Mother Teresa Is Dead, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court, London

Charity begins far from home

The excellent actor John Marquez seems to be cornering the market in boorish working-class bigots. He was transfixing at the National recently playing a knee-jerk racist soccer fan, spoiling for a fight, in Roy Williams's Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads. For the same director, Simon Usher, Marquez is equally impressive now in the role of a slightly more intelligent version of that bullying bigot in Mother Teresa is Dead, a new drama by Helen Edmundson set in India.

His character, Mark, arrives in the Madras village fizzing with sweaty irritability, as though the subcontinent had been created with the specific purpose of affronting him with its sweltering heat and allegedly suspect taxi drivers. To be fair, he is under enormous pressure. He has travelled from England to India in the hope of being reunited with his wife Jane who, seven weeks ago, disappeared without warning or any indication of her future plans.

She has now been discovered in an unstable state on the streets of Madras and has been taken under the protective wing of Frances (Diana Quick), an English expat in her mid-fifties who has herself left unresolved family business back in Blighty.

The tense, worried-sick Mark wants to unravel the mystery of why Jane suddenly abandoned him and their five-year-old son in favour of working at a shelter for street kids in an Indian city. And everyone would like to uncover the secret of what is contained in the plastic carrier bag that she clutches with such nervy determination, and why she has talked of a baby.

A character who takes such a drastic step is a handy device for asking fundamental questions about the purpose of life and the gross inequalities on this planet. Yet despite a compelling performance from Maxine Peake, who brings a concentrated moral intensity and ghostly post-traumatic stillness to the part of Jane, there is insufficient texture in the characterisation, and not enough back-history. "India does strange things to people," declares Frances, but in Edmundson's stilted, plodding play what it chiefly does is make folk sound like debating positions rather than psychologically complex persons. Letters from charities have, it seems, driven Jane to a state of mind where her worries about her own son (whether he'll learn to read as quickly as he should, pass exams and go to college etc) feel guiltily luxurious in a world where Albanian orphans pace the bars of their cots like animals or where poverty-stricken Indian villages smother newborn girls because there is no money for dowries.

We never get to the bottom, though, of why Jane has come to see love of family and active compassion for humankind as mutually exclusive. She has deserted her little boy, who thinks that it is his fault that she left. The play does not seem to take into account exactly how much that severance discredits her idealism in advance.

Glamorous Harry Dillon plays Srinavas, the handsome, young, Oxbridge-educated Indian who runs the children's shelter, and who puts moral and amatory pressure on Jane to forge a new life of charitable service in India. Again, though, this character's views are compromised before they can have due impact by his smarmy sexual vanity, his selfish mixed motives, his pleasure in goading Jane's husband into ugly outbursts of lame-brained racism, and his evident preference for abstract righteousness over practical love. Little Englander Mark may be in many ways a limited man with some unfortunate instincts, but I suspect that it's with his beleaguered confusion and incredulity that audiences will most identify.

To 13 July (020-7565 5000)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn