Common, the cancelled preview and the blogger's dilemma
Review: Threat, forgiveness and the search for truth in Jam, Finborough Theatre

Common thoughts (the play not just general ramblings) - now with a post press night PS

1280x720_ntgds_ak_common_rollout11_0-1OK so given my dilemma, which I wrote about this morning, and the response I've had, I decided to put some thoughts down about Common at the National Theatre. If you haven't read my previous post I'll preface all this by saying it was third preview I saw and the fourth preview was cancelled to work on the production, so what you subsequently see, if you are are seeing it, might be quite different.

First the synopsis. It's a new play by DC Moore set in the 18th century during the time of enclosure. Mary (the always wonderful Anne-Marie Duff) is returning from London to the place she grew up. She's done well for herself in London using wit, charm and guile, elevating herself from poor country girl to a woman of apparent means and fine clothes. She isn't immediately recognised and isn't exactly welcome either.

She's a potty-mouthed protagonist who tells the audience up front not to believe anything she says. So her return may be to rekindle an old love, it may be to get revenge on the man who broke up that relationship, it may be to help galvanise the locals to resist enclosure and upset the local land owner or it may be just to wreak a bit of havoc because she can.

And this is where the problems start. The play is a sort of love/revenge/history with explorations of Christianity vs paganism, witchcraft, industrialisation, rural economics and sociology but it doesn't properly nail any of these things partly because the central plot line isn't always coherent enough from which to hang the themes.

The first half feels very long - there is an awful lot of talking without it moving the plot forward - and if it wasn't for a cliff-hanger right before the interval then I doubt I would have stayed. There is a little more meat to the second half but after 2 hours and 45 minutes* I couldn't see the point of it and by that I mean, what point it was trying to make, chunks of what was going on and how I was supposed to engage with it. In fact my immediate response once the actors had left the stage was to turn to Poly perplexed and say 'what?' to which she replied, 'I know'.

There is some good stuff underneath all the rubble. The cast really do give it their all, there are some tense moments and a good use of movement. Tonally it reminded me of A League of Gentlemen crossed with Ben Wheatley's films - there is an underlying darkness and plenty of macabre stage gore. Mary is a sassy character you want to get behind, if only her motives weren't so schizophrenic, and there is a delightful character called Eggy Tom (Lois Chimimba) but other wise it feels like a lot of effort both from performers and the production for not much reward.

I know I'm apt to moan about long running times but I've seen other comments on Twitter about how this play is way too long. It needs a tighter focus and then perhaps it won't get so bogged down. There is the germ of a good play in there and I really hope the extra time the production has been given can properly tease it out.

I'd be interested to know what it is like post its preview pause. It's at the National Theatre until August 5.

* The advertised running time was 3 hours with an interval so 15 minutes had already been shaved off. 

PS Press night was last night with the running time reduced to 2 hours and 25 minutes but, if the critics reviews are anything to go by, it hasn't solved the key problems of the play. The best review I saw gave it three stars but there were a few two stars and even some one star reviews. Ouch.