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A CurtainUp London Review
God in Ruins
This new commission could be styled as a playfully dark take on Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Beginning with a post-happy ending look at a reformed, perky Scrooge (Sean Kearns) who plagues his clerk Bob Cratchit (Patrick O'Kane) with his "merriment so extreme that it causes misery in others". He cart-wheels, throws snowballs and still turns up to Christmas
The action then leaps to the modern day equivalent of Ebenezer: the lone workaholic, family-neglecting man, divorced from his wife and separated from his children at Christmas. The main protagonist and embodiment of this is Brian (Brian Doherty), a television producer of low quality, populist reality shows such as Chimp monastery, Pimp my Pooch, and Fit and Frightened. Within his metallic, minimalist flat, the only ornaments are cubby holes filled with alcohol bottles. Foul-mouthed, racist, homophobic and drunk, Brian is scarcely a likeable character.
After witnessing various examples of his despicable behaviour, Brian is treated to a revealing and redemptive haunting by his dead father (Sam Cox). Guilty of neglecting his own family, this ghost is ironically punished by 700 wives, permanently sheds confetti and has fingers laden with rings.
Within this journey of personal redemption, there are multiple scenes presenting the phenomenon of the male sex: a drug-addled party, a therapy group where the men learn to "abuse their inner-child" and a rather crassly metatheatrical interlude where a homeless man enters the auditorium to beg for money. I particularly liked the scene set within an online virtual game, where Brian walks among brilliantly coloured avatars with their funky space-age plastic suits and spiky hair.
The cast show admirable versatility in tackling these scenes and the diverse vignettes add a varied texture to the play. However, they are not all integral to its plot or emotion. As a result, the play lacks a certain cohesion and discipline. Also, although provocative and challenging, the character of Brian is so thoroughly detestable that the audience are alienated from him and his plight by the end of the first fifteen minutes. He is obviously meant to be an embodiment of the maxim that unhappiness breeds nasty behaviour, but some of the abominable prejudices he utters are inexcusable even in the depths of his alcohol-fazed state. Moreover, the integrity of his redemption is undermined as it is centred upon Brian's own selfish desire to see his child, rather than these vicious character traits. Although the acting is strong and the writing naturalistic, the script is in serious need of tightening. For a play which ranges from Scrooge to Second Life and tackles such variety with energy and modernity , this is perhaps to be expected.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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