Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Dessert/ Twilight Song

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Dessert/ Twilight Song

Article excerpt

Oliver Cotton is an RSC stalwart who looks like a man born to greatness. Google him. He has the fearless jawline of Napoleon, the diabolical stare of Heathcliff, the tumultuous eyebrows of Michelangelo and the streamlined quiff of Liberace. And there's something richly corny about his appearance too, as if he were Bill Nighy done up as a 1970s porn baron. When he isn't treading the boards, Cotton writes contemporary thrillers and his latest effort, Dessert, is directed by Trevor Nunn.

We're in a London mansion where smug billionaire Hugh Fennell and his gem-encrusted wife are showing off their latest toy, a Renaissance oil painting, to a pair of rich American idlers. A gunman bursts in and takes all four of them hostage. Pistol-toting Eddie is a soldier-turned-Corbynista who demands that Hugh share his wealth with Britain's struggling hospitals and underfunded care homes. The play settles into a clash of ideas. We learn that Eddie's dad was a prosperous businessman who lost his cash in one of Hugh's investment vehicles. This setback triggered a stroke. There are echoes of Sir Philip Green and the BHS scandal. Eddie joined the military and suffered an amputation overseas and he blames Hugh for his peg-leg and for his dad's failing health. He also holds Hugh personally responsible for the low incomes of squaddies, nurses and other public sector wage-slaves. This is nonsense of course.

When Bernard Shaw wrote plays of this kind he always made his characters sympathetic, and he gave both sides (especially the side he disagreed with) the best arguments he could muster. Cotton disdains this policy. He draws Eddie as an embittered profiteer who became a Trot only when his father's speculations tanked. Eddie is therefore a crashing hypocrite. Yet no one on stage notices this, still less points it out. Likewise Cotton draws Hugh as a decidedly limited creature. Pretty dim really. When he defends his huge fortune he speaks in arid techno-babble about market forces. 'Rules are rules,' in other words, 'so hop it, chum.' This is neither dramatic not intelligent. A wily maverick like Hugh (or Sir Philip) would use more subtlety and astuteness. He'd reach out to Eddie, discover his weaknesses, cajole him, schmooze him, win him over. Or he might just improvise a counter-attack. Poor old Eddie knows very little about kidnapping. He not only reveals his disability to his prisoners but he leaves the dinner table strewn with glassware and wine bottles that might easily be turned into weapons. …

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