Apollo Theatre, London W1
Opened 15 June, 2006

Although usually impressed by Juliette Lewis’s movie performances, I have seldom truly liked them. Something about her vocal delivery strikes me as too (please forgive me) postmodern: it is as if one can hear the inverted commas around every single line. She takes the same tack here under the direction of Lindsay Posner... indeed, for the opening exchange between May and her ex-lover (and, we come to learn, rather more) Eddie, you can see her head in profile jerking forward to fire the words off, then recoiling afterwards like an artillery piece. But here as in the self-deconstructing film Natural Born Killers, her approach works; for Fool For Love is a Sam Shepard play, and seems to take place like most of Shepard’s dramas in a strange zone between the unreal, the surreal and the hyperreal.

Bunny Christie’s set design for the desert-edge motel-room location includes a full, sloping ceiling; consequently, all lighting must come from the front or the sides, shooting in at low angles and leaving strata of dimness such as the one in which The Old Man sits downstage right, observing and commenting upon the uneasiness between May, Eddie and May’s new squeeze, the small-town gallant Martin (Joe Duttine). Larry Lamb is remarkable in this semi-detached role: gazing fixedly across the stage, his grizzled features like an Arizona Mount Rushmore, he manages as the tension rises to seem to grow more animated without actually moving. In this phase, we learn just enough to half-understand May and Eddie’s eternally doomed bond, but not enough to count as an explanation. (Even now, having seen several versions of the play since its 1983 composition and even checked the script, I do not know for certain whose brains are blown out at the climax of the story they tell.)

New Zealand-born Martin Henderson does not convince as a Shepardian protagonist. In another production, his Eddie might well drawl, smoulder and brood enough to retain the upper hand as written; with Lewis opposite him, however, the contest of wills is at best evenly matched, and I think this probably helps the play. Lewis turns her self-consciousness into a trait perfectly natural for her character. Combining her acting as she now does with a career as an aspiring rock chick fronting her band the Licks, she also gave the show’s press agency the finest reason I have ever heard for not letting me attend a different performance: “We don’t have tickets for that night, as she’s supporting the Foo Fighters in Hyde Park.”

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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