Mike Bartlett (Love Love Love, Cock, Artefact)’s latest is something of an inventive epic tour de force.
The National Theatre On Tour/Headlong co-production Earthquakes in London is a kaleidoscopic, chaotic and breathless exploration of all things Green, integrity versus financial gain, family relationships and more. There’s burlesque; tourists and scammers in the capital; supermarket guava-hunting; swanky restaurants and Liberty’s; picnics on Parliament Hill; famine in Eritrea; wetsuited Adonises and redwings in the Highlands.
And there’s the odd - very odd – departure into the realms of the musical with Stepford wife, Jackie O lookalikes boogying with babies and a PVC-clad cleaner warbling over her mop.
The thread that holds it all together is the intertwined story of three stereotype sisters: Tracy-Ann Oberman (EastEnders, RSC, Waterloo Road) is convincing as melting martyred ice maiden Sarah the coalition Environment Minister; Leah Whitaker (Counted UK Tour, The Heretic) is anguished as the depressed pregnant Freya looking for answers in all the wrong places and hedonistic student Jasmine is desperately seeking to shock (an excellent professional debut for Lucy Phelps).
Their estranged father (played as an erstwhile and naïve young man by Joseph Thompson and as the curmudgeonly hermit by the ubiquitous Paul Shelley) is a prophet of environmental doom and gloom, hiding a less than illustrious past and devoid of any feeling for anyone but his long-deceased wife.
With 16 actors populating the stage with husbands (the excellent Sean Gleeson and John Hollingworth), truant autistic schoolboys (Helen Cripps making the most of a gift of a part), and the seething corporate and underlife of London, Rupert Goold (ENRON, Six Characters in Search of an Author)’s direction is dynamic and tight.
The vignettes build to a dynamic, cohesive and interesting whole somewhere about the end of the first half – some 100 minutes in - but all is squandered in a disappointingly trite second half in which the environmental polemic is taken to overkill, Bartlett bangs his “what have the baby-boomers-done-for-us” drum again, loose ends are unnecessarily tied, a surreal 2525 cryogenics scene is best forgotten and Robert strangely bows to convention.
Miriam Buether’s set is interesting. There are moving walkways used to tremendous effect allowing juxtaposition of several dialogues, projected images of London cast onto plywood backings, doorways that open and close to reveal mini scenarios and a simple rotating centre which allows the action to move swiftly adding cinematic dimension to emphasise fast and furious decline.
All very interesting but I would have much preferred it to end at the earthquake.