Trafalgar Studio 2, London SW1
Opened 14 January, 2008

Ben Woolf’s young company MahWaff have been forced by illness to cancel The Explorer, the other half of a planned double bill. This may be a mixed blessing. Angry Young Man demonstrates a great facility on Woolf’s part both as writer and director, but also a tendency to use this gift to let himself off the hook with a wry turn of phrase or a bit of comic business.
Yuri is a (to judge by his name and the opening burst of speech, Russian or Ukrainian) surgeon come to Britain after losing his job in dubious circumstances. He is befriended and exploited by a self-lionising soi-disant liberal and his patrician airhead girlfriend, and encounters various skinheads and sharp dealers – pretty much 31 flavours of racism – before eventually setting out for revenge. The company of four men, all onstage throughout the hour-long piece, alternate the role of Yuri as well as playing everyone else; there is a nice running gag whereby Hugh Skinner gets all the thankless parts, such as a dog, a door and an antlered head on the wall.
The major device is the radical inconsistency between Yuri’s eloquent, ennobling narrative of the events he experienced and our view of them acted out in altogether meaner, more linguistically halting fashion. It is amusing (Hywel John in particular gets mileage out of the dichotomy between his resonant voice and gangling physicality), but Woolf the director is too free with the physical side of things; Alex Waldmann virtually clowns his way through the show. On first seeing the play in Edinburgh in 2005, I remember assuming that the company must have been cutting loose on their final performance; this revival shows that I was mistaken.
Moreover, in less than three years, the play itself has become outdated. Yuri is portrayed as prey to all these folk due to his solitude; however, following EU expansion, even conservative official figures a year ago found as many eastern Europeans living in Britain as people of either black African or black Caribbean origin, and twice as many as those of Chinese heritage. It’s a different place now, and again there seems to be something a little too easy about the play’s assumptions; reviving it without significant rewrites feels not just quaint but careless.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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