Smart, tense liv­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

MARTIN CRIMP’S enig­matic por­trait of a dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship leaves you sort­ing the real from the imag­ined. And al­though The City is an elu­sive puzzle of a play, the sense per­sists that the an­swers to the ques­tions it poses — why are Clair (Hat­tie Mo­ra­han) and Chris (Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch) so un­happy? How much of what they tell each other is true? What is the na­ture of the trauma they are suf­fer­ing? — are tan­ta­lis­ingly close.

The play be­gins with the au­da­ciously mun­dane line: “How was your day?” Clair’s an­swer to Chris’s ques­tion — she met a stranger at Water­loo Sta­tion called Mohamed who told her of the tor­ture that he had suf­fered — sets the strange tone for a se­ries of di­a­logues with which Crimp builds his play and Katie Mitchell her tense pro­duc­tion.

What we know about Clair and Chris — that they live, ac­cord­ing to Vicky Mor­timer’s min­i­mal­ist de­sign, in a smart town­house; that Chris is un­em­ployed; that Clair is sex­u­ally un­sat­is­fied — is never enough to ex­plain their talk­a­tive but un­com­mu­nica­tive re­la­tion­ship.

An­swers lie in the play’s strangest el­e­ments — the so­cio­pathic nurse (Amanda Hale) who dreams of atroc­ity, and the eerie lit­tle girl (on the press night Matilda Cas­trey) who might be the cou­ple’s daugh­ter, but prob­a­bly is not.

The play’s phan­tom off-stage char­ac­ters echo Al­bee’s Whose Afraid of Vir­ginia Wolf. Ex­cept that Crimp is not only re­flect­ing a cou­ple’s con­di­tion, but a wider, de­struc­tive re­al­ity from which they can­not hide. ( Tel: 020 7565 5000)

HARPER RE­GAN Cottes­loe, Na­tional Theatre, Lon­don SE1

THIS IS the sec­ond time this sea­son that the Na­tional has staged a play fea­tur­ing a wo­man in mid-life cri­sis. But whereas Lucinda Coxon’s com­edy Hap­pyNow? asked whether the mid­dle-class idyll of chil­dren, af­flu­ence and ca­reer adds up to hap­pi­ness, Si­mon Stephens’s hero­ine is pushed to the brink by a far less com­fort­able con­di­tion.

Harper Re­gan’s fa­ther is dy­ing; her ob­ses­sive boss re­fuses to give her leave; her ar­chi­tect hus­band is un­em­ployed; her teenage daugh­ter’s school fees are mount­ing up and, to cap it all, she is over 40. De­spite the threat of los­ing her job, she trav­els to Manch­ester to see her fa­ther who dies be­fore she gets there. Some­thing has got to give, and it does.

THE CITY Royal Court, Lon­don SW1

Harper (Les­ley Sharp) spi­rals into an odyssey, tak­ing in, or at least touch­ing on, Manch­ester’s un­der­belly. There is a bru­tal en­counter with a ra­bidly an­tisemitic jour­nal­ist who hates the way “Jews smell”. Harper re­jects his un­wanted ad­vances by glass­ing him in the throat. There are sim­i­lar­i­ties in this de­scent to David Mamet’s Ed­mund, and Stephens de­ploys a sim­i­larly rhyth­mic, mus­cu­lar di­a­logue, though with­out Mamet’s smart wit.

Still, Mar­i­anne El­liott’s ex­cel­lent pro­duc­tion poignantly de­liv­ers Stephens’s vi­sion of an Eng­land pop­u­lated by iso­lated in­di­vid­u­als, each bear­ing their own grudges and brand of bit­ter­ness. And in the de­mand­ing ti­tle role, Sharp de­liv­ers a won­der­fully var­ied per­for­mance — sar­donic, vul­ner­a­ble and an­gry — but al­ways man­ag­ing to trans­mit a good heart. ( Tel: 020 7452 3000)

PHOTO: STEPHEN CUMMISKEY

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch and Matilda Cas­trey in the enig­matic The City

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