Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer; the Red Barn; Shopping and Fucking

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer; the Red Barn; Shopping and Fucking

Article excerpt

Great subject, terminal illness. Popular dramas like Love Story , Terms of Endearment and My Night With Reg handle the issue with tact and artistry by presenting us with a single victim and a narrative focus that reveals as much about the survivors as about the patient. Crucially, the disease is omitted from the title for fear of discouraging the punters from mentioning the work in conversation.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer violates all these strictures. Half a dozen characters seated in a hospital ward shout at us about their failing health. These disjointed gobbets of testimony are interspersed with repetitive zombie dances and noisy songs with lyrics like 'fuck cancer'. Snatches of insulting dialogue reinforce the mood of chippy sourness. A mother with an afflicted baby tells a lung-cancer victim he should be ashamed of himself for smoking. He wittily orders her to 'fuck off' and adds, with a snort of toxic fumes, that he pays his taxes.

This boring, preachy philistine drama goes around in circles for two hours and then reveals itself as a hoax. The author Bryony Kimmings, in a recorded announcement, informs us that the characters are based on real victims (although it's unclear who created the snippy dialogue and the grisly characterisations). The Kimmings voice then asks a cancerous patient to climb up on stage and deliver a few words of confession. Finally, she invites us to yell out the names of victims among our acquaintance. The house erupted with fretful imprecations. 'Granny!' 'Keith!' 'Araminta!' 'Bill!' 'Tiberius!' 'Bianca!' Anthropologists would have found this crude ceremony fascinating: 'The savages are obsessed with a mysterious wasting disease their medicine cannot cure. The adults gather in a communal hut and watch their chanting brethren imitate the witch doctor's rites of healing. The sacrament ends when the savages invoke the names of the recently dead in the hope that spirits dwelling in the underworld may protect them from infection.' I'd rate this as one of the ugliest nights of my life.

The Red Barn is David Hare's new adaptation of a Georges Simenon thriller set among American millionaires. I hate thrillers. Their goal is to trick the audience with the manipulative concealment of basic information, and they oblige the play-goer to surrender his intellectual autonomy to an absent puppetmaster. This thriller -- which is as bad as they get -- is executed brilliantly. …

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