Earthquakes in London

This event has now finished. Until Sep 22 2010

© Manuel Harlan

Time Out says  

Posted: Mon Aug 9 2010

This is a radical stylistic change of direction for playwright Mike Bartlett. Admired for his dark, penetrating chamber pieces 'My Child', 'Contractions' and 'Cock', he now delivers an extraordinary, sprawling and chaotic drama that runs at over three hours, spans past, present and future and, in Rupert Goold's eye-popping Headlong co-production, offers a vivid, sometimes surreal pageant of the personal and the political.

So dynamic is Goold's staging, that it has almost Artaudian sense of total theatre. In Miriam Buether's brilliant design, a narrow orange catwalk snakes through the auditorium, suggesting a chic metropolitan bar. Audience members seated alongside it on swivelling stools are close enough to feel in danger of getting kicked in the teeth by the cast, engaged in the flow of frenetic action; others stand behind curved rails, or watch from rows of upstairs seating. More contained scenes play out in two letterbox-shaped apertures; video imagery spills over the walls to a soundtrack that includes Goldfrapp, Nick Cave and - alas - Coldplay.

At the swirling narrative's centre is a family: three sisters, their dead mother and their estranged father. Dad (Bill Paterson), an environmental scientist, had intimations of global catastrophe back in the Sixties; now he's holed up, hermit-like and nihilistic, in Scotland, while the daughters he abandoned pursue divergent lives in London. The eldest, Sarah (Lia Williams) is a Lib Dem minister fighting the green corner in the coalition government; pregnant Freya (Anna Madeley) is smoking, swigging whisky and falling apart as she contemplates bringing a child into a doomed world. Rebellious youngest sister, student Jasmine (Jessica Raine) is doing drugs and dancing in burlesque.

Their troubled relationships - with each other, with husbands or lovers, with their father - mirror the cataclysm of global devastation, as they and the planet hurtle towards oblivion. Is apocalypse inevitable? Has humanity recklessly ensured its own extinction? Questions fizz and soar like fireworks in Bartlett's dialogue - typically spiky and discomfiting - and in Goold's production. There are scenes of bacchanalian clubbing, of designer-clad yummy mummies pushing prams on Hampstead Heath like a small army of chic automata. Less successful are visions of a bright, white-lit 2525 - here, and throughout its later scenes, the play loses its momentum and its way. It needs a ruthless edit; but there's more than enough flair, imagination and theatrical audacity here to make it unmissable.

Earthquakes hit the National

National Theatre, Cottesloe details

National Theatre, Cottesloe, South Bank, SE1 9PX, London SE1 9PX

National Theatre, Cottesloe

As far as studio spaces go, the National Theatre's Cottesloe is up there with the best. Flexibly arranged over three levels (and with room for...

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