HOWARD KATZ by Patrick Marber. Cottesloe Theatre.

Royal National Theatre


by Patrick Marber

Cottesloe Theatre In rep to 6 October 2001

Runs 2hr 15min One interval

TICKETS 020 7452 3000

Review Timothy Ramsden 11 September

Midlife crisis drama doesn’t have the fire Marber caught in earlier plays.Howard is fifty and an artistes’ agent. He starts wishing to commit suicide and ends imploring his Jewish God how to live. Between he bellyaches and loses money, family, job, friends and, were it not for Ron Cook’s magnetic performance, the audience’s sympathy.

Everyone around him copes with life, no doubt using ample doses of compromise. But they don’t have Howard’s self-obsession. He tells the truth when someone asks, not through blinding necessity but because it feels good to him.

Where conmen or the demi-monde are involved, he registers no interest in his fate. At other times he has surges of anger or concern. Yet he’s always railing against others’ actions. He does nothing positive.

Nearest is trying to regain his separated wife. Once again, he thinks of what he wants, not how to win her over. Howard shows no hypocrisy. But he leaves the feeling it’s not so much beneath as beyond him.

Howard isn’t strong enough to be hero or anti-hero. As an existentialist blank page, he follows too many others in more perceptive plays. He needs help, but will never take it because he’d rather feel angry with God, or anyone he meets, and carry on painfully.

In Dealer’s Choice and Closer Marber examined the fever and cool of ’90s youth. Here he writes some good scenes about older disillusion. Several of them could have been used in a play with greater propulsion. As it is, Howard becomes about as interesting as a punchbag, which has only a few ways to swing however many blows rain down on it.

Trevor Peacock is excellent as Howard’s barber dad, his serenity hiding a deeply-felt sorrow. Other performances are adequate. So is the author’s direction, though it’s missing a firm external hand on structure and progress of plot and character.

2001-09-12 02:10:28

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