The Royal Court's artistic director Vicky Featherstone and playwright/director Anthony Neilson made a pre-performance appearance when I saw Unreachable on Tuesday. They wanted to explain that the play was still a work in progress, a major rewrite had happened over the weekend with further rewrites that day. As a result, the actors might still be working off scripts and things might not go as smoothly as you'd expect. We were asked to shout 'good luck' to the actors who were waiting in the wings.
Other than a read-through I've not seen a play performed with scripts in hands or scraps of paper retrieved from pockets. Naturally, the audience was very supportive as it invariably is during these sorts of things. It added an extra dimension to the play and the experience - seeing the actors 'feeling' their way through the less familiar parts of the script.
Matt Smith actually played on it at times saying at one point 'that's all I've got'. If there was any frustration with the chopping and changing of the dialogue among the cast it certainly didn't show, they all looked like they were having a ball and there was quite a bit of corpsing.
As to the play itself, I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't expecting a raucous comedy, satirising the film industry and acting profession.
Naturally, it is difficult to review something that could change fundamentally between when I saw it and press night. Indeed, since starting to write this, I found an interview with Anthony Neilson and Matt Smith which describes a plot that is unrecognisable from that which I saw, so if you have seen it post press night I'm curious to know whether it has changed fundamentally since.
Matt Smith plays Maxim, a film director who won the Palm d'Or for his first full-length feature and is now working on his second film. The award has brought with it recognition and a much bigger budget with the politics that entails but he is 'an artist' with the stereotypical artistic temperament (think: self-serving, childish, egotist). He would rather walk away and risk financial ruin than compromise.
If there are two camps: creativity vs pragmatism, then actress Natasha (Tamara Lawrance) seems to have her feet in both. The play opens with her audition which we later see her perform snippets of on the film set. Her performance moves Maxim to tears but when he asks her where her performance comes from she simply says she is an actress and it is what she is paid to do. Incidentally, I think 'Natasha' would get on brilliantly with Northern Broadside's Barrie Rutter, who was on Desert Island Discs recently he doesn't believe in over analysis and 'what's my motivation'.
When Maxim decides he wants the virtually unemployable Ivan (Jonjo O'Neill) to play the lead, things look like they are going to go from bad to worse. Ivan is the epitome of a difficult actor with added psychopathic tendencies. He's garnered the nickname 'The Beast'. The result is a film set which is a heady mix of ego and artistic temperament, the question being how far will Maxim go to achieve what is probably unachievable.
There are some great set pieces and there are lots of laughs. The second half seemed to have more of the rewritten segments which meant it wasn't as fluid but the actors did an amazing job - I particularly enjoyed Jonjo O'Neill's Ivan and Tamara Lawrance's Natasha. And, Matt Smith managed to give Maxim just enough charm so that you could almost forgive him. Almost.
The play will no doubt benefit from a bit of editing and tightening up once the script is set but what I saw on Tuesday night was a company trying to put on a play about someone trying to make a film - there is an irony in that, that you won't get with the finished product and I really enjoyed it. It's getting five stars from me. The running time was changing during preview, it was about 2 and a half hours when I saw it. You can see it at the Royal Court Theatre until August 6.