Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by David Hare (after the book by Katherine Boo) – National Theatre, Olivier stage

Behind_The_Beautiful_Forevers_posterBehind the Beautiful Forevers, David Hare’s new play adapted from Katherine Boo’s book of the same title and directed by Rufus Norris, is set in the slumps of Mumbai, in the shadow of big hotels and the international airport. As with all stories with a strong sense of place, it opens up to universal understanding. I immediately saw its relevance, even though I can’t speak of its authenticity. (Shamefully my experience of Mumbai and its slumps is limited to watching Slumdog Millionaire. Which is no experience at all). On  the other hand, the feel of the play authenticates against itself: it’s a real world. And not a happy one.

It’s easy to say the play is grim, more difficult to explain why. Grim is the wrong word. It creates tension between the energy of the place (high-octane, outspoken, confident) and perceptions (or preconceptions) of the situation: the darkness isn’t due to poverty (that would be patronising) nor the awful things happening throughout the story. Poverty is ever present but lack of resources doesn’t equal lack of resilience, not always, and these people are nothing if not resilient. But, and this is the astonishingly grim fact, poor and rich have learned the same wrong lesson. Learned it in different ways (the rich with a silver spoon in their mouth, the poor with a kick in the teeth) but the same lesson nevertheless: the road to happiness involves screwing other people. This dark thought pollinates small sins and tragedy multiplies. Continue reading

REVIEW: If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep, by Anders Lustgarten, at the Royal Court

if you don't let us dream“Everybody’s got an agenda”, says one of the characters towards the end of Anders Lustgarten’s new play “If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep”. It’s impossible to see the play, remember the line and resist the temptation to mention it in the review. Because Anders Lustgarten clearly has an agenda. Which is to say he has an opinion and a conviction. All fine ingredients for a play. The question remains: Do drama, insight, even provocation, match his conviction? Let’s see.

MAJOR SPOILERS. I won’t be able to make my case without plot spoilers, you have been warned.

The play starts when a government official comes across a great idea: if we monetise social unity and sell it as bonds, the private sector will pick up the cost and create incentives to reduce social unrest. Cue in scenes where bureaucracy and stupidity go hand in hand, money talks, people become numbers on a form. Early on, the play, with short jump cuts and scenes not necessarily related to each other, is reminiscent of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, but without the grace and piercing intellect. Continue reading