Peter Carey takes Borges' Lottery of Babylon a step further: after invading Earth, "the universe's second-hand car dealers" set up a genetic lottery in which people randomly change not just their roles but their bodies and very identities. Notions of beauty grow plastic; ugliness becomes an ideological issue. But this world order, and the urban dystopia upon which it is imposed, are backgrounds to Carey's main preoccupation with the relationship between image and identity: his protagonist Paul becomes obsessed with keeping Carla in her "own" body despite her loyalty to a (bourgeois) political sect who foolishly equate physical deformity with proletarian soundness.
It's a thought-provoking story which Tom Grieves transfers a little baldly to the stage, seemingly just putting descriptions into characters' mouths rather than mediating them through personal voices. Within this palpable constraint, the cast know how to keep an audience's attention; this revival loses the promenade element to last summer's Edinburgh run, but expands with relief when freed from the confinement of an 80-minute Fringe slot. Once the Late Lunch company gain confidence in refining the veins of theatre from the ore of mere dramatic situations, they'll begin to show their true capabilities.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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