Once again, the direction of Jamie Lloyd is causing problems with what seems like a perfectly good play and a great cast. Similar to his previous production of Macbeth at the same venue, as reviewed in this blog, the over production of something which should be underplayed creates a real caustic effect. The play concerns some sort of mental asylum or a detention centre runs by seeming misrule and incompetence. The administrative emphasis is on procedural and bureaucratic competence, if it can be called that, rather than the welfare of its occupants. After a death and a pregnancy amongst the inmate, events unfold over the few days around Christmas.
The themes of the play surrounds bureaucracy with a heavy dose of Kafkaesque surreal, authoritarian menace. However, there is also a good amount of comedy well integrated within the play. It is not to criticise the play itself, the uncertainty in tone makes it such a challenge for the director. And here is where it fails: the production is pitched at over the top, faux sincerity and weighted towards the comedy. Hence all the menace and the sinister undertones is left to the text alone and the play ended up feeling like it is having a schizophrenic identity crisis. This may sound like a reasonable way to play a black comedy in a farce like manner but unfortunately it does not work in this case. What we are left with is a great cast who gave did exceptionally well in their parts, especially Simon Russell Beale whose clown like delivery is faultless and supported by the excellent Indira Varma who plays the seductress well. However, even if Usain Bolt can run the 100m in world record time, he still needs to be running in the right direction to win and this analogy applies to this production here. This is a play where everything looks like a great play and performance but instead went in the completely wrong direction.