by Howard Korder.

Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 5 May 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 April.

Strong performances and precise direction infuse a strategically-structured drama.
First, let’s be thankful for the Ustinov’s producing seasons. Overseen by director Laurence Boswell, this spring brings three modern American plays, none by the usual transatlantic suspects, hard on the heels of last autumn’s repertory of three little-known European classics. It’s a very good year for Bath theatre.

Howard Korder’s drama, centre of the spring season, is a play of two halves, each with four scenes. The first half, set around 1990 – time of the first President Bush’s incursion into the area – shows meetings between aspiring American architect Hackett and Othman, Culture Minister in a Gulf regime suggestive of Iraq as a moustachioed military rules looks down from the wall in oils.

There’s plenty of tension as West meets Eastern politeness that manipulates, covers delays, and evades definite commitment. As Hackett’s architectural project diminishes, and his career elsewhere seems less glittering, this is a comedy of power, with economic need and political sophistication conditioning the relationship.

We seem to know where we are – perhaps unlike Hackett, whose name moves between Western and Arabian pronunciations, as if his identity were wavering during his conversations about a garden. But only an interval away are surprises, as another local character enters, altering Othman’s mood, initially inexplicably.

Then there’s the terror of true power as ruler Najid, garlanded with loving leadership titles, appears, his authoritative voice reinforced by his assured smile. Hackett, hitherto confident or irritated by delays, hunches into intimidated acquiescence.

But the years are moving forward – Othman becoming visibly older – till a final scene sees America burst on the scene with new suppositions about both the garden and the gazebo Hackett had been bidding to build. Rough politics tears down the delicate traceries of personal relations and no perspective has the playwright’s final authority.

Korder provides a skilful comedy of potential friendship; yet one where cultural differences and varying interests keep people apart. Richard Beecham paces scenes clearly, with each performer finding an apt register. In the main roles, Hassani Shapi and Keir Charles are spot-on, both in their character and their characters’ relationship in this pointed, involving drama.

Othman: Hassani Shapi.
Hackett: Keir Charles.
Najid: Chris Andrew Mellon.
Prudhomme: Mark Heenehan.

Director: Richard Beecham.
Designer: Simon Kenny.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Dialect coach: Elspeth Morrison.

2012-04-22 22:53:21

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