The Water Engine, Theatre 503, London SW11
Tuesday 28 June 2005
Produced by Direct Action in collaboration with the Young Vic, and subtitled An American Fable, we are in Depression era Chicago, as the 1934 Century of Progress Exhibition opens. Charles Lang has invented an engine that will run on nothing more than water, and has come to town to have it patented. But soon this idealist finds himself engulfed by the shadowy forces of big business.
It only takes four actors to populate a bustling Chicago in Tom Wright's appropriately inventive production. Pace is of the essence. Characters promenade on the spot, creating a relentless sense of movement.
That Paul Chequer's blinky, nervous, classic American everyman inventor remains constant as Lang, while the other actors transform, only serves to increase our share in his unease as the people he can trust become fewer and further between. Nothing is spared in ratcheting up the tension over the scant hour of the piece.
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as the enforcer for the faceless corporation which wants to buy Charles's idea – to exploit it or bury it – has the sinister might of paranoid capitalism in every corner of his rich baritone.
Actors turn percussionists to deliver a vivid series of sound effects, an ingenious and affectionate nod to the radio days of the period, and the play's own origins (written for radio in 1977 and later adapted for the stage). Rattling and clanging on Robert Innes Hopkins' three-sided cage of a set, they create everything from the clamour of a newsroom to the clatter of a period elevator. Props are palmed and mimed, left to our imagination, another nod to the radio of the piece's birth.
David Holmes's lighting design, through an ever-present gossamer gauze of smoke, lends the playing area a sepia tinge – perfect for the period.
In one scene Mamet juxtaposes his central character, who would willingly precipitate the downfall of oil, with a soap-box speaker espousing the virtues of Communism. That Mamet's comments on oil and American capitalism – that give the play a bang-up-to-date feel – are allowed impressive and subtle space to breathe is testimony to this incisive production.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 Say yes to 'no-poo': It's been three years since I stopped washing my hair
- 4 Grandmas keep accidentally tagging themselves as Grandmaster Flash on Facebook
- 5 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Fifty Shades of Grey movie: New picture of Anastasia Steele unveiled
Star Trek 3 to begin shooting in next six months
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Robin Thicke’s hit 'Blurred Lines' lands him in court, and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'