Almeida Theatre, London N1
Opened 14 September, 2005

When I give star ratings on reviews, I never go below two stars if the show is at least decently staged and acted, even though the play itself may stink.  Romance has changed all that for me.  David Mametís latest work is adequately staged by Lindsay Posner, and acted efficiently by a cast including John Mahoney from TVís Frasier. The actual play, though, pongs like a warehouseful of rotting garlic beside a sewage farm.

In 1992, Britain first saw Oleanna, Mametís play which sharply interrogated the then-burgeoning American-campus strain of political correctness, and may have helped save Britain from it.  First as tragedy, then as farce...  Romance is a courtroom farce. Where Oleanna takes a scalpel to ideas of PC, Romance knocks them around with a big inflatable shillelagh. But you canít take it seriously even as farce.

A chiropractor is being prosecuted for, oh, something. The DA is prickly, the judge doddering. Defence counsel turns out to be born-again and anti-Semitic; the DA has a spat with his gay lover; the judge overdoses on his medication.  Hilarity ensues. Or rather, it doesnít.  Actually, thatís not fair. There are a lot of laughs in these two hours, but the laughter is empty; you donít feel the point that Mamet thinks is there.

Maybe itís a culture thing. Britain has never had anything like the PC trouble of the States, and so all the grotesque cartoonish attitudes on show here lack a satirical element for us: we laugh at the gags, but feel nothing behind them.  The result is that, without this spice of satire, it feels like the crassest kind of 1970s TV sitcom Ė like Love Thy Neighbour, or Mind Your Language.  Itís surely unintended, but even so...

My guess is that Mamet wanted to con- found expectations by writing something very different from his normal fare.  Oddly, Iím reminded of Metal Machine Music, Lou Reedís 1975 double album that consisted entirely of feedback.  Reed wanted to confront his audienceís expectations too. But, like Mamet here, he did so with a load of rubbish that seems to treat the audience with contempt. And thatís not, er, politic.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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