In Bakkhai Ben Whishaw played a god. In Against he plays a man who believes he has been spoken to by God. The difference? Well there is a lot less hair for a start.
Luke is a tech billionaire who heard a voice in his head prompting him on a journey to understand violence and change the world.
Assisted by Sheila (Amanda Hale) he decides to go where the violence is and talk to people who’ve been affected - the parents of a high school shooter and a student at a University campus where there was a spate of rapes.
His is a sophisticated and intelligent mind but his approach is relatively simple until he is forced to question what constitutes violence. Can it merely be a physical thing or is the way people are treated by society or capitalism - for example - a form of violence in itself?
While Luke wrestles with the scale and effectiveness of his project, the nature of his fame begins to change. On the one hand he starts to attract followers who see him as something of a spiritual healer or icon on the other, he starts to attract critics.
Ben Whishaw's Dionysus in Bakkhai was seductive, alluring and manipulative whereas Luke has the demeanour of someone who believes he has the light of something in him; he has a Jesus-like quality, gentle, serene and thoughtful - except when it comes to personal relationships. Luke is a good listener particularly in Ben Whishaw's hands. When he is listening, he gradually moves closer to the person who is talking. He looks rapt, an expression that encourages and empathises; perhaps there is a little sign he enjoys it that people are opening up to him. I found myself constantly watching him just in the act of listening.
I've not met many tech billionaires, none in fact, I've just got films like Steve Jobs and The Social Network to go on and in comparison Luke seems, well mild. His financial status and how he amassed it feels under exploited and only becomes really pertinent at the very end. In fact I could write a whole blog post on the irony at play in the ending but that would be too big a spoiler.
This is subtle plays in lots of ways, it's thought provoking although it occasionally feels like it reflects the unwieldy nature of the project Luke has taken on. It's not going to beat Baby in Mojo as my favourite Ben Whishaw stage performance but I did really enjoy seeing him playing the mild, often smiling Luke.
Against is at the Almeida Theatre until September 30 and during preview its running at 2 hours and 50 minutes including an interval.