Review: Grasses of a Thousand Colours, Royal Court

Hmm, well this was an odd one. As part of the Wallace Shawn season at the Royal Court, this is a premiere of a play which has been 25 years in the writing, and features the playwright himself, alongside Miranda Richardson, Jennifer Tilly and Emily McDonnell in the intimate space upstairs at the Royal Court.

Grasses of a Thousand Colours is the memoirs of a scientist called Ben which covers the three, well four, major love affairs of his life, whilst the world around them collapses due to the negative impact of human meddling with nature. Miranda Richardson is superb as his wife Cerise, full of dreamy seductiveness and feline sensuality, Jennifer Tilly is also excellent as the statuesque New Yorker mistress Robin and Emily McDonnell is quietly strong as the subsequent lover. And the fourth love affair, well that is with Ben’s own penis with which he, and this play, is obsessed.

The main problem for me was with the structure of the play. It is full of interminable, rambling monologues from Ben which simply sap the life from the piece (and the audience), since they become increasingly obtuse and fantastical, as we slip further into this dystopian dream-like fairytale world, dominated by his sexual prowess and a cat called Blanche. The use of video clips at key points adds a slightly surreal note which in the end is pretty much in keeping with the play. Looking back, there does seem to be the material for a decent play in there, but some severe pruning is necessary.

On a practical note, with a running time of just over three hours, cushioned benches are just not sufficient as seating. Even if it had been the most engrossing play, the collective posterior of the paying audience deserves better as these seats are seriously uncomfortable. The only saving grace was that due to the rate of people leaving during the intervals, it was possible to spread out more and more in the later acts!

Essentially, this is just too long and self-indulgent to earn my recommendation, despite the unique opportunity to see talent such as Richardson and Tilly at such close quarters. It is directed by a long-time collaborator of Shawn, Andre Gregory, and one does wonder if someone brought in from outside might not have been more able to wield the knife to make the necessary cuts to make this more palatable. Oddly enough though, it has been rather well reviewed by many of the papers but I have yet to meet a ‘regular’ person who has been as effusive as any of the critics.

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