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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Royal Court


  Clare Higgins/Ph: Simon Kane

You might think it a bit rich for Wallace Shawn to preach to the middle classes about how the world's poor are kept in poverty by the world's relatively wealthy.

This is the man, after all, who in his autobiographical film My Dinner with Andre described his childhood as "aristocratic...riding around in taxis surrounded by comfort". But then the middle classes have often been at the forefront of working class revolution, so why not Shawn?

The protagonist in this solo show, played here by Clare Higgins, is an unnamed traveller who is staying in a hotel in an unnamed poor country that executes and tortures those who its government considers a threat.

If Shawn had written his 90-minute monologue after 9/11 he might have been writing about Bush's America. But personal responsibility is his traveller's stamina-sapping theme. All wealth, no matter how modest, is the cause of all poverty, no matter how great. It's a message delivered in Dominic Cooke's production, on a near-bare stage populated by a few chairs, a ladder leaning against the rear brick wall and a water cooler from which Higgins, dressed casually in jeans and white shirt, pours herself the occasional well-deserved drink.

This fine classical actor delivers a valiant performance, finding variation in Shawn's relentless text where she can. But the flashes of anger and moments of bewilderment do nothing to hide the essential nature of Shawn's play &ampampndash that of a lecture. Marx is invoked, and yes, we are made to share our fevered speaker's guilt for the selfishness that prevents her from giving her money to the poor.

But as with all lectures and sermons, the mind wanders. You know this to be true when the frantic zig zags of a moth dazzled by the stage lights arrives as a welcome distraction before the next searching question forces yet more self-examination. "Have you ever had any friends who are poor?&ampamprdquo

No question better suits the Royal Court's artistic director's ambition to shift this venue's focus. Cooke was rightly uncomfortable with the notion of middle class audiences comfortably slumming it while watching plays about the working classes. These days they come to the court to see themselves, and rarely in a flattering light.

Shawn's play &ampampndash as bleak as Beckett, though without the devastating rewards of language and imagery - will leave them cowed but, I suspect, secretly heartened that they have suffered for their privilege.


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