Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Buried Child; Peter Pan

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Buried Child; Peter Pan

Article excerpt

Buried Child is a typical Sam Shepard play. The main character, Dodge, is a brain-damaged alcoholic cripple stuck in a Midwest shack with a half-witted xenophobic wife shrieking at him from the coal cellar. The wife makes an early speech about her son who 'married a Catholic whore' and got stabbed to death by her on his honeymoon. This sets the tone for the play. Every character is a shrill, chippy barbarian and every speech is an exercise in tragicomic one-upmanship. The audience for Shepard's work consists of social voyeurs who want to gawp at the underclass from a safe distance.

The play purports to be a mystery but the family secret is revealed in the title. Even so, Shepard proceeds as if there were a puzzle to solve. He keeps offering us 'clues'. A clod-hopper called Tilden limps on stage bearing a harvest of miraculous corn, gathered from the backyard, which causes both his parents to have fits of high-decibel guilt. Tilden peels the corn and then clod-hops back out and returns with a fresh harvest. Carrots this time. He duly peels them while attempting to bond with Dodge. More invalids lurch in. Drunken Vince arrives with whiny Shelly who gets crudely tortured by thick Bradley, but she takes revenge by ripping Bradley's false leg off and clutching it like a baby. Drunken Vince produces a sack of empty bottles and pelts them at the walls while Bradley writhes on the ground attempting to polish the filthy floorboards with his hairdo.

It's sad to see trained actors dumped on this scrapheap. Barnaby Kay, a rare talent with an athletic build and a poetic nature, is stuck in the role of the brain-dead Tilden, who passes his time on stage beheading carrots and grunting. Ed Harris, as Dodge, rummages among the sofa cushions for a misplaced whiskey bottle but, apart from whinging lugubriously, he has little else to do. Amy Madigan, as the wife, plays her role to perfection by screaming every line at a pitch loud enough to strip the plaque from your teeth. The production was a hit in New York which, I suggest, reflects rather badly on New York. The irony is that the hysterical bumpkins presented here for the titillation of the elite are exactly the sort of people who voted to 'make America great again'. Their candidate has just seized the White House. Shepard, who clearly detests the American virtues of vitality, grit and ambition, must be hopping mad.

A new production of Peter Pan bears the ominous credit 'devised by the Companies'. …

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