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A CurtainUp London Review
Grimly Handsome
"This thing, listen, it won't be good for you. It's already such a mess. It literally doesn't even work half the time." — Natalia
Grimly Handsomev
Outside scene from Grimly Handsome (Photo: Johan Persson)
Julia Jarcho's play won the Obie in 2013 for best new play. The Obies are the New York equivalent of our own Off /West End plays, the Offies, as Obie stands for Off Broadway awards. There is an elaborate installation available to the audience before the play starts but this isn't clearly pre-advertised and is misleading.

We stumbled upon a scene of crime place where scene of crime tape and an investigation tent have been constructed manned by white suited scene of crime officers. What was pre-advertised was that Grimly Handsome is a darkly comic thriller but I would have substituted the word obscure for darkly comic and experiment for thriller.

In the first act we meet two sellers of Christmas trees (Alex Austin and Alex Beckett), men from Eastern Europe who speak in their own language an English without accents but when they speak in English they have heavily accented expression. This device is often used to play in English while differentiating people speaking in their own language although it, at first, seems counter intuitive. The men are selling very expensive Christmas trees and exchanging memories about their homeland. I had a problem with one of the men, Alesh being described as exceptionally handsome but he wasn't, just clean shaven and younger than the other one, Gregor, who had a beard. Not even grimly handsome. It is important to the plot that the man should be very handsome in order to attract the girl Natalia (Amaka Okafor).

The scenes are partially played in the room with the audience and partially played outside and fed on video to us or seen through the windows. We hear that there have been some murders at Christmas going on for seven years and the murders have mostly been kept secret from the public but that news is now leaking out and the murderer has been dubbed the Christmas Ripper.

Part of the confusion for me was in the lack of delineation between the ten characters played by just three actors with little concession by way of dress to a differentiation of person. So in the second act when the Christmas tree sellers re-emerge as policemen, I really wasn't sure whether we were looking at perpetrators or detectives. However, the man they are interviewing about the murders, is the victim of the previous scene played by Amaka Okafor now in men's clothing.

The final scene is called the Lesser Pandas, the smaller bear like creatures we know here as Red Pandas who look nothing like the Giant Pandas, but just to confuse things the video footage playing is of Giant Pandas. These pandas are no longer living in the zoo but scavenging for food and their diet which probably wasn't bamboo to start with, is popcorn and Twizzlers, a confection thankfully unknown here. The words absurdist and nonsense come to mind.

The Christmas themed installations are very detailed but have little to do with the plot or atmosphere of the play and I am sorry to say that none of it made me think deeply or engaged me to distract from the lack of comfort of sitting on foam rubber on wood for one and a half hours. Like the child in "The Emperor's New Clothes", this production was not handsome but grim.

All credit to the Royal Court for going out on an experimental limb, albeit one that on being seen, is ripe for amputation.

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Grimly Handsome
by Julia Jarcho
Production created by Chloe Lamford and Sam Pritchard
With: Alex Austin, Alex Beckett, Amaka Okafor
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 23rd December 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th December 2017 performance at The Site, the Royal Court , Sloane Square London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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