"You seem to be experiencing wild fluctuations of opinion," remarks Dr Gray to Dr Pitt midway through Frank's job interview. In the context of events onstage, it's the kind of comical understatement that deservedly gets a laugh. However, it also cuts to the heart of the problem with April De Angelis's latest play.
Basically, De Angelis too often loses sight of the fact that it is a play. Oh, there's drama all right: with the three characters constantly combining and recombining against one another, how could there not be? But the characters are moved about according to expediency rather than coherence or credibility. Frank transforms from darkish anthropology graduate to savage disputant and wannabe shaman, Dr Pitt from bad-cop interviewer to post-traumatic injured party and cultural conscience, Dr Gray from... well, from one flavour of corporate efficiency to another, but even so. The turns in the narrative cue these changes but never adequately explain them.
And the themes, the issues... boy, there are a barrowload of those, far too many for 80 minutes. The company is some kind of marketing consultancy; the Wild East of the title is post-Soviet Russia, ripe for laissez-faire exploitation; Drs Pitt and Gray have recently ended an affair. Add prehistoric excavations and management twaddle into the mix, and you can touch on matters such as business persona as a kind of mask, the ecological ethics of despoiling virgin territory, economic imperialism, company politics, peer-group and hierarchical psychologies, the truths of shamanism, ancient v modern, home v work, East v West, left v right and so on, all without pausing for breath. Which is exactly what De Angelis does, and far from tentatively or subtly. There's no subtext, because everything is relentlessly presented at the level of text; nothing to search for, because nothing is remotely obscured.
Phyllida Lloyd's production is acute, and Tom Brooke, Helen Schlesinger and especially Sylvestra Le Touzel as Dr Pitt do what they can to animate their characters. (I laughed more in the first half-hour here than during the entirety of Complicité's A Minute Too Late.) But at bottom the figures are emotional pawns and intellectual mouthpieces, and the manifold issues and events lose their interest for not being experienced by plausibly real people.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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