Review: Did the earth move for Earthquakes in London, National Theatre?
I loved Mike Bartlett's play Cock which debuted at the Royal Court last year. It was simple and powerful and in many ways the antithesis of his new offering Earthquakes in London which is in preview at the National Theatre.
With Rupert Goold at the helm there was always going to be some spectacle and when I booked my ticket at the start of the season and got a voucher with seat allocation to come later, all signs were there that the Cottesloe's flexible space would be put to good use.
And I wasn't wrong. There is a stage of sorts. Imagine an s-shaped, red catwalk sashaying through the rectangular performance space, flanked with red bar stools for some of audience. The rest of the 'stalls' space is given over to audience standing room except for two raised red-leather banquette benches down each long-side of the rectangular - which is where I sat.
Above the banquettes there are another two galleried tiers of seating. At the short ends of the rectangle are two recessed performance spaces across which curtains can be drawn for scene changes. And just as images were projected onto the stage in Enron, here the curtains and wall space are used as screens.
It is a gob-smacking and highly imaginative way to use the space.
But what of the play itself? There is an intriguing story that runs through an almost nightmarish spectacle of strippers, discos, joggers, shoppers and identi-kit mothers pushing old fashioned prams (if anyone works out the relevance of the latter then please do enlighten me). Three sisters: one is Environment Secretary, one is heavily pregnant but obviously troubled by something and the youngest is at the wild, rebellious and directionless stage of late teenage years.
It jumps backwards and forward in time and is essentially a play about the environment, about the mess the planet is in, what should be done and is it too late for the next generation? At the start we are told that an earthquake is predicted for London in three days time, presumably to give a sense of time running out and build up to a dramatic denouement.
The problem is it feels a bit like a gaudy Faberge egg when you just want to get to the yummy yolk you know is inside.
Action flits from the catwalk to the two recessed performance spaces and even to the pit which is exciting, there is music and dancing and singing. (If someone were to film the audience and speed it up I'm sure it would look like a cat following a dancing light reflection.)
But a lot of the spectacle feels extraneous. It's as if the play itself is a victim of the elaborate performance space and has had to be embellished and expanded to make the most of it. There are some great set pieces but the dramatic shine is somewhat tarnished by the ensemble - too many distracting devices and strange-dream like interludes that just don't seem to gel.
Perhaps making the audience feel disconcerted was the goal but I certainly didn't come away feeling any sense of urgency about saving the planet.
It is preview week so perhaps there is more work to be done. My advice would be to take a sharp scalpal to the script and some of the accessories because by the end of the three hours I was desperate for the earthquake to finish them all off.
No professional reviews yet, will be interesting to read what they all say.
Rev Stan Rating: 2/5
Image of the National Theatre by Rev Stan, credit required for re-use
This was easy-peasy lemon squeezy even without the Mike Bartlett connection. There are two: Anna Madeley who plays Freya, the pregnant sister, includes the film Brideshead Revisited among her film credits although I don't believe she had any scenes with Mr Whishaw in that. But Bill Paterson who plays the father did have scenes with Ben in Criminal Justice.