Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Hampstead Theatre

“Fuck the milk of human kindness…welcome to the abattoir”

It’s a wonder anyone still lives in East London given the treatment it gets in our cultural life, and Philip Ridley’s play The Fastest Clock in the Universe is no exception to characterising it as a place of danger, despair and delusion. The play was very well received on its 1992 debut, where it starred a little known actor called Jude Law…, and Ridley’s writing is very much his own unique style, combining a raw sense of the ugliness of the world with a fantastical, almost child-like playfulness that makes for a disarming combination. This was also a first trip (I think) to the Hampstead Theatre for me, incidentally also the venue where the show premiered.

Here, the 30 year old Cougar Glass is preparing for his birthday party with older flatmate Captain Tock in the same way he’s done for years – everyone pretends it is his 19th birthday, Tock provides cards and presents from imaginary friends and Cougar procures his own favourite gift in the shape of a nubile teenage boy. But this year, the target he has groomed, Foxtrot Darling, has brought along his rather pregnant girlfriend, Sherbet Gravel, (one assumes these names are picked by some kind of random generator…) and so the party doesn’t anywhere near as smoothly as planned.

The dystopian nastiness of this world is really quite something to behold, there’s some humour to be sure but it is always rooted in viciousness and the overwhelming cruelty was something I wasn’t prepared for, especially the bleakness of the ending. I don’t mind a bit of confrontational theatre but I like it to have some genuine dramatic purpose, rather than the shock and awe with which it is deployed here. I just didn’t take anything away from this aside from “life’s a bitch and then you die” and oh, how creepy stuffed birds are.

Alec Newman looks good in his underwear as Cougar, Jaime Winstone show promise as the vulgar and striking Sherbet as does Neet Mohan, the Jude Law schoolboy part, but Finbar Lynch is the best on the stage as the sugar-daddy-esque Captain, finding the only real, brief, moments of sympathy in the distorted (non-sexual) relationship between two gay men that feels like it could have been the basis for a better play. For what its worth though, my friend enjoyed it much more than I, so I do suspect this was more a case of me not liking Ridley’s style than this being a bad production.

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