NATIONAL THEATRE BLUNDER
I have always admired the work of our National Theatre though I have not often had the opportunity to attend a live performance. If in London overnight it remains my first choice of venues for play- going, though. Last week I went to see the play Common in the Olivier Theatre. I knew nothing about it and looked forward to seeing a well chosen play with a large cast on the big stage. I should have been forewarned by the welter of poor reviews.
What a disappointment it was! The production was good, the leading actress Ann Marie Duff was confident and competent, but the play itself was plain bad. Incoherent, muddled, unfocussed. It could have been about a number of themes. The trouble was which? Potentially it was about the enclosures of the 17th century but it did not hang together and descended into further opacity in the second half. Worse, the language was contorted and absurd, an invented, faux peasant- speak that reminded me more of Roald Dahl’s BFG than of rural England. Not only that, but although I had a good seat and could hear well, the enunciation was so poor I only followed half of what the actors said. Moreover, like some adolescent freed from parental censure, the author frequently sprays the text with the word fuck as adjective, adverb, verb and noun to little effect, other than to irritate me.
After the interval the play began with a bare arm rising from the grave which caused only sniggers in the audience. When the actress emerged from the ground she spoke to the puppet of a crow. All sense of reality had departed but no feeling of magic replaced it. Throughout the play there was no character I had time or perhaps even inclination to sympathise with, either, so the play had no emotional impact.
Much of the action was dialogue or confrontation between two characters which could have been done on a smaller stage. Admittedly there were some effective crowd scenes but even they verged on cliché.
I do not understand why the NT even chose the play and why the Olivier stage? Oddly, the playwright DC Moore does not even get a mention in their £4 programme. I discovered later that he is a favourite of the theatrical in-crowd, so I suppose they assumed we all knew who their darling was and what he had done. Or were they ashamed of him and had left it too late to withdraw the play? I have not seen his other plays but with this one he has obviously conned the powers that be. His earlier work cannot be worse.