Hampstead Theatre Spring 2019
Edward Hall ends his
admirable tenure as Artistic Director of the Hampstead Theatre by
producing and directing a new play by Howard Brenton, but neither play nor
production are the triumphant farewell for which he might have wished.
Brenton's drama is inspired
in part by Thomas Hardy's Jude The Obscure, about a self-taught man's
hunger for higher education.
But it also wants to say
things about the plight of modern refugees, academic politics, Greek
literature, Islamophobia, the economic downturn, Britain as a police state
and the effect of American pork production on British pig farmers.
And gardening. And religious
confusion. And sex. And I'm not sure that's all.
Judith is an illegal Syrian
immigrant teenager, a brilliant and driven autodidact who uses pilfered
books to teach herself Latin and classical Greek so that she can
Her dream is to get into
Oxford, a possibility that seems remote until a chance encounter with a
female don who is as intrigued by the diversity boxes a Syrian unwed
mother non-public-school student would check, and by the girl's
attractiveness, as by her academic potential.
But – and I will not
apologise for this spoiler – the deus-ex-machina intervention of British
security forces (who are actually investigating a cousin of Judith's who
is, incidentally, totally innocent) scares Oxford off.
At this point Howard
Brenton's narrative, which has been somewhat iffy all along, with big gaps
and flashbacks within flashforwards, becomes completely incoherent. I
watched the last two minutes of the play with care, but can not tell you
what happened or what it meant.
Along the way the playwright
not only keeps getting sidetracked by one or another of the play's
secondary interests, but seems from scene to scene to have forgotten what
he said before.
The god of Judith's idolatry
shifts from Homer to Euripides and back, the dream figure she has
imaginary conversations with is sometimes her father and sometimes
Euripides, and the play repeatedly invokes Medea in an ominous
foreshadowing that turns out to be a total red herring (I think – as I
said, the ending is very opaque).
Isabella Nefar captures
Judith's attractive passion for learning but never for a second seems a
teenager. Caroline Loncq as the don and Shanaya Rafaat as the cop offer
generic stock characterisations. They and the other cast members, whose
performances range from wooden to confused, all seem desperately in search
of a director.
In a programme note Edward Hall thanks Howard Brenton for his frequent contributions to the Hampstead Theatre. It might be that in this case gratitude got in the way of artistic judgement.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review
Review - Jude - Hampstead Theatre 2019