Written in the wake of the Nazi war trials, Peter Ustinov’s 1951 satire shows the difficulty of disentangling responsibility after the chaos of conflict.
On the cusp of being invaded, a tiny nation’s leaders fold. The PM surrenders. His top general flees to continue fighting. Better to capitulate or carry on to the last? That, Ustinov suggests, depends on who wins.
It’s hard to see what contemporary resonance director Robert Laycock reckons 'The Moment of Truth' has, since he retains the WW2-esque setting. The trouble is, the play’s so dated that reviving it needs a defibrillator. Laycock merely props up the corpse and moves its jaw, making no effort to make it cohere. It’s left quite unclear, for example, why the play starts by echoing ‘King Lear’.
The New Actors Company does a lot of old-fashioned acting: feet shoulder-width apart, text declaimed in that bizarre, rhythmic actor’s patter. These aren’t people, you think, but uniformed stereotypes, like one-dimensional Monty Python authority figures gone flat. Even Harry Potter star Bonnie Wright is unconvincing – though her natural earnestness might suit bigger classics.
Ironically, knockabout Pythonesque lunacy is exactly what Ustinov’s play needs. He writes absurd running gags – photographers that pop up at inopportune moments; politicians that can’t stop crying; a doddery, wheelchair-bound dummy leader (Likely Lad Rodney Bewes).
Sadly, Laycock leaves them limp and lifeless, so that any sense of farce deflates. Without it, ‘The Moment of Truth’ is dull and heavy going.
By Matt Trueman