THE LOW ROAD
by Bruce Norris.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 11 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 18, 25 April, 1, 8 May 2.30pm.
Audio-described 20 Apr 2.30pm.
Captioned 24 Apr.
Post-show Talk 9, 25 Apr 7.30pm.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 March..
First-class travel on the low road to high finance.
It seems panel discussions are the sine qua non of this season’s Royal Court main-stage shows. Bruce Norris’s new play is the third in succession to contain one as it dips briefly from Enlightenment to neo-con in its setting.
As in his previous Royal Court play Clybourne Park American Norris makes serious points through playful use of the past. There’s something incredible, while believable, about anti-hero Jim Trumpett, embodiment of selfish-gene economics as he moves from commission-filching to early, one-man Leeman Brothers-type operator. His unawareness of humanity’s evident as his insistence on property extends to his slave John, who has the stronger personality, emotion and intelligence but who, being Black, has his name a Blanke.
Norris’s political cartoon stretches with near-continuing success across his long span, and is in a line of political theatre recalled in the presence of one-time 7:84 Theatre Company member Bill Paterson as 18th-century Scottish economist Adam Smith, whose version of history this is presented as being. The arch-architect of capitalism authored the paragraph which, in one of several deliberate coincidences, sets young Trumpett sounding-out the intricacies of finance.
Occasional looks forward incorporate the instability built into the theory of benefitting the world by enriching yourself. The main narrative sees Trumpett lie and connive through the American revolution, arguing against the religious commune that helps him, but whose poverty and virtue prove fatal. Self-enrichment is short-term effective for some, and shamelessness about it becomes contemporary moral blindness.
Dominic Cooke’s production has an appropriate comic bounce, which cracks the message open through the ever-transient scenery, the contrast between Johnny Flynn’s smooth-talking confidence over his financial chicanery and piping outrage at any obstacle – all in the name of America’s founding father. Or between him and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s Blanke, forceful in stillness and silence as well as speech, Simon Paisley Day’s comically overbearing English officer, or Paterson’s wry neutrality as commentator.
It’s a strong company, and in a man’s commercial world other notable performances include the sometimes caricature, sometimes realistic performances of John Ramm and Ian Gelder.
No Loch Lomond at the end; still, here’s a road worth travelling.
Redcoat/Hessian/Questioner/Faraday/Musician: Jared Ashe.
Questioner/Musician: Jack Benjamin.
Sergeant Manley/Attendant/Musician: Kit Benjamin.
Mrs Trumpett/Belinda/Margarita Low: Elizabeth Berrington.
Peg/Sister Elizabeth/Musician: Helen Cripps.
Jim Trumpett: Johnny Flynn.
Farmer/Nathaniel Pugh/Ed: Ian Gelder.
Hessian/Pandit: Raj Ghatak.
Old One-Eyed Tizzy/Ntombi/Mary Cleere: Natasha Gordon.
John Blanke: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
Prostitute/Constance Pugh/Questioner: Ellie Kendrick.
Duke of Buccleuch/Hessian/Questioner/Officer: Edward Killingback.
Young Jim Trumpett: Frederick Neilson/Will Thompson.
Captain Shirley/Poor Tim/Dick Trumpett: Simon Paisley Day.
Adam Smith: Bill Paterson.
Slave Merchant/Brother Amos/Hessian/Ivan/Lagarde: Harry Peacock.
Prostitute/Sister Comfort/Delilah Low: Leigh Quinn.
Greasy-Haired Man/Martin/Isaac Low: John Ramm.
Company: Charlyne Francis, Joseph Rowe.
Director: Dominic Cooke.
Designer: Tom Pye.
Lighting: Jean Kalman.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Composer: Gary Yershon.
Movement: Imogen Knight, Sue Lefton.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Simon Dormandy.
Associate Designer: Ben Gerlis.