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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Donmar


  Jonathan Pryce/Ph: Johan Persson

There's a reason why some great writers' lesser plays languish in comparative obscurity, so perhaps the kindest thing one could say about Dimetos , from Athol Fugard , is that it's one for completists of the South African master only. That's by no means to dismiss a scrupulous production from the recent Olivier Award-winning performer, Douglas Hodge , that reaches new heights (literally) of the ever-elastic Donmar space. But for all that so clearly deeply, broodingly personal a work gathers a degree of pace and power in the second act, the first half proves fairly tortuous going, lines like "time is not always our enemy" suggesting the panto-style retort, "Oh yes it is."

For some, the sight of Jonathan Pryce within the intimate confines of the Donmar may be reward enough, and it is thrilling to watch this actor stretch himself in a way he hasn't in some time, all the while hinting at the Lear and/or Prospero he may someday make. On this occasion, he's cast as the "artisan, not artist" of the title, an engineer who has renounced the city and when first heard is presiding over the most singular descent from the flies I have seen on stage since Jane Krakowski won a Tony Award for a not dissimilar feat in the revival of Nine. That particular exertion falls to Dimetos's niece, Lydia (a highly accomplished stage debut from Holliday Grainger ), who is being lowered into a well in order to rescue a horse that has tumbled down it. The equine narrative, though, pales next to the spiritual plunge into the abyss forged by the quasi-mythically named Dimetos,who by play's end is reeling about Bunny Christie's striking, chalky set every inch the seer whose vision has permanently fogged: a kingdom without a realm he can call his own.

The play in fact is at its most interesting viewed abstractly as the stuff of parable, not least when taken in the context so great a theatrical chronicler of the apartheid years writing in the 1970s without regard to race, Fugard here staring in the face a toxicity that may or may not have been inseparable from the author's acknowledged onetime overfondness for drink. And, on a less autobiographical front, as a rumination on issues of engagement: do you confront society - described here as a city in permanent crisis - or withdraw from it? Indeed, "Dimetos" offers up its own moral scourge in the Fool-like presence of Sophia (a peppery Anne Reid ), Dimetos's long-serving housekeeper, who eventually joins her employer in bleating about her own wrecked life. Long Day's Journey Into Night is a laugh riot next to this.

Fugard has always carried his plays aloft on the wings of metaphor - ballroom dancing in Master Harold and the Boys, the curative properties (or not) of the plant of the title in A Lesson From Aloes. Dimetos, for its part, doesn't so much plunder one image as it does briefly recall the psychosexual dynamics of A View From the Bridge - an uncle in perhaps excessively enthusiastic thrall to his niece - and tie itself into linguistic knots to match the actual ones we see being made and unmade during the performance. "The smell of decay has itself started to decay," Sophia remarks with regard to the gathering stench that comes to overtake those characters who make it into the second act. But all the angsting begins to swirl self-consciously in a void, the sight of Pryce's sizable, burdened hands more eloquent than all the loftier reaches this time out of Fugard's language.

The quartet of actors is completed by another comparative newcomer, Alex Lanipekun , who brings an Obama-esque charisma to the role of the outsider to the group, Danilo, who trades in<


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