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A CurtainUp London London Review

Liam, we don't have any children.— Connie
Jan Pearson
(Photo: Johan Persson)
Anthony Neilson's latest play is a mystery thriller with no solution. In the tiny Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Relocated is set behind a permanent, dark hessian screen which when lit from behind shows the blurred figures of the actors giving the stage a cinematic quality.

The references are to well known criminals and horrific crimes: Ian Huntley, the schoolkeeper who, with the later connivance of his girl friend providing him with an alibi, murdered two school girls in Soham, Cambridgshire; Josef Fritzl, the Austrian who built a bunker under his house to keep his daughter there for incestuous sex and fathered her children and in turn, abused them. These are the most terrible crimes, awful things to face up to, hard to believe that people are capable of such cruelty and not a comfortable night out at the theatre contemplating them.

I'll come clean and tell you that I did not understand Relocated. At a perceptual level I felt disturbed by the experience and sometimes a bit scared but I also felt detached, uninvolved with the performance which had the artificiality of always being a performance and not a reality. The play obviously affects people in different ways; a woman next to me in the audience found it funny. The temperature in the theatre has been turned right down so that you will be physically chilled when watching.

The play opens with a woman (Jan Pearson) who falls to the ground while she is vacuuming the carpet. She has been vacuuming the carpet for some time as the audience wind in from the far side of the screen. Occasionally one audience member will lose his path and have to be retrieved by an usher from trying to walk through the screen to get to the seats on the other side. A man (Stuart McQuarrie) calls for her and tells her that it is time to move on. Is she dead and on her way to Hell? Is the rest of this play Hell? At the end of the play, she is lying on the carpet and gets up so we might have been watching her dream, who knows? But where is the vacuum cleaner which she was holding when she fell down?

None of the cast are given names in the programme so there are no clues there as to who their characters might allude to. Jan Pearson's character moves to a flat where she is puzzled by the voices in the school playground below at 4 am. She meets the bizarre Nicola Walker, who has a very artificial upper class accent, confesses her penchant for detective work and talks about cakes all in a very artificial and affected manner. They talk about a child, Molly, who disappeared when she was ten and who was murdered two years before. The scene switches to Connie (Frances Grey) and Liam (Stuart McQuarrie), Connie wanted to do the crossword but Liam dropped the newspaper in the bath so they argue. Then Liam talks about children and hearing them upstairs and Connie says, "But Liam we don't have any children." The scene changes to a German man (Phil McKee) talking about his bunker having moved to England. The anagram of his name that he adopts in England to conceal his identity seems to hark back to Connie's crossword technique. There is a gory scene when the bath overflows and blood mixed with water drips down onto the tee shirt of the "Huntley" figure and another when a man arrives onstage with a penis and testicles where his nose and eyes should be as a woman talks about sex with the murderer she lived with. Nicola Walker sits terrified with the German man nursing her severed arm while he torments her verbally.

The images seem to be a kind of Hell, a punishment for those caught in crime, supporters of murderers to be recycled as victims of other criminals but the play left me with no reaction other than the distasteful and repellent. I don't know what was in Neilson's mind when he wrote "Relocated" but I did admire Nerilson's last work at the Royal Court, The Wonderful World of Dissocia .

Written and directed by Anthony Neilson

With: Jan Pearson, Phil McKee, Stuart McQuarrie, Jan Pearson, Katie Novak, Nicola Walker
Design: Miriam Bluether
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan
Sound: Nick Powell
Running time: One hour 30 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 5th July 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th June 2008 performance at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW3 (Tube: Sloane Square)
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