Playing The Victim, Royal Court Upstairs, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In theatrical parlance, the term "corpsing" is used to describe the attempted muffling of mirth by actors caught off-guard on stage.

In theatrical parlance, the term "corpsing" is used to describe the attempted muffling of mirth by actors caught off-guard on stage.

It is also a term which perfectly describes the bizarre line of work of the protagonist of Playing the Victim, the new play by the Presnyakov Brothers, the Siberian siblings who wowed UK audiences earlier this year with Terrorism.

A cynical university drop-out, Valya makes an easy living impersonating murder victims in police video reconstructions. Played with a sullen disaffection by Andrew Scott, he believes that you can avoid the disagreeable things in life by tactically opting for less unpleasant alternatives. For instance, by fumbling with your chopsticks over dinner, you try your family'spatience, and consequently you do not have to do the washing-up. In the same vein, by feigning death professionally every day, you can outwit mortality by vaccinating yourself with a bit of what you are trying to avoid; a despairingly wishful logic.

Conducted in a pay toilet, a public swimming baths and a Japanese-themed restaurant, the murder reconstructions give us deadpan comic glimpses (expertly served by Sasha Dugdale's adroit translation) into life in post-Communist Russia, where going to prison is viewed by one character as something to be envied, as it is such an excellent place to make useful contacts. The Ortonesque chief inspector, played by Paul Hunter, bewails a younger generation who "don't give a flying fuck about fucking anything" and freaks out when he reflects that, by now, they are in charge of the country's nuclear reactors.

Directed with flair and invention by Richard Wilson, this collaboration between the Royal Court and the movement-based Told By Company contains witty, self-reflexive scenes that burst like a violent surprise from the flaps and apertures of the small, grungy set.

During the reconstruction in the exotic Japanese-themed restaurant, the chief inspector dies of food poisoning, necessitating a video reconstruction of a homicide committed during the murder reconstruction. As the tape is rewound, the chief inspector's dying drool can be seen slowly crawling back into his mouth.

At the play's conclusion, two screenwriters - one male, one female - discuss the possibilities of a scenario that sounds suspiciously akin to that of the play itself, except the crass male writer voices his wish to include a prank-playing gynaecologist and a love interest. A fittingly droll and dark coda.

To 4 October (020-7565 5000)

Comments