A succinct emblem of the changes of four decades: the McCarthy figure in John Lahr's masterly adaptation of Richard Condon's paranoid fable brandishes a list, not of Commie names, but of Jap real estate deals in the Land of the Cheap. Lahr updates the action to 1996: the military background becomes a protracted and bloody Middle East "peacekeeping" campaign, and political success is more than ever a matter of media image. Tim Goodchild's design plays to modern techno-distrust by employing a pair of video screens at strategic points to give a square-eyed, spin-doctored view of events in tandem with the "real" developments onstage. (It's a pity the set's centrepiece, a movable gantry, is no longer used for safety reasons.)
Gerard Murphy's brainwashed war hero turned puppet assassin Raymond Shaw is a more delicate creation than his twin personalities suggest; the collapse of his mental house of cards is inevitable but riveting. Siān Phillips as Shaw's mother, the éminence grise behind all the political shenanigans, is a Tennessee Williams nightmare grotesque of her own Roman empress Livia. Director Robin Midgley slots the discrete scenes together into an edifice of mesmerising audacity, skating over the script's one or two (inescapable) flawed moments and concentrating, as Phillips's character advises us, on the big picture. An awesome picture it is, and one to confound any cinema-snobs who think theatre too limited a medium.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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