No Quarter, Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London
Thursday 17 January 2013
At the grand old age of twenty-six, Polly Stenham is back at the Royal Court with a play that – almost to the point of self-parody at times – works variations on themes she developed in That Face, her precocious debut, and its follow-up Tusk Tusk.
Once again, we are in a blackly comic world where poor little privileged kids pay the emotional price for the instability and indulgence of their parents. Abandoned by her husband, the alcoholic mother in That Face burdened her son with the duties of lover, parent and playmate. The maternal figure went AWOL in Tusk Tusk, leaving her home-alone children to cope with the potentially Lord of the Flies-style consequences.
Premiered in Jeremy Herrin's assured, beautifully paced production, No Quarter feels like an odd amalgamation of those earlier scenarios. The play is set in a remote country house, which reeks of the eccentric “landed gypsy” class in Tom Scutt's gloriously cluttered cabinet-of-curiosities design.
Portrayed with a despairingly decadent, scowling flamboyance by Tom Sturridge, Robin is the younger son whose isolated upbringing here by a possessive home-schooling mother has left him fatally ill-adapted for the modern world. A music school drop-out, he's fled into drink and drugs.
The incestuous closeness of their bond is communicated in the scene where he helps his mother, now sick with dementia, to commit suicide but it turns out that, instead of bequeathing it to him, she has sold the beloved home to property developers. On the night before they are due to the take possession, the defiantly squatting Robin throws the mother of all wild parties.
Herrin has gathered an excellent cast for this anarchic shindig – including Taron Egerton as a drug-dealing ex-squaddie who seems to be nursing a ludicrous crush for our hero and Zoe Boyle and Joshua James as the posh pervy twins who have been sent on a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern mission by Robin's older, responsible MP brother.
But though the piece is filled with good jokes and is artfully structured, I found myself overwhelmingly irritated by Robin, whose pose of romantic rebellion seemed to me, despite Sturridge's fine performance, comprehensively non-seductive or pitiable. True, when the brother moralises at length at the end about his sibling's selfishness, we know something that he doesn't which complicates our estimate.
But this still doesn't muster the requisite ambivalence. Nor does No Quarter break any new ground.
To 9 Feb; 020 7565 5000
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food