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Tobias Menzies stars in this site specific version of Wallace Shawn's monologue about the world's relationship with wealth staged at The May Fair hotel.
Wallace Shawn wrote ‘The Fever’ in 1990, and it has to be said that it shows. Ostensibly a searing attack on middle-class guilt, the monologue invites audiences to join the thought processes of a western man staying in a hotel in a third-world country that’s racked by civil war. When he wakes up nauseous in the middle of the night, he vomits up his worries about the world’s inequality along with the bile. For the audience it’s supposed to be an exercise in growing discomfort.
Produced by the Almeida, this production follows ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in the influential theatre’s series examining money, materialism and what we value. Directed by Robert Icke, it’s staged off site at the May Fair Hotel, the kind of establishment where you can expect to meet hedge fund managers and wealthy Russians at the bar. A perfect setting, then, in which to discuss the divisions between the champagne-guzzling haves and oppressed have-nots who struggle even to find a clean glass of water.
We are ushered into a mirrored lift, and whizzed up to a hotel suite in which wine and chocolates await us. As we make ourselves comfortable, actor Tobias Menzies appears, dressed down in a T-shirt, joggers, and bare feet. Quietly he starts to ask questions, worrying about the contrast between his privileged upbringing (there’s a beautiful passage where his protected childhood is compared to being a luxury item in state-of-the-art wrapping) and the existence of those caught up in the civil war outside.
Menzies, normally a very good actor, delivers the monologue well – yet there is something too antiseptic about his performance to overwhelm you. And in a post-Arab Spring, post financial-crisis world, the lack of specificity in the detail becomes infuriating.
Yes, I get upset that people are executed unfairly by intolerant regimes and that far too many children under five die because of basic economic deprivation. Yes, I’m bloody lucky to have been born in a first world country, and no, of course I don’t deserve it. But I want to do more than wring my hands about it. I want to debate the complex specifics, learn the best way to campaign, listen to what people on the ground who are actually doing something about it have to say. I have evolved beyond simply feeling guilty. And in today’s turbulent world, I think I’m far from alone.