New artistic director, new bar. New adventures. Last night was my first time at the Royal Court since Vicky Featherstone took over and some of the changes were immediately apparent. Nice use of space at the bar, mismatched furniture, greater variety at the menu and food served till late. I heartily approve. I can see many more theatre friendships forged there.
New adventures, new rules. The President Has Come to See You, by georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze, is the first of six new plays performed by the same cast who only has a week to rehearse and perform each play. It’s fast, exciting, a little bit messy, and there is not enough time to feel the panic.
The play, with an exceptionally interesting premise, certainly lived up to all of the above. The story skids along the public and the private, the historical and the fictional: it’s August 2008, Georgia is at war with Russia, the BBC news readers sound as grave and as urgent as the circumstances demand. The georgian president has a nervous breakdown (who wouldn’t?), and takes to the streets. He meets people even more stressed than he is: reality tv contestants, young men forced to join the army, a dog owner who looks more unhinged than his savage dog. His chief of police bursts into tears. A (pregnant) man in a dress starts to look positively serene.
The story taps into our collective insanity, stress, mental breakdown. The days where the world falls apart but we still watch our favourite reality show. (Do you remember July 7th 2005 and the London bombings? The weather was nice, and many people leaving work early ended up in the pub. And what did you watch on telly that weekend?). The production seems unfinished, rough, messy. The stage hands were taking part in the performance. The script was making the rounds on stage. Jonjo O’Neill looked far too happy in a dress. Sam Troughton looked appropriately scary as a doped up nationalist. Ryan Sampson landed his lines with comic perfection. Some of the costume changes were a delightful slight of hand.
I can’t find it in my heart to be harsh. New adventures, new rules. Production and play needed more definition but the energy – or was it the cold sweat of panic – was infectious. I wouldn’t want all productions to be like that but it’s nice to see the stitches occasionally. Next week: Lucas Hnath’s Death Tax. I ‘ll be there.