Pity, Royal Court, London, 3***: William Russell



by Rory Mullarkey.


The Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood Downstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS to 11 August 2018.

Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm

Runs 1 hr 40 mins No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.


Review: William Russell 19 July.

Breathtaking theatre of the absurd running riot

The printed copy of Rory Mullarkey’s latest play says that it takes place on a normal day when a person is standing in the market square watching the world go by. Then it adds – “What happens next verges on the ridiculous.” He said it, and it does. The result is very entertaining and beneath all the tom foolery a fairly devastating look at the ways of the world and whether things are getting better – and if they are not do we care? After all the brouhaha of wars and civil unrest and marauding prime ministers and people getting on with their lives somehow the protagonist, called simply Person, played Abraham Popoola with considerable dignity, ends up on a tropical island watching the cruise ships go by with lots of books and cocktails to keep him amused. Everyone else ends up dead.

It opens with market day, the town brass band is playing songs from the shows, ice cream is being sold – the audience can buy – and a raffle is being held. Life in what seems paradise is going on as usual, the Prime Minister – a devastating take on Theresa May at her most friendly – arrives to make a speech in town whose name she has forgotten if she ever knew it. Maybe it is a life as we know it.

But there are terrorists, there are competing forces – the Red and the Blue, there are guns, bombs, explosions, tanks, thunder bolts from the blue, cannibalism – the meal exits to applause innards hanging out, ghosts, inflatable objects and even a visiting angel who does not stay. Amid the chaos Person – we only find out his name at the end – meets Daughter, played touchingly by Sophia di Martino, whose father was once mayor of the town – and they fall in love. But a plague kills her and pretty well everyone else.

There are some ripe performances – Sandy Grierson has a wonderful time as the Red warlord trundling his tank round and installing his statue on stage, Helena Lymberry does a devastating Theresa, and Siobhan McSweeney, gets a splendid speech as Sal the Postwoman who goes about delivering the mail regardless which sums up that essential Dunkirk spirit we like to boast about possessing. I suppose it is a mess – Mullarkey is somewhat undisciplined a writer – but director Sam Pritchard has directed it with resource so that the evening moves briskly from one absurdity to another, from one atrocity to the next, and quite takes the breath away.

Professor/Former Mayor/Professor’s Ghost: Paul Bentall.

Daughter/Daughter’s Ghost: Sophia Di Martino.

Owner/Generous Refugee/Red Warlord/Doctor: Sandy Grierson.

Manager/Prime Minister/Observant Refugee/ Blue Warlord/Angel: Helena Lymberry.

Looter/Cool Refugee/Sal the Postwoman: Siobhan McSweeney.

Co-Worker/Hot Shot Reporter/Generous Refugee/Paramilitary: Francesca Mills.

Person: Abraham Popoola.

Someone Bleeding/Sniper/Refugee David/Famous Actor: Paul G Raymond.

Supervisor/ Enthusiastic Bodyguard/ Captain: Dorian Simpson.

Musicians: Members of the Fulham Brass Band.

Director: Sam Pritchard.

Set Designer: Chloe Lamford.

Costume Designer: Annemarie Woods.

Lighting Designer: Anna Watson.

Composer: Tom Deering.

Sound Designer: Pete Malkin.

Movement Director: Sita Thomas.

Production Photographs: HelenMurray.


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