Review: Narrative, Royal Court

“Don’t internalise it, tell us your story”
 

‘Form is broken’, so the publicity for Anthony Neilson’s new play Narrative tells us, so here goes. Simply described as a new play about stories, it has been devised by Neilson and his company of seven  and brings together a blend of characters and scenes and songs and poems and scripts and video to diagnose something of the modern condition, the world in which we find ourselves today. 

 
It will come as little surprise that there’s great unconventionality at work here as the structure used is best described as freeform as scenes merge and talk over the top of each other, some characters (the actors mostly use their own names) reappear throughout and follow something of a journey whilst others just evaporate and the choice of media follows no visible logic. And the choice of subject is breathlessly endless using ultra-modern reference points like gangnamstyleandNorthKoreaandYouTubeclipsandRolfHarrisandGeorgeClooneyandRussellCrowe, oblique visuals like the recurring images of bulls…bison…buffalo...and of course veering into the more surreal world of footmouseandhornsandarseholesandpenknivesandapplesandElasticMan. Oh, and kittens.
 
 

But though there’s a dizzying randomness that might seem to threaten to overwhelm Narrative, one soon comes to see that none of it is gratuitous. The sense of ownership that comes from the company – no-one feels out of place no matter what they end up doing – is palpable, the integrity of emotion whether Christine Entwisle’s tear-stained recital , Brian Doherty warmly recounting the circle of life using seating positions on the bus as a metaphor or the manic energy of Barnaby Power’s near-humiliating audition is always present and correct. 

 

 
I particularly relished getting to see the fierce intensity of 

up close, especially in some insane footwear that had me seriously fearing for her ankles, but there’s also compelling work from 

as one of the more naive characters at hand, who almost serves as an Alice-like figure, tumbled down the rabbit-hole and able to carry us along a little way as someone equally baffled by what is going on. And one can’t help but feel a little sorry for 

 
who probably wasn’t expecting to do what he ends up having to do when first cast in a Royal Court play…
 
But putting my pitiful attempts to play with form to one side for the moment, there is something rather special at work here – Narrative is engrossing and intriguing and elusive in the best possible way as it ricochets from pillar to post, posing mysteries both large and small and whilst answering very few of them, it still manages to convey a truthfulness that makes this feel a significant piece of drama. And as Dominic Cooke’s final production as Artistic Director at the Royal Court, it seems to fit neatly into a latterly emergent trend there of older playwrights investigating theatre for a modern world, a modern audience, that could include Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information and arguably Martin Crimp’s In The Republic of Happiness – for all its promotion of new writers, it would seem it is the old guard that are pushing innovation.    
 
One gets the feeling that this play might not be for everyone, though I can’t imagine it would rub people up the wrong way as much as Crimp did and for me, as the utterly gorgeous final scene wound its way to its ending, I was left trying to work out if I would be able to fit in another trip to see it as I am sure it would richly reward a second viewing. Thus this gets a strong recommendation from the house of Clowns. Now STRETCH IT.
 

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: just a free castsheet available at the moment
Booking until 4th May
Photos courtesy of Johan Persson 

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