Bush Theatre, London W11
Opened 13 February, 2009

Neil LaBute’s latest play, in which a middle-aged widower addresses us in a chapel of rest, is an unfussy monologue but none the less full of clever distractions. Why does Edward Carr, viewing the casket with us (designer Lucy Osborne has made the entire space over nicely), keep making references to the unintelligible sounds of speech we can hear from offstage as being the sound of himself giving the formal eulogy… and, moreover, (I think he said at one point) doing so tomorrow? This, it turns out, is a complete red herring: unexplained and irrelevant.
Then there is the title. Are these wrecks the classic cars he and his rather older wife hired out as a business? The road crash which miraculously did not kill them? His own early life in the fostering system? The cancer-racked bodies of himself and his late wife? (He is an unapologetic smoker.) His company, as he expects it to be torn apart by his children after his own death? And most bewildering of all, where is the characteristic shock? True, when Carr speaks of his marital sex life, his reminiscences cause him to turn away and, as the euphemism has it, adjust his dress. But really, nothing seems disconcertingly wrong with the picture, which is very un-LaBute. This is a playwright, after all, whose early work Bash updated some of the more harrowing Greek myths. Surely the wife’s death will turn out to be murder, or suicide at the discovery of something dark in Carr’s past, or at the very least assisted suicide… is LaBute going soft?
No, he isn’t. I put the pieces together just in time, but as Carr says when he unveils it himself, “Maybe you’re a whole lot smarter’n me.” Greek adaptations… man of uncertain parentage… older wife… and “Wrecks” becomes “Rex” and there can only be one rex in such a context. At last the picture is wrong in the right way. It is the satisfaction of working out a whodunnit, and in much the same way, this pleasure is greater than any concomitant literary delight. LaBute is good, but not terrific. Josie Rourke’s direction is low-key and Robert Glenister’s performance disarming in a sombre kind of way, until you finally get all those little niggles arranged in a line and it becomes blindingly obvious. Look, there’s another clue.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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