ISLANDS Bush Theatre, W12

This week sees the World Economic Forum in Davos. Today Oxfam said that 1% of the world’s people own nearly half its wealth. Tax havens – many of them relics of the British Empire and privileged by successive UK governments – siphon trillions from the world economy. Christian aid reckons that a thousand children die every day as a result of tax evasion…

Timely, then, for the Bush to put on a play attacking that evasive, greedy world. Unfortunately it is this one, by Caroline Horton. Who also, in studiedly grotesque costume and manner, plays the lead, and over whose vision director Omar Elerian has not visibly cast any veil of sanity or discipline. The result is a 105-minute marathon of strutting absurdism, with little humour and only rare streaks of useful metaphor. Most of which you wouldn’t get anyway, unless you read up beforehand. ENRON it ain’t.

Of all the wasted opportunities for intelligent, joyful angry stage agitprop in recent years, it takes the biscuit. It makes Russell Brand’s ramblings look erudite, and Anders Lustgarten’s “If you won’t let us dream..” seem almost like real political theatre. And on that last occasion, one friend’s verdict was “Waste of good actors! Why doesn’t the bloody man just stand on the stage in a tinfoil hat and read out a list of his prejudices?” In this, they virtually do just that.

But you might want to go, if fond of sub-Jarry absurdism and overstretched metaphors about shit and sodomy. And, to be fair, good physical work (the director is a leCoq man and Horton has a gift for physical menace). Oliver Townsend’s costumes are interesting, though possibly the male tutus, stilettoes and peculiar tights are a hangover from his Dick Whittington. Horton’s diamanté crash helmet and silver lamé testicles certainly have a panto vibe.

The conceit (allow the word its double meaning, so un-self-challenging is it) is that Horton’ss “Mary” is a teenager imagining an island – Haven – with no rules, unlimited ‘cherries’ of wealth, and screamy dragged-up acolytes – Seiriol Davies and John Biddle. They float above “ShitWorld” which is the rest of us , and lure Adam and Eve (Hannah Ringham and Simon Startin) to be exploited. And that’s it. Sometimes there is a shouty phone-call from a thwarted regulator, sometimes fragments of news actuality – Thatcher, Reagan, Cameron, Osborne – coming out of the onstage lavatory or sewer lid. But it is over an hour before the point starts properly to emerge; before that there are tedious gross-out irrelevancies. Horton, for instance, delivers a nastily detailed description of a bullfight (though heaven knows bullfights are populist entertainments, more shitworld than taxhaven) in order to say “I suppose when the killing is shared one feels less guilt”. Creeeaaaaak!

The best line – the only spark of wit – was a defiant chap in the bowler saying “We will fight them on the pleasant beaches and in the streets, and in the organic bakeries”) and it is quite a nice idea to have “Adam” forced to strip, trousers-down, to represent Austerity Measures and NHS privatization. But it’s a waste. “Devised in consultation with experts on offshore finance” it still can only offer self-regarding theatre-wonk clowning and a shrieky insistence that we’re all in the shit and callous rich bastards did it.

Nothing wrong with that conclusion, absolutely not. But it works better when you actually argue and demonstrate it. What’s the point of agitprop which doesn’t even try to persuade?
BOX OFFICE 020 8743 5050 to 29 feb
Rating – no, can’t do it.


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