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A CurtainUp London Review
The Sunset Limited

"You say that I want God's love. I dont. Perhaps I want forgiveness, but there is no one to ask it of."
— White
The Sunset Limited
Gary Beadle as Black and Jasper Britton as White
(Photo: Marc Brenner)
It is a brave choice for the Boulevard's first play. The Sunset Limited makes the audience work for their evening of intellectual puzzlement.

A musical concoction Ghost Quartet opened their programming last year in this welcome, brand new smaller space, but I longer to see plays in this small venue. The seating is flexible and for The Sunset Limited it is not circular as it was for Ghost Quartet but end on with everyone facing towards the stage.

Terry Johnson directs two great actors, Jasper Britton as White and Gary Beadle as Black. Britton with his face permanently crumpled into despair is a university professor who has nothing to live for. Beadle is a man of God via deprivation and prison who lives now in what White describes as a city tenement, a hovel. Tim Shortall's set has the very basics of human existence. John Leonard's Sound Design reminds us of the city traffic and sirens in the background.

If White represents nihilism and despair, then Black is religious purpose and maybe optimism. Just as White has to choose his future path, so do we in the audience choose who we can identify with.

White cannot remember where Black came from. The last thing he remembers is that he was alone on a subway platform, no one else was in sight. White had especially checked that there were no children there to witness what he was about to do.

These two men debate: White explains that there is nothing for him, Black gently probes for some signs of hope. Terry Johnson's direction is such that Cormac McCarthy's play kept my attention for its duration despite the drama being word driven.

They talk about education and culture. White expresses the fragility of cultural things; Black replies that Education is what makes the world personal. Black describes how he found God in a prison setting, "If it weren't for the grace of God, you would not be here."

White asks why the Bible and sermons talks more about the wrong way than the right way, why, "The dialectic of homily always presupposes a ground of evil." The crux of the debate is summed up in White's statement, "I believe in the primacy of the intellect" rather than the spiritual.

Why is it that White who is the result of privilege and education in a well paid academic job is so despairing while Black who has had very little and still has housing which White criticises, has purpose and belief?

The Sunset Limited is not for the faint hearted. You will have to work to find it satisfying and stimulating. We realise the tremendous performances when at the curtain call Jasper Britton breaks into a smile for the first time wiping that expression of agony.

the Boulevard's next production is a revival of Lucy Prebble's play about neuroscience and love, The Effect.

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The Sunset Limited
Written by Cormac McCarthy
Directed by Terry Johnson
Starring: Jasper Britton and Gary Beadle
Designer: Tim Shortall
Movement Director: Georgina Lamb
Lighting Design: Ben Ormerod
Sound Designer: John Leonard
Running time: One hour 35 minutes without an interval
Box Office:
Booking to 14th March 2020
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 21st January 2020 at the Boulevard Theatre, 6 Walkers Court Soho, London W1F 0BT (Tube: Piccadilly Circus. Easiest to find if you walk straight up Rupert Street to the alleyway.)
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