THE WHITE HOUSE MURDER CASE
by Jules Feiffer.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 10 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm; 11, 18, 25 Oct, 1 Nov 2.30pm (+ post-show discussion).
Audio-described 30 Oct, 3 Nov 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 October.
1970’s political satire of its time, if set in our time.
He’s long been a leading cartoonist, but in this 1970 piece Jules Feiffer drew his cartoons in the form of a play. One set in a future when the USA is, for no identifiable reason (other, possibly, for the fact that it’s there), fighting Brazil. Defence being best practised as attack, and science being inextricably linked with defence, nerve gas is let loose during the conflict.
If has unforeseen consequences for GIs caught up in the whiff of it, shorter-term pleasant effects being countered by slow and painless dissolution But if there’s no trust in the battlefield, which is where the most severe White House murders are taking place, there’s more deadly enmity back home in the Oval Office.
There, more than in battle, truth and humanity are malleable and lower priority than political expediency; re-election’s looming for President Emmerson Hale. Several ironic or satiric character names reflect Feiffer’s cartoonist manner; even more, the path of memorable visual images strewn along the way. Body parts eviscerating, a corpse on a desk, a blinded General being instinctively fended-off in revulsion by political allies as he lurches around the Oval Office, his voice generated by a computer.
Sam Dowson‘s set shares this quality in its clear, curving division contrasting Washington DC formality with the raised forest of the Brazilian war-zone. Director Christopher Morahan treats the characters as line-drawn outlines, while reining-back on caricatured performances, the cast all giving sufficient shading without creating inappropriate complexity; keeping control over the tone rather than giving the game away for short-term laughs – from Bruce Alexander’s concerned yet malleable President to John Chancer’s much-wounded General.
The result is the murder back home holds enough mystery to make the point of political expediency when the truth is told, and to indicate the significant link with the grotesque jungle events.
It doesn’t avoid the need for the Washington dignitaries to keep trooping out and back around the Brazil scenes. And while the plot may hold out over nearly two hours’ playing-time, the point’s been made somewhat sooner. The art of the cartoonist, after all, is based on quick recognition.
Lieutenant George Cutler: James Alper.
Colonel Frank Dawn/Secretary of Defense Biff Parson: Craig Pinder.
General Maurice Pratt: John Chancer.
Professor Sweeney: Paul Birchard.
Mrs Evelyn Hale: Samantha Coughlan.
Postmaster General Tim Stiles: Steven Crossley.
Attorney General Newton Cole: Michael Roberts.
President Emmerson Hale: Bruce Alexander.
Captain Richard Weems: Joseph Balderrama.
Director: Christoper Morahan.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Trainee director: Alexander Lass.
Assistant designer: Katy Mills.