Time was you couldn't move for brutal inner-city dramas at this address, and Jez Butterworth's 1995 debut, Mojo, was a prime, blackly comic gangland example. Yet the Royal Court has taken to the country with some wonderful backwater plays including Richard Bean's recent pig-farming saga, Harvest. In 2002, Butterworth's The Night Heron took us into deepest, darkest East Anglia, and now The Winterling - his long-awaited third script - is set in a derelict cottage on Dartmoor. However, the occupant, Robert Glenister's louring West, and his mud-splattered visitors - Wally and his sidekick Patsy - clearly hail from London's criminal East End, with scores to settle. It's a bit like Harold Pinter crossed with Guy Ritchie plus Withnail And I.
British Theatre needs more gangsters like a hole in the head, and Butterworth's themes are somewhat crudely obvious: hard men covertly loving each other, being scared or fleetingly supportive but also savagely competitive. Ultimately the characters feel two-dimensional.
Still, this is a menacing and quirkily farcical piece with some startling plot developments. Butterworth has an ear for droll slang while his dialogue's aggressive, rhythmic reiterations feel like rapid punches. His longer monologues can drag, but the way conversations veer off surreally then suddenly loop back is disconcerting. Ian Rickson's production hardly puts a foot wrong. Ultz's set is eerily bleak, with a sheep's skull over the fireplace and blackened chimney stack stretching away into the darkness. The acting is spot-on as well. Glenister's beefy, pale and staring West (pictured) is palpably dangerous while Daniel Mays' Patsy is a fierce and hilariously spindly cockney clown, twitching in his pork-pie hat.
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