by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 18 June 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat
Run s 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 June.
Maximum input for minimal dramatic returns.
O, what a falling-off is here. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s first work seen in Britain, The Brothers Size combined Louisiana low-life and car mechanic siblings with traditional Yoruba elements in a coherent, scintillating individuality of style. His new play, written for Royal Shakespeare Company resources, attempts to draw on Restoration comedy, but achieves only desperation of plotting, inconsequentiality of character and triteness of ideas.
Young and old, RSC-inured or new, acting capabilities nightly disport themselves in the type of inspiration-deprived comedy where it’s thought mere strangeness, or lack, of attire is hilarious. Simulated sexual assaults and consensual activities are presented as if either significant or amusing.
They’re not. Here, anyway. Despite the bright-coloured, quasi spray-on designs across floor and walls, the glamorous lights (there’s the hugest mirror-ball seen over Hampstead’s stage, used to little effect), and attractive music from the brothers Ringham, the mini-scene series relies on a smartness that’s closer to the glib than the witty, moving from American to England, with a lusty line-up of multi-national, vari-aged potential sex-workers.
Sex, money and exploitation are in bed with marketing and public relations. A splashy, trashy amalgam, it’s a parade of shiny surfaces over human and social insubstantiality that have been satirised often enough before on stage, but rarely with such utter lack of wit.
As images crack hectically along, buoyed by director Jamie Lloyd’s frenetic invention and acting energy, occasional lines rise above the melée. As the Senator says to the Black rent-boy who calls himself “Technically: mixed race”, “Only while Obama’s in office”. Rarely there, the line, especially given speaker and auditor, has a point.
There’s no love here; only sex and in-family hate. Yet every classic comedy of brittle social pretensions calibrates degrees of cynicism and selfish show against a genuine affection somewhere among the characters. Callous exuberance wears thin, and it does so quickly here as there’s no character with the individuality or dramatic force to attract even an appalled fascination.
It’s sad to see the RSC’s Hampstead new play trio end, after two very different pieces that each had their own interest, with such a whimper.
Sherman Kanderbeitz: Adam Burton.
Loni: David Carr.
Senator Atwater/Lord Fairway: Geoffrey Freshwater.
Qwik: Gruffudd Glyn.
Pharus: Tunji Kasim.
Girl Wonder: Debbie Korley.
Ragiv: Dharmesh Patel.
Aunt Marian: Sheila Reid.
Cabbie: David Rubin.
Valentina: Sophie Russell.
Sylvia: Simone Saunders.
Jules: Clarence Smith.
Officer Jeff: James Traherne.
Interviewer/Officer Percy: James Tuicker.
Benton: Larrington Walker.
Svetlana: Kirsty Woodward.
Snooty Lady: Hannah Young.
Red: Samantha Young.
Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Designer: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound/Music Ben and Max Ringham.
Music Director: Nigel Lilley.
Movement: Ann Yee.
Text and Voice work: Alison Bomber.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fights: Kate Waters.
Dramaturg: Jeanie O’Hare.
Assistant director: Vik Sivalingam.