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Against: Almeida Theatre

September 27, 2017

(seen at the afternoon performance on 16th September 2017).

Ben (Ben Whishaw) is a 20-something internet billionaire drifting around the USA, talking to people about violence of all kinds. From the parents of a High-School-Shooting killer, to an ex-sex worker now University tutor, to those working in an “Amazon-like” warehouse. Every utterance is posted online by loyal aid Sheila (Amanda Hale). Later, he has a crisis of confidence, holes up in his old family home and meets up with 12-year-old best friend, now teacher Kate (Amanda Hale again).

And that is about it, and yes, it really is as vacuously self-indulgent as it sounds.

It’s to the enormous credit of the cast that they stay around to perform the second act (a fair few in the audience didn’t stay to see it). Probably, they knew that the “home” scenes were the only ones with any meaning, a little simple humility and touch of human contact and characterisation.

For the rest, every single actor does what they can to make this horrific juvenile train-of-thought have some meaning. The distinct impression I got was that author Shinn was one of those children whose parents praised him for remembering simply to breathe, and nobody ever stopped telling him that his slightest utterance was purest gold. It’s the only possible explanation.

Actually, it possibly isn’t. Extrapolating from the worst of American television, and the odd visit to the country, there is a sense that what is considered “open and discursive” over there, is simplistic exhibitionism to the British ear. If I am kind, the argument that the play “simply didn’t travel” could be put… and to a point I’d accept it. Sadly, after 2 and a half hours of purest tedium (think trying to discuss the Korean Missile Crisis with Donald Trump, or any other semi-articulate 4-year-old) I’m unwilling to make the final compromise.

There are hints of a decent play, gaining it a single star. The final sequence, in which a working man fights for his right to earn a living raise a useful point, but it is too little, and far too late. A nod, too, for the simple Ultz design – even if even that strays into the pretentious with a marquee that is used only as a place-holder, and a particularly daft amount of stagehand scuttling to cue the changes and shift a TV set about.

Quite why the Almeida considered this worth staging is beyond me; from programme notes) though, it seems to have been commissioned before the slightly less – but not by much – disastrous predecessor “Teddy Ferrara” polluted the Donmar last autumn. We can only hope that the writer gives up soon, or at least loses the postal address for London in his computer.

Meanwhile, take the safe option and try not to buy a ticket, is the only advice I can give. Just occasionally, us reviewers suffer so that you don’t have to. That’s the true definition of anti-violence in anyone’s book.

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