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 The TheatreguideLondon Review

Young Vic       Autumn 2012

A difficult and ultimately flawed work, Marius von Mayenburg's drama is more to be admired for its ambitions than its partial accomplishments, and this new production more for its inventive way of bringing out the best in the text than for its inability to paper over all the cracks in the script. 

The play attempts to do at least three separate things that almost inevitably get in each other's way. On the surface it is the shocking account of a deeply disturbed teenager's descent into serial arson and murder, with a hint of the causes of his madness in his very dysfunctional family. 

At the same time, the playwright wants to satirise that family the dispirited bourgeois parents who barely speak to each other and vacillate between being barely present and overly intrusive, the sexually voracious sister not above using her brother for practice when no boyfriend is available and then dropping him when one appears, and the boy given no help whatever in manoeuvring the minefield that is puberty. 

And yet on another level the boy's progression from sulkiness to violence, and even his sister's sexual confusions, can be seen as effective metaphors for the emotional chaos and near-madness that is a normal adolescence. 

Faced with the unlikelihood of capturing all these strands in one production, director Sam Pritchard makes choices that bring out the second and third, at the acceptable expense of the most realistic strand. The parents played ably by David Annen and Helen Schlesinger are almost sketch-show cartoons, he happy to brush aside or ignore all hints of trouble at home and she blithely undressing in front of her cringing son and embarrassing her daughter with unwelcome liberal sexual advice. 

The satire fits a little uncomfortably alongside the darker parts of the play, but director and actors make those scenes work, if only in isolation. 

Meanwhile, a generally presentational style, breaking the fourth wall and calling attention to its artificiality, pulls us away from a purely realistic image of the events and toward symbolic or metaphoric readings. 

Characters repeatedly face front and deliver their lines toward us even when in conversation with others, and moments that clearly involve people side-by-side are played with the actors at opposite ends of the stage. Props are mimed or stylised, and a set made up of multiple cabinet-like spaces doubles as a prop storage and an 'offstage' space for actors not in a given scene. 

All of this works, and its only limitation is the realisation that it can only work by doing insufficient justice to that level of the play that seriously examines how easily true madness can be mistaken for ordinary teenage turmoil. 

Never allowed to fully develop his character on a realistic level, Rupert Simonian really can't do much with the disturbed boy, though Aime-Ffion Edwards is more successful in capturing the sister whose own mental imbalance makes it easy for her to be drawn into her brother's madness.

Gerald Berkowitz

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