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A CurtainUp London Review

"There isn't a coffee shop
What the complete fuck is this place
I've been in Guatamalan slum towns that have coffee shops
I've been on remote prison-islands that have coffee shops
I've been on abandoned and possible haunted oil-rigs that have coffee shops . . . ."
— Professor
Sophia Di Martino as Daughter and Abraham Popoola as Person (Photo: Helen Murray)
There are some of us who do not "get" the Theatre of the Absurd and Rory Mullarkey's Pity at the Royal Court seems to hark back to the absurd. Of course if the Royal Court present your play, you can be sure that the resulting production will be admirable, and in this case there will be lots to laugh at. "But what does it all mean?" I hear you ask.

So, as the heatwave should be pulling us into the silly season when there is little or no news to report, just the opposite is happening this year when Brexit fills the headlines and the Prime Minister is facing cabinet resignations and rebels in her own party. So what can make us feel better about the political chaos as we approach the negotiations where the EU will ensure that no other EU nation will want to leave the union with the massive punitive damages proposed that the UK will pay?

Maybe the feel good factor of a play where two bombs go off in one day in a small provincial town with no coffee shop, as if that were possible? A brass band has warmed us up and an ice cream seller cools us down by passing out cones with sugar sprinkles (£2 each).

Director Sam Pritchard allows his disparate cast of assorted townsfolk to side step across the stage, looking over their shoulders, heads facing the audience with an overly dramatic fixed stare. Francesca Mills draws our attention with her big beautiful blue eyes, her diminutive stature and a whole myriad of cute, expressive facial gestures. As she disappears behind the shredded black, shiny, plastic, bin bags curtain, a flick of the head and a defiant arm gesture make us laugh out loud.

As someone called the Person, our hero played by Abraham Popoola narrates the scene in the town square "There's someone with a dog", cue: procession of townsfolk with those toy dogs on fixed leads that look as if they are pulling along their walker; then "And someone without a dog" cue: the same procession but with the leads and empty collars where once a pooch pulled.

As the Person watches The Professor in socks and sandals (Paul Bentall) verbally beats up his daughter's choice of town with a Brexit type diatribe on why he cannot call this town "our country". The lack of coffee shop makes him recall all the isolated obscure places in the world with a coffee shop! As Daughter, Sophia Di Martino has to listen to her father's criticism, which he doles out with lashings of telling his daughter why he loves her. It is a classic paternalistic control situation twinning abuse with protestations of love. Thank goodness the Professor is killed by a lightning bolt!

Daughter in a kind gesture has bought Person an ice cream and he proposes to her and absurdly they get married. Two bombs go off and the paratroopers arrive with balletic moves. This production is starting to look like a version of The Play That Went Wrong crossed with Monty Python as doilies and napkins rain down from one blown up guest house and chintz cushions from another. It is a designer's dream for Chloe Lamford.

Warfare ensues with explosions and strobe lighting, each side of three killed and exiting to the death march before returning to fight another day. There is an excessive amount of strobe so beware those who are vulnerable to it. A lone postwoman, Sal (Siobhan McSweeney) has a long poetic monologue about continuing to deliver the mail in the midst of the destruction of warfare.

The cast work very hard in multiple roles but suspending disbelief is an uphill battle when all is absurd. Abraham Popoola demonstrates his exciting range from Othello to Julius Caesar to comedy, and next to Pinter, and Sophia Di Martino is a delightful heroine. The special effects team have worked very hard to give us everything from rain to explosions to cannibalism and yes, things at home could get a lot worse.

The slang dictionary tells us malarkey means insincere, meaningless, or deliberately misleading talk; nonsense or exaggerated or foolish talk, usually intended to deceive. Can this be accidental?

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Written by Rory Mullarkey
Directed by Sam Pritchard
Starring: Abraham Popoola, Sophia Di Martino, Sandy Grierson, Helena Lymbery, Siobhan McSweeney, Francesca Mills, Paul Bentall, Paul G Raymond, Dorian Simpson
Set Design: Chloe Lamford
Costume Design: Annemarie Woods
Sound Design: Pete Malkin
Lighting Design: Anna Watson
Composer: Tom Deering
Movement: Sasha Milavic Davies
Running time: One hour 35 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 11th August 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th July 2018 performances at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court Theatre, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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