Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: How to Hold Your Breath

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: How to Hold Your Breath

Article excerpt

How to Hold Your Breath

Royal Court, until 21 March

The Domestic Extremists

The Space, in rep until 28 February

'We hate the system and we want the system to pay us to say we hate the system.' The oratorio of subsidised theatre rises, in triumphant blast, at the Royal Court whose current empress Vicky Featherstone has chosen to direct an interesting new play by Zinnie Harris. I'd call it a quasi-symbolist extraterrestrial tragicomic chicklit road-movie spoof with Chomsky-esque anti-corporate neo-collectivist socioeconomic textual underpinning but I fear this may lend it a clarity of purpose, and a firmness of character, which it doesn't quite possess.

We start with Dana, a chippy frump on the last lap of her sex life, bedding a UN drudge named Jarron who claims to be 'a demon, a devil, a god'. 'I thought you would notice my semen is black,' he helpfully elaborates. Jarron and his inky tadpoles depart for Alexandria pursued by the besotted Dana along with her sister Jasmine, preggers. En route they meet a comedy librarian (from an alternative universe) whose book titles -- How to Stop Gagging With Someone's Putrid Penis In Your Mouth -- are hilariously funny (in an alternative universe). Jasmine suffers a miscarriage (which Harris confuses with a haemorrhage), and her instant descent into shouty, weepy maundering grief is undermined somewhat by her earlier threat to coathanger the foetus if it inconvenienced her. Economic collapse engulfs Europe and the sob sisters find themselves penniless in the smoking ruins of a Mediterranean capital. Dana goes on the game. Joyless coition in a rubbish tip earns her a 50 euro note, which is promptly stolen by a rival entrepreneuse. Horror succeeds horror until Dana finally expires. Then someone brings her back to life, which, I have to say, is a mistake that ongoing script adjustments might fruitfully rectify. More stuff happens after that.

Chloe Lamford's disorderly set is as gruesome to contemplate as the storyline. Dana (Maxine Peake) sports a 1980s wedge and a set of baggy trouser suits borrowed apparently from a Slovakian funeral parlour. Without make-up Peake's sexy, puckish face is drained of colour and her pallid mug resolves into a sepia disc. It's like watching a bombastic lozenge on liquorice stalks bellowing twaddle for two hours. The stirrings and yawnings of the audience put me in mind of fog-bound tourists regretting their holiday plans at Terminal Five. What a night. …

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