Saturday, January 31, 2009

Complicit at the Old Vic

We're going to need a bigger blog!

Except we're not, because most of what there is to say on this matter has been said already, here and here and elsewhere I'm sure.

This really was a bit of a mess. Joe Sutton's play seemed both under-written and unsuited to the space. Whether Richard Dreyfuss was wearing an ear-piece or not I couldn't tell you, for I was too far away to see clearly, but his performance seemed fairly solid on the day I saw it.

Dreyfuss plays Ben Kritzer, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who has published a book about the use of torture by the US and who is being threatened with a charge of espionage if he does not reveal the name of his government source. Elizabeth McGovern plays his (implausibly young) wife, Judy, who pleads with him to abandon his ethics for her sake and the sake of their children. "You’re a father," she informs him over and over and over (and over) again.

David Suchet plays the last point on the triangle, the lawyer who is defending Kritzer, and together the three of them debate the hell out of this predicament in a way that makes it difficult to believe in or care about any of the characters.

One of the main problems is the dialogue. Sutton likes repetition. He uses it a lot. McGovern in particular has to say nearly all her lines twice over with a slightly different emphasis the second time around: "Have you been drinking?" she asks Ben, "Have you been drinking?" Sutton is also fond of the mid-sentence trail off, but this rarely if ever feels like natural speech in the actors' mouths, it just makes the play feel disjointed.

The pacing of the piece does not help. The scenes of dialogue are static and sluggish and the in-the-round stage, left over from Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, really does the play no favours. Complicit is essentially a string of intense conversations - the circular nature of the dialogue I'm guessing is supposed to suggest claustrophobia, the system closing in on Kritzer - but this does not come across well at all as the actors shout at each other across the big shiny disc of the stage. (It must be said that, up in the nosebleed seats where I was sitting, the stage itself, with its television monitors glinting under glass, does look impressive, but I wonder if the effect of this was the same in the stalls).

Dreyfuss doesn’t do too badly at conveying a man forced into a corner. Suchet is OK, but only OK and McGovern is saddled with a role that just makes her sound whiny for most of the time.

Yes, there are some nuggets of interest (deeply) buried in this thing, questions about the way the rules of journalism and politics have changed in the wake of 9/11 and the war on terror, but I had long since lost interest and it's not enough to say a thing and just leave it hanging there in the air.

There was no sign at all of the interrogation scenes that others have mentioned. The running time was listed as one hour 45 minutes (with an interval) but it was creeping towards the two hour mark by the time the thing actually finished; it felt as if the interval had gone on for rather longer than usual but the play had already started to skew my perspective on such things by that point so I couldn't swear to that.


Darien said...

Dear Natasha,

Not sure whether you got our email to MusicOMH, but you are welcome to come see our show 'The Unspeakable' at the Tristan Bates at any time, and review it if you feel so inclined. We suspect you'll have a far better evening. Let us know at darienproductions(at) and we'll arrange tickets.



dan! said...

I saw this last week and agree with your review entirely.

When I saw it it was 1 hour 45 inclunding interval, though the programme lists it as 2 hours 15. 30 minutes have clearly been excised along the way. This is a small mercy for the audience. I think that in its original form it must have been quite unbearable.

Interval Drinks said...

I don't think it's a play utterly without merit and I thought Dreyfuss didn't do too bad a job with it - no ear piece that I could see - it's just the staging is so strange and alienating, it strips the play of any dramatic thrust; the characters don't feel like characters, but mouthpieces.

Darien, I did get your email and it does sound interesting, it's just a question of time and the lack of it...