Gate Theatre, London W11
Opened 11 November, 2008

The Gate’s usual reinvention of its space for this UK première of Falk Richter’s play goes to new lengths. As we wait for admission, an audio loop is played supposedly advertising the modern, gated development in which the play is set; we enter past a series of display boards similarly hymning its delights. Which makes Naomi Dawson’s broad, shallow, sideways-on set rather puzzling: would today’s successful and slightly paranoid folk really choose to live in Denys Lasdun-style concrete slabs?
Of course, Richter’s point is that even such a designer paradise (“we haven’t got a sea, but they’ll build us one here soon”) cannot keep out the demons, whether they are real – intruders from the violent world beyond the walls – or internal – disillusionment and paranoid insecurity, as exhibited respectively by Man and Woman. (They have a teenage son called, guess what?, yep, Boy.)
I’m afraid this is bourgeois-dystopia-by-numbers, and neither Richter (in David Tushingham’s unfussy translation) nor director Maria Aberg does much to make this particular bleak vision a distinctive one. The central performances are stronger than either play or production really deserve, with initial dramatic promise as Geraldine Alexander’s Woman interrogates her husband (with lines written in a style midway between Pinter and Mamet: “You’re...” – “What? Yes” – “Is everything OK with...” – “With me, you mean?”) in a tone of smiling reasonableness which belies her near-hysterical worries. However, the barriers soon fall, Alexander grows more shrill about the horrible prospects if they lose their place in the community and Jonathan Cullen’s Man ceases to hide his dissatisfaction with the job that earns their place there and the dislocated, atomised lifestyle itself. Aberg over-eggs the pudding with touches such as impressionistic video montages which include a literal wolf at the door.
One barrier, moreover, remains in place. The entire 75-minute play takes place behind a picture window which runs the length of the theatre; at one point, Woman opens one panel to take a brief smoke break but the noises from “outside” (i.e. where we are sitting) disturb her and she retreats again. This is unsubtle fourth-wall symbolism, and also sends out confused signals when the panel is opened for the curtain call: “We want you to feel alienated during the performance, but we’ll take your applause in person.” Hmmm.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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