Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Homecoming

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Homecoming

Article excerpt

The Homecoming

Trafalgar Studios, until 13 February 2016

The Divided Laing

Arcola, until 12 December

Wallace Shawn is a lovely old sausage. A stalwart of American theatre, he's taken cameo roles in classic movies like Clueless and Manhattan. He's also a playwright whose new script has received its world première at the National Theatre. Lucky chap. He spent three or four years writing Evening at the Talk House and it reveals a peculiar methodology. A play normally features a central character grappling with a personal dilemma, which leads to suffering, change and self-discovery. Shawn doesn't bother with any of that, he just lays on a gang of theatre types who spend two hours spouting cascades of circuitous chitchat. The show opens with a speech by a rich and successful American TV producer who tells us how rich and successful he is. His paragraphs of orotund superiority last 20 minutes. He recalls that a few years back he wrote a little playlet whose cast are keen to meet up and discuss the old days. A restaurant, the Talk House, is hired. Seven luvvies appear (some British, some American) for cocktails and group hugs. They then wolf down a load of canapés and exchange gossip about this show, that show and the other show.

It's clear that Shawn has dispensed with two key dramatic instruments here: purpose and conflict. His characters have nothing to gain or lose from each other. And they have no aims to fulfil either. At the first read-through it should have been clear that this wasn't a play but a collection of words arranged on numbered pages so as to resemble a play. But wait. Something else is going on. The characters at the Talk House refer to 'Ackerley', who appears to be a leader elected every three months. Has a state of emergency been declared? There are hints of violence. 'Targetings' are mentioned. As are 'murders'. The characters seem anxious that the state is involved in a campaign of secret assassinations. But not that anxious. Just a bit. One of the actresses reveals that her career has nosedived and she now scrimps a living in a restaurant but she tops up her income by flying around the world to bump off foreigners. No really. That's in the play. The government arranges for its enemies overseas to be hunted down and killed by waitresses.

At this point something new emerges from the muddle. Shawn hasn't just created a script that lacks any dramatic tension or focus (or, incidentally, a central character), he wants to lay on a shotgun wedding between two incompatible genres. …

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