Riverside Studios, London W6
Opened 28 January, 2010

In The Libertines along with Pete Doherty, Carl Barât deployed one of the great classic, unrepentantly English voices in rock. It was therefore surprising to hear that he was to make his theatrical debut in one of Sam Shepard’s just as definitively desert-American dramas. Alas, it is no surprise at all that Barât just can’t manage it. His accent is dreadful: he wouldn’t recognise a rhotic “r” if he lassoed one, but the rope skills he demonstrates make that no danger. His vocal pacing evens out mathematically, since he is sluggish on his cues but then uses a nervous gabble.
After a couple of minutes of wordless groaning and whining, Sadie Frost gets her first line and, ye gods, her accent is worse than Barât’s, although it later settles down a little (but only a little). Frost, making her second return stage appearance after a break of some 20 years, has a better sense of pacing and exudes more physical assurance than her co-star, but the latter is belied by a trait she shares with him of seeming to make every move or strike every pose because it has been specifically blocked; it is as if she is at home in her body, but not with what it is doing. Mind you, they dare not be all that physical with a motel-room set that quivers on impact like this one; the use of portentous audio effects to emphasise each door-slam fools nobody.
It is certainly a coup for second-division touring company Love & Madness to have secured such a brace of hip names for their “Desire and Destruction” repertoire season at Hammersmith (Richard III opens next week, followed by a new play about William Morris by Jack Shepherd). However, I am afraid I could see nothing of the “raw magnetic energy” which director and supporting actor Neil Sheppeck hymns in his programme notes. This hour-long glimpse of half-brother and -sister inextricably emotionally entangled, revealing their story to May’s latest suitor with promptings from the semi-ghostly Old Man, their father, resolutely fails to catch fire, unlike Eddie’s offstage horse trailer. Gerard McDermott turns in a solid performance as the Old Man, but Frost and Barât give him nothing to resonate against.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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