SAIGON ROSE
Orange Tree Room, Richmond
Opened 19 March, 1993

Where's the great tragedy in lbsen's Ghosts, wondered a pugnacious Brecht Osvald's father's VD could have been cured with a course of Salvarsan. David Edgar's 1976 play (apparently receiving its London première) filters similar misfortunes through the haze of a '60s radicalism grown old enough to question itself. It is significant, we understand, that "Saigon Rose" (the slang term for a mutant, resistant form of gonorrhea, also known as "Superclap") had its origins in 'Nam among prostitutes catering for GIs.

Edgar follows a chain of infection through his central quartet of characters linked to each other variously by marriage, affairs and a photographer-model relationship and mirrors this knot with tangled, seemingly random discharges of debate on most aspects of personal, sexual and social politics. Where, agonises protagonist Clive, are the certainties of that idealistic dawn, in a world where City firms employ Marxists to second-guess market collapses, and where the oil boom brings petrodollars to a town like Peterhead but destroys its community? Ah, but Clive himself is an Englishman in Edinburgh, a tortured colonist and hardly in a position to kvetch.

But Clive could hardly be more tortured than Rachel Kavanaugh's direction makes him out to be. Frequent reference is made to the tedium of Clive's character, but Kavanaugh instils in Michael Higgs's performance a persistent mania of self-consciousness periodically erupting into Strindbergian bouts of angst. And since Clive's doubts are the catalyst for a number of crises among his fellows... well, let's just say there's a tot of acting going on here.

Some of the cast, particularly Ian Angus Wilkie, struggle valiantly against Kavanaugh's distrust of the play's ability to do its own work, and Henrietta Garden positively revels in her multiple-persona narration. But what Edgar needs here is awareness and elucidation to unravel his narrative and thematic knots, and what he gets is a miasma of histrionics. We've got a goner 'ere.

Written for What's On In London.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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