If you're looking for something really, truly, alternative to see over the holidays, look no further than the hallucinogenic otherness of Martin Crimp's new drama, which has taken up residence in the Royal Court main house for the festive period.
It's a Christmas show of sorts – at least, the first scene is set on Christmas Day. A semi-dysfunctional family bicker, strangely, over dinner while the room gradually darkens, Dad (Stuart McQuarrie) having removed all the lightbulbs as part of a penny pinching initiative. Then through the window comes Uncle Bob (Paul Ready), popping in to slag off the entire clan on behalf of his wife Madeleine (Michelle Terry), before the two abandon their lives for a fresh start overseas.
Except there is never any escape in a Crimp play. The next scene, following a shift in Miriam Buether's superb set, finds the entire family – Bob and Madeleine included – sat in a sleek, futuristic room. Here they spout their personal philosophies in banal, sometimes upbeat, sometimes violent screeds. And in the final scene, in a stark white chamber, a bolshy Madeleine harangues a tired, bewildered Bob, telling him he must focus 'for the sake of our citizens'. Oh, and there are songs, lots of songs, sung by the cast in a sweetly feisty karaoke style.
What does it all mean? I think perhaps Crimp is trying to satirically suggest a future society in which the cult of positive thinking and 'give it 110 per cent' mentality has come to insidiously warp and define human social values. Or perhaps not: 'In the Republic of Happiness' is Crimp to the max: hilarious, playful, maddening and cryptic.
Dominic Cooke's production is superbly acted, brilliantly deadpan and often furiously intimidating – I'm not sure he has really unlocked this play's full potential. Or has he flattered a wilfully obtuse mass of Crimp-isms? Whatever the case, the genuine winsomeness of the songs ensures this challenging show has a heart. 'Crimp: the Musical', anyone?
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2 / 5
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- 1 star:19
Only on last night's Front Row, whilst promoting Written on Skin at the Royal Opera House (for which I've bought a ticket costing a mere £3!), did I find out that people walked out of 'In the Republic of Happiness'. ARE YOU INSANE??? I saw the play during the previews and I saw not a single person walk out and I sat in the slips where you can see everything (although I may have been concentrating on the play... and I thought I saw Martin Crimp sat in the front row). I like Martin Crimp's work, most of it I have read rather than seen and doesn't always read well on the page (The City being one) but I appreciate him being one of the few playwrights to play with form. This I loved. I had the text in front of me but allowed myself to be guided through the three scenes. The first, a really fucked-up Christmas dinner with the family when Uncle Bob arrives (bad choice of name in the current Saville-age), which had a real Crimpean darkness to it. The second was the chatshow form, where the individuals give their account of their lives and the right to their own opinions. The audience were wetting themselves with the sheer audacity of them, although the form (with songs) did remind me of the recent production of Brecht's Mother Courage at the Greenwich Theatre who used music in a similar way. The only time I questioned the faith was the final scene, not truly knowing where this was going. I can only presume it was to where we are heading - a republic of a sterile, clean, inoffensive world where to be perfect is almost angelic. I thought Crimp has challenged himself well this time and returned to the Royal Court with a bang. So why do I think people walked out? Because if it is billed as an anti-Christmas play, they expect some kind of moral resolution as well as a feeling that this is Christmas. What you don't want is a roll call of obsessions about being molested at airport security or sex abuse... and it was very in your face, which made it all the more funny. But it is nice to know that theatre, even the Royal Court, can produce a play where people do walk out. Theatre seems to be a little too safe these days.
This is obviously a play which divides audiences - and by divides I mean that the vast majority can't stand it and a few hold it up as a masterpiece of modern theatre. As far as it being a masterpiece goes: will this play still be read and performed in 50 plus years? Probably not. Although if Crimp is to be believed by that point we'll all be eating chicken sandwiches in sterile bubbles, so maybe that's a moot point anyway. Agree totally with the reviewers that the first scene - a stilted family Christmas dinner, interrupted by the arrival of the mysterious Uncle Bob, who proceeds to tell them how much his wife hates them all - is the sort of thing that could have been side splittingly brilliant, in the hands of a different play write. The second act, where the cast all assemble in a game show format, to reel through the five essential truths of modern life, in what I'd assume is meant to be a crushing critique of our modern culture of the individual. There are some genuinely funny moments. That said, most of the parts which are presumably meant to be 'shocking' - such as having sharp-tongued Granny talking about her genitals - are actually pretty cheap, and about as shallow as the society that Crimp is satiring. And there lies my biggest problem with this play. This is a play that seeks to harrow and terrify, as the best satire does, through comedy, our modern culture of the individual. How hypocritical and dysfunctional the middle-class family actually is. OK, fair enough, and there are many plays that do this absolutely brilliantly. Of course, the genius is that if anyone walks out the theatre saying 'that was appalling' - anyone else can raise a knowing eyebrow and just say that they are obviously just too middle class and hypocritical to 'get it'. The ultimate irony though is surely that this production is entirely dependent upon an audience that are going to be altogether too polite to just walk out halfway through (although a fair few did), and a presumably enormous budget (justifiably spent on an extraordinary set). I actually preferred the third act, almost as a stand alone piece - it is shadowed by a desperate feeling of sterility and loneliness. But I know that by that point, most people had just had enough. Oh, the songs. Well, if that was meant to be a comment on our X-factor culture, then bravo, because they produced exactly the same effect on me (i.e. desire to turn it off and walk out the room). Unfortunately neither option was available at the time. In fairness, I have been thinking about the play a lot since. Not always in the most flattering of terms, but still. Lastly, if anyone has any insider knowledge on how the cast workshopped/ rehearsed the middle scene, I'd be fascinated, because it seemed that they were speaking in quite a random order, and occasionally two people would start together - and in the script, it's not specified who speaks when.
I agree with Max (13/12). Fantastic cast, brilliant delivery, funny, tragic. What else could you want. Ps I always book an aisle, and always leave interval or not if I hate something, and I didn't even consider it....
Whilst not totally unenjoyable, and yes there are some very funny bits, it is however utter bollocks. Lots of walk outs even though there isn't an interval. Not a bad start, and some very interesting themes, totally undermined by trying far too hard to be clever. Cast acted their hearts out, suspiciously self aware that we all were witnessing the Emporers New Clothes in 3 scenes. Just awful. To the other reviewers who seem to think that just because it's Martin Crimp (and yes I accept he's generally great), it must be fabulous: get over yourselves. Everyone has their off days. Enjoy it, sure, but don't pretend it's extraordinary theatre that only the intellectually superior can appreciate. I'll enjoy the occasional big mac, and watch X-factor, but that doesn't mean they're both not complete crap.
This is lazy, unfinished writing - and boring as a result. It's very telling that the only positive reviews below are in the 'if you don't like it then you don't understand it' line. Some plays are just bad, and this one irredeemably so.
Very promising start swiftly deteriorated into obscene self-indulgence. If this is a satire then the joke is certainly on the audience. It is neither shocking not titillating to hear the repetition of the names of sexual organs and various expletives; it is pathetic. I can't understand the critics falling over themselves to give the play three/four stars. Surely this would never have been produced in a million years were it not for the cachet Crimp's name has in the theatrical world.
this is what theatre should be brilliant but not for the musical/coward west end lovers this is hard core and best thing I have seen this year
Woefully tedious drivel. Those pretentious types who are praising it and affording it any merit are like the fawning courtiers in an Andersen fairytale, for this Emperor certainly had no clothes.
The play is a masterpiece, simple as that. Martin Crimp is the only playwright currently working in the UK, apart possibly from Caryl Churchill, who can stand comparison with recent greats such as Pinter and Beckett, by virtue of formal and linguistic inventiveness, and philosophic pertinence to the wretched times we're living in. Ignore most of the feeble-minded gibberish in these comments, and go and see.
Painfully boring. I paid twenty pounds to be tortured for two hours... very wise of the Royal Court not to have an interval as no one would have come back.
A really smug, awful, obvious point being made evening. And I am a fan of a lot of Martin Crimp's work. But this was just really bad, boring theatre. Crimp was waxing on about the sixties on Front Row, but those companies that I presume he's referring to (Wooster Group, People Show, Living Theatre, Peter Brook etc) would never have produced something as deeply uninteresting as this.
Really truly awful. Only highlight was the procession of audience members leaving throughout. Acting was very good, but what a terrible script. A waste of my time.
Utter rubbish. Embarassing. Felt sorry for the cast needing to do this sort of play. The worst 'play' of 2012. No wonder there wasn't an interval. No story, no plot, just relentless tosh.
Everyone needs to calm down. It's Martin Crimp, he's not produced that often, it'll be over soon and then you can get back to watching boring plays set in living rooms.
This play illustrates for me everything that's wrong with theatre. As a previous reviewer below praises how it is a 'tax on the stupid', I can't help but feel angry that theatre still seems to be the preserve of over-educated middle class pseudo intellects. if you want to alienate young, less privileged people from the theatre it's not expensive tickets but the pretentious dribble in question that will do it!
Absolutely brilliant. I cried with laughter. Courageous, original, intelligent, exhilarating, challenging. Congratulations to The Court for daring to put this on. If you didn't like it, then I'm afraid you just didn't get it.
Easily the worst thing i have ever seen. There were the occasional enjoyable lines but satire this was not. Two largely unenjoyable hours of non-stop, foul mouthed drivel. Were i sat at the end of the row i would have left.
I'm trying to think of something good to say about this play... I did rather enjoy the songs, I suppose. It's better than Fram (at the National) from a few years ago.
I love the royal court and Martin crimp can write. But tonight's play was poorly conceived and left the three experienced theatre goers befuddled. Unlike much of the audience we stayed to the end. The first scene is the best and by the end the decent down hill was vertical.
If you liked this, then you got your money's worth, if like some people leaving complaining it was "unmitigated pile of shit", then I would consider this as an excellent tax on the stupid. Martin Crimp has produced a satire that made me really laugh, really belly laugh. As true satire should do, it makes you laugh with this underlying terror, which is wonderfully uncomfortable. I recognise myself, friends and colleges in this. And it is deeply political, and tells you to get involved. Martin is right, there is a creeping definition of what you should think and how you should deal with that, which is ever more About being selfish and self obsessed. Very convenient. It's my own opinion, mind your own business. Unshakeable faith, with redemptive tragedy all played out in your life imitating media. Until you die. A great vanitas piece.
Worst play I have ever seen. Boring, pointless drivel, actors fluffed many lines. 2 hours wasted. Great disappointment, as I've seen many wonderful plays at the Royal Court over many years.
A great disappointment after everything else I have seen at the Court... thank goodness for 10p tickets!
Quite possibly the worst show the Royal Court has put on under Dominic West. A load of muddled wash.
I couldn't agree more with the last reviewer. Complete waste of time. The only reason I'm giving it 1 star is because you have to!
Tedious, puerile, none sense. The cast are to be commended for their faultless delivery of such repetitive, meaningless lines. For the playwright a big boo for wasting 2 hours of my life.