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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Jerwood Theatre, Royal Court


  Jonjo O’Neill, Tamara Lawrance and Richard Pyros/ Ph: Matt Humphrey

In light of the recent massacres in Orlando and Nice, the attempted coup in Turkey, and the killing of three policemen in Baton Rouge, the Royal Court – which has so often provided the litmus paper on which the fingerprint of contemporary life has been accurately captured – now offers us a trivial mishmash of a play, devised in rehearsal (a la Mike Lee) by writer/director Anthony Neilson and his cast of six. It’s called Unreachable, and it’s a satire of sorts on the excesses and madness of the film industry.
The central character is Maxim (Matt Smith), an egomaniac auteur in the mould of Michael Cimino, who, having just won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes, is about to embark on a new film with Carl (Richard Pyros), his long-standing cameraman, and Anastasia (Amanda Drew), his resident producer. It’s called Child of Ashes, a post-apocalyptic epic fashionably described as dystopian, and has been on their drawing board for at least 10 years.
For some reason, however, the high-strung Maxim cannot bring himself to shout “Action!” and instead of shooting the script, spends day after day rehearsing his leading lady Natasha (Tamara Lawrance) in scenes she has already nailed. Maxim’s delaying tactics include wanting to change from digital to celluloid, his rampant hypochondria and, more elusively, waiting until he finds “the right kind of light,” which means shooting only at dusk or dawn.
Further sabotaging the project is the appearance of the film’s leading man, a completely over-the-top peroxided Ukrainian actor called Ivan but also known as “the Brute.” Motivated by anger and dangerous with it, Ivan is clearly off his rocker. He’s violent, carries a gun and, for most of the time, talks arrant nonsense. As played by Jonjo O’Neill, the character simultaneously saves the play from the tedious morass into which it has slowly been sinking while at the same time sending it off in a direction that bears no relation to what has come before.
Unreachable has an unsettled, unfocused air of improvisation about it. It’s a work in progress, if you like, not at all helped by what would appear to be O’Neill’s penchant for the occasional ad-lib, which, at the performance I attended, “corpsed” the rest of the cast on more than one occasion.
Smith, on the other hand, who looks like a giant praying mantis, has real stage presence and charisma and does his best with what is basically a two-dimensional portrait of self-aggrandisement. What he cannot do is convince us that Maxim has greatness in him. This guy hardly seems capable of winning a bet, let alone winning the Palme d’Or.
In a cast that also includes deaf actress Genevieve Barr as a representative of the company financing Child of Ashes, the most rounded performance is given by Tamara Lawrance, whose ability as the film’s leading lady to show profound emotion while remaining coldly detached outside of the performance, really vexes her director, who believes in order to show real pain you have to feel real pain.
The play’s final moments, however, provide a genuine coup de’theatre. What had been a dreary studio set with a few props and some sliding screens suddenly morphs – courtesy of designer Chloe Lamford and a hefty chunk of the play’s budget – into an enchanted, light-infused forest that until now had only existed in Maxim’s imagination. But it’s too little too late.


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