Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
Opened 19 May, 1992

"East End gothic" is the term coined for Philip Ridley's work, and most succinct it is too. Above a deserted, bird-ridden factory the narcissistic Cougar plans his latest seduction of teen jailbait, with the protesting but masochistically devoted Captain. But intended target Foxtrot brings his fiancée to the "party", and Cougar's pathological attempts to cling onto his long-faded youth are thwarted.

Weirdness aplenty, constant harping on the theme of bodily decay (whenever his real age is intimated, Cougar wails and writhes like Lon Chaney in mid-transformation) and a too-neat ending constitute an evening which at once rivets and disappoints. Con O'Neill isn't often called upon to do more than preen and slither as Cougar, a lizard who fancies himself a big cat; more authorially favoured by far is Jonathan Coy's Captain, the worm who at last gets quietly to turn.

While Ridley's tone and imagery challenge the mainstream, the shapeliness of The Fastest Clock... doesn't challenge enough; it needs to get up as many English noses as his film The Reflecting Skin did. (The poor man must feel he can't win...)  Worth investigating, but less for the spasmodic glitter of the play itself than for the continuing intimations of what may well be to come.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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