ending - I'm not sure "enigmatic" is quite how I'd describe it. The enigma would be who engineered the thing that happened, I guess, but in some ways as an ending it seems quite similar to that of The Dumb Waiter. But it's a little abrupt, perhaps, although the thing that happens has been signposted during earlier talk of a Miss/Mrs Allbright earlier in the play. But the lights fading out while a descending bomb is revealed in the painted backdrop makes the ending rather emphatic, to my mind (no mystery in my mind whatsoever as to whether it had ended, but speaking personally, I just didn't want to applaud at that moment, as I was taking in the cumulative effect of the whole play).
While I think some aspects of the script could do with a bit of revision, I found the play's focus on characters actually talking to each other for most of the play rather interesting (I *love* Shawn's usual style of extended monologues with very limited direct character interaction, but found the departure from that style quite fascinating). I also rather like the way the play, erm, plays as an extension of various earlier aspects of Shawn's oeuvre. The regime outside the Talk House seems to be an extension of that in both The Fever and The Designated Mourner - indeed I could quite easily imagine that play's Jack being Talk House Robert's brother (or, at least, cousin), and frequenting a similar social and geographic milieu, particularly when Jane reminds the Talk House guests about the coffee shop that used to be next door (I couldn't help but see jack sitting there cremating his paper cup-cake cup as an act of remembrance at the end of Mourner). And Robert's opening monologue referring to his earlier play, a piece about a mythical kingdom with castles and royalty (and specifically being a play not well received or understood by critics) invoked very vivid memories of Shawn's last play, Grasses of a Thousand Colors.
Fine acting throughout, as HtoHe mentioned - I liked Josh Hamilton, who in his opening monologue captures Shawn's performance style very (Robert really is an avatar for Shawn himself, I think - just as The Designated Mourner's Jack is, and I remember how well Mike Nichols captured that aspect of Jack in the filmed version of that play). And Anna Calder Marshall is very good. Lovely supporting work from Stuart Milligan, Joseph Mydell and Simon Shepherd, particularly). And, as a huge fan of Wallace Shawn, it's always an enormous thrill for to see Shawn acting on stage - this is the third of his plays I've seen him perform now (after Grasses of a Thousand Colors, and a rehearsed reading of The Designated Mourner). But I think the revelation for me was Sinead Matthews as Jane. Never seen her on stage before, but I thought she was terrific.
I'd like to see it again before it closes in just under a fortnight now, but I suspect I won't have time. Though I might have to try and make time, as I suspect it's not something that's going to get many productions in future!