The Wolf From The Door*** (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs)

Posted: September 17, 2014 in Theatre

annachancellorOpening during the week after the Last Night of the Proms, Rory Mullarkey’s new black comedy projects a wholly different vision of middle England. Elgar and Holst still provide the backing soundtrack, but, here, demure old ladies who sip tea with bishops have Semtex on their shopping lists and plot with others to bite the hand that feeds them in a violent revolution which will overthrow the established order, Parliament, the press and even the theatre (sob!). At their head is Lady Catherine, a dotty but determined aristocrat (Anna Chancellor is ideal casting) who picks up a young drifter, Leo, in a railways station and designates him as ruler-to-be in a new regime of benign despotism. Together, the unlikely pair embark on a murderous rampage, reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde. As Leo, Calvin Demba finds the perfect blend of innocence and thuggery; the character claims not to need to sleep nor eat and, yet, in one of the play’s best running gags, he eats prodigious amounts of typically English food on stage. Demba must find matinee days particularly uncomfortable. Mullarkey’s writing is often uneven, some scenes falling completely flat and dragging on for much too long. When there is a shortage of wit, he tends to use shock tactics to hold the audience, including unorthodox staging, suggestions of horrific violence and completely gratuitous nudity. Most of this is fine, because, if the purpose of a play like this is not to unsettle an audience, then it has no purpose at all. However, he oversteps the mark when a pivotal scene centres on a decapitation – horribly unfortunate timing and, at this performance, it drew the groans that it deserves. In all, the play resembles a modern day version of a vintage Ealing comedy – mildly subversive and spiked with real nastiness, yet still ever so cosy and quaint. As a result, it ends up as an affectionate endorsement of everything that it purports to challenge.

Performance date: 16 September 2014

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