Friday, January 09, 2009

‘Complicit’ at The Old Vic

An essay title in Willy Russell’s ’Educating Rita’ reads: ‘How would you overcome the problems of staging ‘Peer Gynt?’ , to which the time-pressured heroine responds, ‘Do it on the radio’.

For ‘Complicit’ I’d suggest the same, but I’d add ‘Do it in America.’ The play's first night had a polite but bemused reception from the Old Vic audience.

In fact, the staging is the best part of a political three-hander which no amount of hi-tech flashiness can rescue from leaden prose, absence of drama and at best a muddy message. The round, see-through stage resembles a dart-board or spider-web, with overlapping screens underfoot. At times dozens of newsreels, or flaming clouds or pastel shades appear, surrounded by a neon circle. Two overhead screens are used to show a TV interview.

Richard Dreyfuss plays journalist Ben Kitzer, facing jail for writing an article exposing US use of torture after 9/11 and refusing to name his source. His performance is twitchy but fairly restrained in the first half. David Suchet convinces as his untrustworthy legal adviser. Kitzer’s wife Judy, played by Elizabeth McGovern with a voice barely audible in the ‘gods’, has a marginal role, bleating about ‘the family’ and assuring Ben she loves him.

The themes are interesting, although obscure, but a cringe-making climactic breakdown scene with Ben wallowing in patriotic sentiment and sobbing over and over ‘I did a bad thing’ like Lenny in ‘Of Mice and Men’, was embarrassing. The sniggering I heard during the scene itself is an understandable response from many of the audience probably resentful of the UK involvements in the Iraq war.

On the good side the programme is the best I’ve read for a while – maybe because it fills some gaps. For £4 you get a history of the theatre and experts writing on the main themes. There’s even a slightly creepy ‘discussion’ about the value of hedge-fund financing. That helps explain why although the theatre exterior looks the same the converted auditorium is called ‘The CQS Space’. With seats filling the gap where the stage used to be the space is not so much round as, like the play, a bit pear-shaped.

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matthew_in_ham said...

I liked it! See

Sheila Cornelius said...

Matthew, glad you liked the play. I liked it in parts, too, so I hope my comments didn't seem too harsh.

Have been looking at your great photos of Ham, and envying your eye for composition. I used to work in SW London and lived for a while at Richmond.