Wild East, Royal Court, London
Wednesday 09 February 2005
Frank is a young man with an anthropology degree from Lampeter and the interpersonal skills of a self-destructive nerd from central casting.
Frank is a young man with an anthropology degree from Lampeter and the interpersonal skills of a self-destructive nerd from central casting. He wants to live in Russia for romantic reasons: to be near a female fellow-anthropologist whose "archive on shamanic implements has to be seen to be believed". Accordingly, in April De Angelis's new play Wild East, he arrives for an interview for a job in market research in the rampant, capitalism-red-in-tooth-and-claw world of post-Communist Russia.
Very amusingly played by Tom Brooke as a vivid demonstration that failure is 99 per cent perspiration, Frank is not a natural in sharp-suited business surroundings. It's just his luck that the woman he chattily takes to be another candidate is one of the two formidable female interviewers waiting to film their interrogation of him.
I took a private bet, though, that by the end of this 85-minute drama, Frank would be prepared to smash all his values to get the post - and he does, almost literally (and to my mind highly artificially), through the wanton destruction of a beautiful ancient object.
The play is often very funny, and it contains some long speeches where De Angelis's ability to conjure up in words a dollar-hungry world where the devil takes the hindmost is disturbingly felt. There's a bit where one of the interviewers asks Frank to imagine that he's in a hotel in a new Russian boom-town. A prostitute pays him an unwanted visit and slumps over from drugs before he can show her the door. He has to call "security", but security is the last thing on security's mind. Before the resisting Frank is kicked unconscious, he's subjected to moral blackmail. How would he like to live in a place where, to survive, men had "to bring [foreign visitors] women they didn't even have the guts to fuck"?
It's probably a set-up; that's how crime works. And De Angelis overstates this point in her depiction of the condoned crime of big business as itself operating as a series of set-ups and set-ups within set-ups. In a way that Phyllida Lloyd's sharply etched, punchily acted production can't reclaim, the play becomes more and more irritatingly improbable on the simple, non-metaphorical level. Would two hard-nosed corporate types such as Dr Pitt (Sylvestra Le Touzel) and Helen Schlesinger's Dr Gray expose their messy mutual love-lives to an interviewer (particularly when the encounter is being filmed), except to illustrate the point that the pair are themselves the nervous likely victims of a set-up in a world where "continual restructuring is the future"?
From the outset, I was haunted by a sense of déjà vu. Not surprising: Joe Penhall's Dumb Show, a main-stage Royal Court play last year, had a very similar set-up about, well, set-ups. That had a couple of sting journalists trying to entrap a comedian. But the focus on the contradictions of capitalist freedom was more concentrated there, and the dramaturgy was tighter. One play where three is company on this stage is fine; two of them so close together begin to look like a crowd.
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