Theatre review: Purple Heart, Gate Theatre, London



A comrade of a deceased combatant visits his bereaved family. We know the drill, we know the score of this time-honoured dramatic trope. Don't we?

Some wars are more justified than others; all wars screw people up; in the contact between the military and civilian worlds, emotions are stirred and secrets are uncovered, to the point of painful mutual enlightenment. With studied political incorrectness and a sort of levelly hilarious verbal bravura, the American playwright Bruce Norris flings aside the rule book in Purple Heart. 

Known on these shores mainly for his provocative race-relations comedy, Clybourne Park, he's a  dramatist valued for his nifty footwork in finding and trampling upon current pieties. The play is set in the midwest in 1972 and it was written and first performed (in Chicago) in 2002.

Watching Christopher Haydon's wonderfully well-acted English premiere, the work's temporal provenance  – composed between the atrocities of 9/ll and the invasion of Iraq – is powerfully apparent.

The family of the deceased (who was killed in Vietnam) is, to put it mildly, dysfunctional. It's not just the hearing aid of Linda Broughton's gabbily interfering mother-in-law --, inclined to emit a piercing whistle – that is on the blink. Heavily into novelty-item fake blood and trick knives. Thor (Oliver Coopersmith) seems to be headed for a career of permanent teenage loser-dom. The widow (Amelia Lowdell) is agitated less by grief than a thwarted desire for liquor – “no one ever tells you that a military transport isn't going to have a beverage service...

Trevor White is quite superb as the corporal who infiltrates this set-up – handsome, punctilious almost worryingly tranquil and absorptive of gaze and manner. You'd want to shake him by his prosthetic hand. Or would you? Still waters run deep (and he has a hip flask). Tricksily, his “real” relationship to the proceeding emerges in a series of muffled detonations. Spoiler alert. I will confine myself to saying that I was reminded of a plot development in Pedro Almodovar's finest movie. Talk To Her.

Part of the joy of Norris's writing comes from egregious and comic mismatch between the level of articulacy one would naturalistically expect from these characters and the bizarre arias and riffs of hallucinatory eloquence that the scripts vouchsafes them, as when the mother-in-law inveighs against the near-solipsism of what passes for affection in our times, referring to people's “whimsy which they have the poor judgement to call love thereby casually slandering the word love itself.” Great stuff.

To April 6; 020 7229 0706

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk