Theatre / Sound and fury

Hurlyburly Queen's Theatre, London

One thing that has to be said about Hurlyburly: it lives up to its title about as thoroughly as any play I've seen. It sets a murderous pace with the opening tableau, when we see a wired, drunken Eddie screaming blue murder at the back of the stage while a TV blares out a breathless MTV stew of noise, and barely slows down for the next two and half hours.

The action of David Rabe's play takes place in the house in the Hollywood Hills that Eddie shares with his friend Mickey. Here, they and their associates Phil and Artie drink, snort lines of coke, toke up, idealise or mistreat women, and shout at each other a lot. There are occasional bursts of actual violence, mostly from Phil, a borderline psychotic; but mostly, what hits you is the force of language - torrents of justified paranoia and frenzied, bullshit eloquence spew out, mostly from Rupert Graves's brilliant, viciously self-pitying Eddie, "hardly a viable social entity", a loser caught up in a self-destructive struggle to bring "clarity" into his life.

The effect is, a lot of the time, hilarious, frightening and fascinating. There are marvellous non sequiturs (asked what qualifies him to talk about Freud, Phil answers "I've been in prison," as if it's so obvious he can't believe anybody asked the question), berserker assaults on each other's egos, offhandedly virtuoso riffs of misogyny. And the performances are mostly excellent: David Tennant's self-controlled, empty Mickey, Andy Serkis's whingeing, macho Phil, Susannah Doyle's hard-as-nails balloon dancer.

But at times, it all gets too much; the words dissolve into one another, meaning and direction vanish, and you start to wonder when the interval's coming up. Possibly this is intentional, a demonstration of how language masks meaning ("I know what I'm saying," Eddie says. "I don't know what I mean, but I know what I'm saying"). There's a fundamental philosophical coherence underpinning the play.

It's no accident that this is set in Hollywood, the place where the concern with externals is taken to extremes - no accident, either, that Eddie and Mickey are casting directors, paid to judge people purely as bundles of characteristics, or that they are separated from their wives and children. (It's worth noting that Hurlyburly dates from 1984, the same year as Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, which covered much the same ground: clever, directionless young men with jobs in the media, broken marriages at their backs and bad drug habits.)

Rabe's concern seems to be to take men in extremis and to use them to demonstrate the fundamental human failure to take account of other people's feelings. Trying to piece together a row with his wife, Phil says that all he could see was a cloud that looked like her - when he hit it, he didn't expect it to really hurt. Later, Eddie observes: "We're all just background in each other's life."

Whether this is enough to justify the periods of dislocation and tedium, or Eddie's drab attempts at self-justification is a moot point. But at least all this sound and fury signifies something.

Queen's, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1 (0171-494 5040). Mon-Sat 8pm; Wed mat 3pm; Sat mat 4pm

Robert Hanks

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape