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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Royal Court Theatre   Spring 2014

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, does it also madden? Can a man who has everything, and can have everything, keep any hold on reality? 

That is the question of Simon Stephens' new play, and while the combination of a big hole in the script and some directorial interference keeps him from full success in answering it, his posing of the question is intriguing and the opportunity for an impressive performance in the central role. 

Andrew Scott plays a rock musician who has been on tour for over a year, his every whim catered to, be it a peach, a helicopter or a woman. Having these things handed him without question has led him to assume them as his natural right, and that in turn makes him unable to think of other people except as servants to his desires.

In time he develops an almost Asperger's-like inability to recognise other people as having any feelings or identity at all, manipulating, lying and abusing  without a hint of conscience because they don't really exist as people. 

Directed by Carrie Cracknell, Andrew Scott chillingly takes the man on a journey that begins with cheery self-delight (the actor reprising the giggle and other tics of his TV Moriority) and ends with complete disassociation from reality, saying and doing outrageous things because he has no sense of how outrageous and hurtful they are. 

The big hole in the play is that we never see or are told anything about the man before this process began, and thus can't see for certain that it is his unnatural position of power that has done this to him. 

Put another way, if he always was a bastard and is now just continuing to be a bastard, it's not the same play or anywhere near as interesting a one. 

Meanwhile, although Simon Stephens' characteristic delivery of a script almost completely without stage directions indicates an openness to a director's input, Carrie Cracknell imposes a visual symbolism on the production, particularly in the later scenes, that you can guess is meant to reflect the central character's mental state but that is too opaque, arbitrary or clashing with the general mode of the play to be anything but distracting. 

There is strong support from a cast that includes such stalwarts as Nikki Amuka-Bird, Charlotte Randle and Daniel Cerqueira, most of them doubling and quadrupling roles, but the major attractions of the production are the playwright's vision, however partially fulfilled, and the completely committed performance of Andrew Scott.

Gerald Berkowitz

Review - Birdland - Royal Court Theatre 2014
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