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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Playing the Victim
by Ben Clover

If people think you're being punished as it is, they never punish you any more
--- Valya
This is a mysterious play, ostensibly about murder and memory, but we quickly wonder what is going on altogether. Performed by the excellent Told By An Idiot Company and directed by Richard Wilson, I expected something a smidgen more cogent but had underestimated the archness of the script.

The second play at the Royal Court this year by fashionable Russians, the Presnyakov Brothers, Playing The Victim is about death on the set of a crime reconstruction unit. With such a fabulous inside out and lost-in-the-Postmodern idea, it seems perverse that they chose not to run with it. The play meanders likeably enough but doesn't go anywhere. A student gets a job playing the victim in police reconstructions, to "inoculate himself against death" and well, that's it for plot. At the end a writer meets an obnoxious director and pitches the idea for Playing The Victim which is distorted horribly by the director. Perhaps the play, as we have seen it, is the purer version the writer outlines in the final scene? Is this a comment on the tensions between writer and director? Creator and interpreter? Or is it just a postmodern fig leaf for the aimlessness of the play?

The Presnyakovs specialise in non, semi and sort-of sequiturs and the cast make a virtue of their strange humour. Told By An Idiot and Richard Wilson perform and stage the piece with great aplomb and ingenuity. Every actor is excellent and the Japanese "Lady With Mysterious Past" (Amanda Lawrence) deserves her own show.

The set ingeniously becomes a swimming pool, restaurant and dingy flat often and the witty scene changes often win applause But whatever the slickness of the production, there is a certain awkwardness to the writing that hobbles things somewhat. Like their previous play, Terrorism, this has much in common with Ionesco. It shares his big ideas and wordy set pieces, the kind of thing you don't often see on the British stage and a style we are perhaps unused to. Although wry and thoughtful it remained unsatisfying.

Playing the Victim
Written by the Presnyakov Brothers
Translated by Sasha Dugdale
Directed by Richard Wilson

With: Andrew Scott, Paul Hunter, Hayley Carmichael, Michael Glenn Murphy, Amanda Lawrence, Ferdy Roberts
Designer: Nicolai Hart Hansen
Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Running time: One hours 35 minutes with no interval .
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 4th October 2003
Reviewed by Ben Clover based on 2nd September 2003 Performance at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1 (Tube Station: Sloane Square)
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