Theatre: A bleak vision of humanity

Roberto Zucco, RSC Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Roberto Zucco dramatises an attitude problem - with attitude and chic. But what makes it such a queasily compelling experience is the attitude problem implicit in its own at once shruggingly cool, comic, and soaringly romantic position on what it takes to be a false antithesis: the evil outsider and society at large.

Written by Bernard-Marie Koltes (the celebrated young French dramatist who died of AIDS in 1989), the play was inspired by a real-life wanted poster on the Metro showing four very different shots of a beautiful youth who had killed his mother and father and just escaped from life imprisonment.

Unfolding in a series of 15 snapshot-like scenes, the play takes its paranoid schizophrenic of a protagonist through a litany of matricide, rape and child murder, all committed in the matter-of-fact yet driven manner of someone who regards the rest of mankind as a regrettable mistake, just a mass of potential killers. It ends with his second escape from jail, this time in a toppling Icarus-like fall from the prison roof.

The idea that it is just moral luck and a lack of opportunity that stops most of us strangling dear old mum is a corruption of the instinct for compassion towards criminals.

By assembling a highly selective, somewhat Brechtian "sample"-group of non-imprisoned folk round the floundering desperate figure of Roberto - played here by an excellently inward-staring Zubin Varla - Koltes contrives the conditions whereby he can satirise society's hypocritical reactions to violent, affectless evil and head off, himself, into ambivalent but intense identification with the title character.

Keeping a poker face even in the midst of passion, James Macdonald's sardonic, powerfully conceived production heightens our sense of the mind- sets on display by mirroring them in the theatrical set. At the Other Place, the audience sits on either side of a thin, often neon-lit strip of track that, like a sinister adult version of a children's toy, is a site where people who can only think in straight lines are bound to come into brutal collision. Slid-on objects minimalistically evoke the various ports of call in this downward-plunging pilgrim's anti-progress that comes across at times like a re-write of Mamet's Edmond by Mark (Shopping and Fucking) Ravenhill.

You are pulled into a world apparently devoid of decency or, indeed, mood stabilising drugs. A crowd watch Zucco holding a woman and son at gunpoint hostage in a park with all the moral nous and sensitivity of the TV audience on one of Ricki Lake's synthetic slanging matches. The brother of the girl Roberto may have raped switches, almost instantaneously as a result, from suffocating protectiveness to contemptuous pimpdom, putting her on the game. In Martin Crimp's tonally astute translation, a hard-boiled detective declares that "My policy would be to minimise pimps, maximise dead bodies" - a statement that, in its second half, doesn't evince overweening respect from this force for the individual.

With a beaten-up Zucco reduced to pining, into a broken pay-phone, to be taken away to "snowy Africa", this is a bleak vision of humanity and a pretty tendentious one.

Macdonald's production has the measure of it in more ways than one. Every so often, a phantasmal, luminous oblong steals across the stage, ambiguously reminiscent of a prison cell window or of a death-like route of escape. Murdered bodies leave, briefly, a shadowy stain of light on the floor: one reckons this staging of Roberto Zucco will leave a longer-lasting stain on the imagination.

Booking: 01789 295623

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