Royal Court - Jerwood Theatre
Where: West End
8 September 2004 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews In Joe Penhall's first play since Blue/Orange in 2000 that took the triple set of Evening Standard, Olivier and Critics' Circle Best Play Awards, the playwright has returned to provide another intricately constructed drama in which three characters face off against each other in a central moral crisis. But whereas Blue/Orange unfolded in a hermetic but fascinatingly revealed world of psychiatry, is plucked from a world we are complicit with every time we absorb (let alone perhaps relish) the tabloid revelations of celebrity lives, preferably in freefall, from Dumb Show Michael Barrymore to John Leslie and others.
Here we discover Barry, the television star of a show that he himself says is "made by idiots, for idiots, because of idiots", being courted by two financial advisers from a bank seeking his custom and appealing to his greed and vanity to do so. There's even talk of a very substantial fee - "a substantial financial" as they say in the trade.
But they're not whom they first appear to be. I'd rather not give away the key revelation about exactly who they are, though Penhall doesn't keep you waiting too long to discover it for yourself - it's in the third scene. From this moment, Barry's already unravelling life starts to unravel further, and Penhall takes us on a gripping, stinging journey into the price of fame and those that make their money off the back of it.
Terry Johnson's smart, slick production, played out in a fashionable five-star hotel room immaculately if clinically designed by Es Devlin, there's a burning tension and intensity to the highly charged encounters that Barry has with his aggressive adversaries.
David Mamet's Oleanna (also originally premiered in the UK at the Royal Court), it's a play that constantly has you re-setting your own moral compass on the shifting grounds of the revelations that are exposed. And it's played to highly-tuned perfection by a cast that features a heartbreakingly good Douglas Hodge as Barry, fighting for his life and reputation when it looks like both are going down the plughole, and a slickly suave Rupert Graves and Anna Maxwell Martin as the couple who are on his case and won't let go, as if their own lives depended on it.
- Mark Shenton
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