Mouthpiece, Soho Theatre, London, 4****,Ken Deed

Photo by Roberto Riccuiti

by Kieren Hurley
Soho Theatre,21 Dean St.,London W1D3NE to 4th May, 2019
Tues-Sat 2.30 & 7.15pm
Runs 90mins, no interval

TICKETS: 0207 74780100

Review: Ken Deed 5th April

An Electrifying Meta-Theatrical Parable.

I’m tempted to describe this thrillingly effective two-hander as Pirandelloesque, though to do so would doubtless result in abusive and salty mockery from Declan, the subject, and indeed, object of Mouthpiece. 

Kieren Hurley’s scorching play brings the hoodie wearing, talented, but socially excluded underclass Declan butt up to us, the relatively privileged theatre going audience. It’s abrasive, challenging, and, in its explosive conclusion, invigoratingly direct.

We meet Declan through Libby, herself something of a lost soul, a forty something playwright who is no longer writing, acutely aware of being one of last year’s next big things. She is about to jump to her death, he is her rescuer.  An unlikely bringing together of two worlds perhaps, but from the start we are aware that there is an element of constructed reality here. The story we are watching is mediated through Libby’s own playwrighting instinct. Mouthpiece is less Six Characters in Search of  an Author, more One Author in Search of a Character. Through Declan, Libby is able to rediscover her voice. Initially, it would seem a mutually beneficial relationship. She gains a a worthwhile and socially important subject, he is given an opening into a world of possibilities. Through Libby’s validation of his nascent artwork he discovers his voice. Tellingly he learns that public art galleries are free. They belong to him as much as to the cultured elite.

But this is no Educating Rita. The issue of ownership is the toxic worm in the bud here, Ultimately Libby’s increasing engagement is exploitative. At one point she literally has her hands down Declan’s pants. It’s a possibly heavy handed metaphor, though on a day when a Brexit-bound House of Commons suffers a cascade of rainwater from its crumbling roof, a playwright may be entitled to say there’s nothing so heavily-handed metaphorical as reality.

Orla O’Loughlin’s direction, supported by Kai Fischer’s effectively minimalist design, is razor sharp. Lorn Macdonald is unflinchingly convincing as Declan. Initially  hunched, the embodiment of voiceless and carapaced hostility, he slowly expands into a knowing, funny, howler of rage. He is matched by a terrifically nuanced Neve Macintosh as Libby, perfectly capturing the steely ambition beneath the liberal compassion.  Together, they make the play an immensely satisfying unsettling watch.

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