December 6, 2018 · 12:42 pm
GUEST CRITIC MICHAEL ADAIR EMPATHISES WITH DEADLINE FEVER..
Here is a tale of two brothers. First, Kit Harrington’s serious, intelligent and moustachioed Austin, Ivy League educated and with a family ‘500 miles up north’, he’s come south to California to look after his mother’s house and water her plants whilst she’s in Alaska. Then his brother arrives, Lee, played by Johnny Flynn – a nomadic waster who has spent months living alone in the desert. The pair haven’t seen each other in years. They appear to have little in common – Austin’s calm and quiet order is completely at odds with Lee’s chaos. The stage seems to be set for a millionth take on the Odd Couple format.
But as the two brothers battle over a script that could make them their fortune – this becomes a play that is really about the writer, the late Sam Shephard. The two conflicting personalities on show serve to make one whole person. It’s a study in the struggle of any of us who might have a desire to be free, creative and unpredictable, but thwarted by that serious, uptight, niggling side, that needs to stick to the rules and play the game. Watching the pair reminded me of working close to a deadline – feeling the desperate need to focus and deliver, but suddenly also an overwhelming urge to procrastinate and learn everything I possibly can about how submarines work. Here, the serious Austin tries to play by the rules, having regular meetings with a Hollywood producer to try and sell his script, which he is diligently working on. Lee is a chancer – he assuredly flogs the same producer his half-baked idea for a movie almost immediately, but needs the talent of his brother to deliver a script. As the play wears on, Harrington’s once sensible Austin becomes wilder, drunker and begs his brother to take him to the desert. As he’s faced with delivering something he is not capable of, Flynn’s Lee begins to dream of normality. At one point he is seen trying desperately to phone women who might be interested in settling down with him.
Visually, this is a treat – the house is in a washed out Californian palette, all green and faded orange – with a side of dusty Levis. Set and Costume Designer, Jon Bausor has done a terrific job. Especially when considering the late Shephard’s stage directions are so meticulous – apparently he even went so far as to specify that the house plants should be ‘mostly Boston ferns’. Credit too to Joshua Carr and Ian Dickinson for light and sound respectively. The searing California sun rises and falls on the house, the moon whispers through blinds and all the while we are enveloped by the cries of crickets and the wails of coyotes. There is a Forced perspective of sorts to the house – the kitchen seems to stretch further and distort – making our characters taller and more imposing the further away from us they are.
Ultimately, this is an enjoyable exploration of the human psyche that is owned by the charisma and energy of its two leads. Harrington and Flyyn are both superb – the further they drag themselves towards the conclusion the more enjoyable their performances become. Amidst fighting and screaming, there is some great dark and physical comedy, with Harrington stealing all of the neighbourhood’s toasters to help him prepare a small mountain of toast being especially amusing. But at two hours with interval – the whole thing feels excessive and a little dated in such a large theatre. At times it feels expansive where there is a need for intimacy, and there is only so far the raging turmoil of a struggling writer can take you.
Until 23rd February
Box Office: 0330 333 4814
September 10, 2014 · 9:02 am
GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES WATCHES A GOOD IDEA STUMBLE AWAY INTO THE DESERT
This is a drunk play. It rambles a great tale at you, mildly hooks you, then fluffs the end as it totters off for another tipple. We’re promised a great modern classic from Sam Shepard but the result is uneven, strange but interestingly cinematic. Our view is a widescreen picture of a house in LA. The kitchen is perfectly even, the plants scream 70s from the far wall and the sky is piercing blue. The designer Max Jones has built a creepily smooth Stepford house; the kind you can easily picture yourself having a breakdown in.
The play, however, has no such vision; no coherence. Austin is a successful screenwriter with an all-American face and bright blue shirts. He is house sitting for his mother. His rough-looking brother, with muddy hands and an unwashed t-shirt with many tales to tell, has arrived unannounced. Austin has a screenplay to write, but, uh-oh, Lee has an idea. An idea from the desert, no less. This sets us off nicely. The dialogue is hit and miss, a little self-absorbed, but with enough shine to make it promising. A suitable but not particularly exciting turn comes from Steven Elliot (as a ‘moooovie’ producer with cash to splash) who appears to get Lee’s idea rolling. An outline is written, the brothers clash; it is thoroughly usual but is lifted by good humour and nice outbursts from Alex Ferns as Lee. There is nothing more intriguing than the mentally unstable and Alex starts with this well.
Its biggest crime at this stage is simply self indulgence. It rambles, stagey arguments bubble from nowhere, and this Tricycle audience gasps with horror at snide remarks about producers, and roars at jokes about agents’ fees. This is the best, I thought, that a play about screenwriting could do. Until it twists. It is as if Sam Shepard, or the director Phillip Breen (who draws some nice tense moments in the first half) utterly lose faith in the will-they-won’t-they ‘brothers who work together’ dynamic. It flips into a horrible dream; the lights are cranked up, the performances are strained and the script melts into nonsense about stealing toasters and whether the desert would be a suitable home. All of the tepid momentum about their father, different upbringings and contrasting lifestyles (which we attentively waded through with the promise of a payoff) is cast aside in favour of getting the brothers pissed and trashing the mum’s house. The cinematic style, tense edge and average humour are lost. Eugene O’Hare becomes absolutely cartoonish, Alex Ferns ditches all character in favour of the obscene and the script droops lower and lower until the excruciatingly obvious return of the mother. An interesting premise bottled.
– LUKE JONES
Rating: Two Mice
Playing at the Tricycle Theatre until 4th October
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Filed under Two Mice
Tagged as True West