Arthur's World

Theatre, Off-West End
2 out of 5 stars
 (© Nick Rutter)
1/3
© Nick RutterJoseph Tremain, Paul Greenwood And Enyi Okoronkwo
 (© Nick Rutter)
2/3
© Nick RutterJoseph Tremain
 (© Nick Rutter)
3/3
© Nick RutterJoseph Tremain, Paul Greenwood And Enyi Okoronkwo

Clunky, sub-Philip Ridley dystopian drama.

From Kensal House council estate in Ladbroke Grove, Spid Theatre Company create ‘wraparound theatre’ that places the audience and performers within the same stage space. They also foster a variety of commendable community activities and training programmes. It all sounds totally great. It’s sad to discover, then, that this short play from artistic director Helena Thompson is so lacking in insight, empathy or excitement.

Arthur is a tough old boot who lives alone in his flat, waiting without much hope for his missing son Mikey to come home. Surprisingly the boy returns, along with a twitchy friend named Kino. They’ve both been caught up in The Fights, a sort of analogue for the London Riots, which have raged apocalyptically for years. Themes of loneliness, neglect and youth violence are gestured towards, but despite a promising, if familiar, setup, everything soon falls apart.

A key concept involving a smartphone app based on characters from Arthurian legend sparking off a wave of youth violence – a game that Mikey programmed – is neither credible as a conceit nor interesting on the level of metaphor. Like much of the talk of violence and drugs, it feels painfully naive and badly out of touch. Thompson has no responsibility to write naturalistically, of course, but her flights of fantasy quickly lose themselves in a fug of half-realised ideas.

Philip Ridley is clearly a major influence on this tangle of urban gothic, but unlike Ridley, Thompson fails to create her own heightened world or language. The violence feels try-hard, the dystopia unscuffed and box-fresh.

The saving grace is an intimate setting from designer Anna Reid – a sad-looking flat where the 20 or so audience members sit crouched against the walls, inches away from the action. There’s also some great sound design from John Mcleod and a strong performance by Paul Greenwood as Arthur which strains to be understood through the clunking dialogue.

But this is not strong stuff. It’s intellectually, emotionally and dramatically incoherent – and wears out its welcome long before its 60 minutes are up.

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