Even John Malkovich's name looks unlikely to save this limited season from becoming even more limited. Dominic Tantra (symbolic name, huh?), a dissident Slovakian writer in internal exile in a forest cabin, is visited by a succession of reluctant female informers (distinguishable rather by the actresses' various national accents than by a few sketchy idiosyncrasies), upon whom he exercises his charisma and more readily identifiable faculties in an implausible array of seduction techniques, turning off their tape recorders on his way into their knickers.
Malkovich is consummately accomplished at the part's sexual cat-and-mousing, but the further Dusty Hughes takes his deficient script, the thinner it gets stretched, leaving poor J.M. to paper over the fissures. In Act Two the fissures become chasms: Tantra – at first disbelieving news of the Velvet Revolution as the work of a Party satirist – returns to Prague and "his old Bohemian lifestyle" (sic!), where things degenerate into Don't Dress For The Collapse Of The Soviet Bloc and beyond.
Lines thud portentously, characterisation dissipates like the morning mist as players become mere mouthpieces, and nowhere is there any palpable sense of Czechoslovakianness – if there's any message here it's that intellectual-libidinous angst knows no frontiers. Hughes sorely needed a diligent and fearless script editor; as things stand... well, without endorsing arson as a critical response, a better title would have been Burn This.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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