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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Landscape With Weapon
Cottesloe Theatre      Spring 2007

Joe Penhall's new play is an attempt to put a human face on the moral questions of arms research. But it is more successful in concept than execution, more successful in parts than the whole.

An engineer who has developed a radical new control system for robot planes is excited about the way this may revolutionise warfare, and defends his invention against criticism with the expected disclaimer - 'At the end of the day, how they use it is not my responsibility.'

But, after debating the issue with his brother (a dentist, for some reason), he abruptly reverses his position, so that we next see him arguing the opposite side - that he can't trust governments to use it in what he considers a moral way.

He flip-flops at least three more times, some of them off-stage, and eventually we begin to sense that the playwright is just pulling his strings to set up one debate scene after another.

We might not have trouble with this psychological inconsistency if the debates themselves were good. But, although they are frequently witty and occasionally chilling, there's really very little new being said here.

And so we have all the more time free to notice the psychological inconsistency, and also to notice that the other parties in the debates are little more than stick figures set up to create the artificial oppositions.

The dentist brother makes very little sense as a character, though he does get some of the funnier lines. The boffin's employer - the voice of defence contractors everywhere - is a strong, careerist woman of the sort who may well still exist, but who comes across onstage as a twenty-years-out-of-date Thatcherite stereotype.

And the government man, an intelligence agent carrying the implicit and occasionally overt threat of torture, plays like a weak imitation of both early and late Pinter.

None of this is to criticise the cast - Tom Hollander as the inventor, Julian Rhind-Tutt as the brother, Pippa Haywood as the company woman and Jason Watkins as the government guy - or director Roger Michell, who do their best to create characters and a sense of reality when the author hasn't given them much to work with.

A lot of the jokes and wry wit work, and perhaps some of the arguments will be new to some. But there really isn't much of a play here.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Landscape With Weapon - National Theatre 2007

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