At one point in Matthew Dunster’s new play an earnest young man launches into a ten minute diatribe against the oil companies who are raping the natural world. He leaps from one desperate injustice to another, becoming increasingly depressed at the impossibility of a quest which is as epic as it is important. There’s just too much to care about, leaving him exhausted and frustrated.
The same could be said of this play. Dunster’s writing is laced with a kind of brutal humour which engages for a while. But he tries to cover so much ground that you begin to feel as if you’re being beaten into a submission. Statements are thrown about that dare us to care, generalisations are made about people’s selfishness and inability to see into the future, attacks are made against big business and perceived capitalist ideals. In an increasingly hysterical manner, Dunster begs his audience to see the bigger picture, to not simply think of themselves and their children but to think (you’ve guessed it) of our children’s children.
In a play full of ghastly characters this is hard to do. I found it difficult to warm to any of the people who are making Dunster’s case for human empathy; I care not a jot for them, their children or, for that matter, their children’s children. This is a problem.
Michael, Gordon and Sally are age-old friends who all once had their dreams of stardom. Only Michael made it however, as a ‘Saturday Night Live’ man in the mould of Michael Barrymore. He now lives in a plush pad in West London with matching interior decoration and a new blonde wife. Meanwhile the stresses of being out of work actors have taken their toll on Gordon and Sally. But when Gordon rounds up his pretty family (his sulky daughter and her earnest boyfriend) and goes to Michael cap in hand, the cracks in their relationships start to show; cracks which by the end of Dunster’s play have become crevices.
The action jumps forward in time, with monthly and then yearly gaps breaking up the increasingly emotionally fraught scenes. From the outset Robert Innes Hopkins’ design sets the tone for the evening with its brash, bold, and somewhat obvious style. Each new location screams of sophisticated western civilisation, a place where money really does make the world go round.
In this worrying environment of compromise people can and do change. Michael follows his urges in to places he shouldn’t, while Castro, the rebel with too many causes, ends up realising he’s on to a good thing with the increasingly successful Effie. Dunster has a tendency to underline his points too heavily and what begins as a recognisable situation ends up as an emotional explosion.
The cast take all this in their stride, giving controlled and often very funny performances. Trevor Fox pushes the limits with his aggressive desperation as Gordon, whilst Darrell D’Silva lends Michael more gravitas than this character possibly deserves. But despite these not inconsiderable strengths, it’s hard to escape from the fact that these people are hard to like and even harder to care about.