First Night: Riflemind, Trafalgar Studios, London

A dull sex, drugs and rock and roll reunion
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Our subconscious repeatedly returns us to the scene of our crimes in our troubled dream life. And, as Paul McCartney used to sing, with the plangent emphasis on the irrecoverable nature of the past: "Once there was a way to get back homeward". So you wonder why any rock group in its right mind would ever contemplate, still less attempt, to put into practice, a comeback reunion.

This has served as the scenario for a number of plays and films, most recently the charmingly funny movie, Still Crazy with Bill Nighy. Now it provides the subject matter for Riflemind, the play that inaugurates the partnership at the Trafalgar Studios between ATG, the English theatre-owning outfit, and the Sydney Theatre Company which is run by actress Cate Blanchett.

It's the second opening shot within the week of a new initiative in London theatre. But if Ivanov, which kicked off the Donmar's season in the West End, is astonishingly good, this international co-producing effort is mortifyingly bad. The embarrassment is compounded by the fact that the play is by Andrew Upton who just happens to be Mr Cate Blanchett. Her political nous should have told her that if she was determined to begin the collaboration with a work by her spouse, it behoved that drama to be the bee's knees. But, for long stretches, Riflemind is more evocative of an ant's arse. God knows, the deliberations that must have dragged on in order to bring the no-longer-boyish boyband Take That back together can scarcely have widened anyone's emotional or intellectual horizons. I would prefer, though, to sit through a dramatisation of the minutes of those meeting than take another look at this show, which has been given a listless British premiere by the great movie actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. There's one potentially very good scene, flattered here by the excellent acting from John Hannah and the wonderful Paul Hilton. Hannah plays John, the defunct rock group's composer and leading spirit, who toppled into drugs hell and emerged the other side minus guitar but with a clean-ish bill of health. Hilton plays his brother, Phil, the more talented but less acknowledged of the two, who confronts him with his heroin-fuelled need for John to re-occupy his former place in the duo's old psychic economy.

Elsewhere, though there are dead lines, there are no deadlines to give the piece requisite tension, nor, despite a talented cast, much inkling as to why we should give a damn about any of them or their rekindled feuds. One scene that is performed with a certain urgency is the sex-act-from-behind engaged in by the band's rock chick and its most platitudinous pseudo-profound member. One nonetheless continued to glance at one's watch.

Early on, there's a neat sound effect as the helicopter that has brought the band to John's hideaway whirs overhead. How one pines to be spirited away by that chopper, even if it involves clinging to its slicing rotary blades.