Crimp wrote the dark comic mystery as a companion piece to his play The Country, which premiered at the Royal Court in May 2000. The premiere production reunites Crimp and director Katie Mitchell, whose collaborations include The Country and Face to the Wall at the Court and Crimp’s new version of The Seagull at the National. Crimp’s long-term association with the Royal Court began in 1997 when his play Attempts on Her Life premiered at the London venue. Mitchell recently re-explored that play, in an NT production last year.
The City features three characters - city worker Chris (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), language translator Clair (Hattie Morahan) and nurse/neighbor Jenny (Amanda Hale) (See News, 4 Mar 2008) - as they fight to make sense of a surreal and collapsing world. Stage Design is by Vicky Mortimer, lighting by Paul Constable and sound by Gareth Fry.
Most first night critics were disappointed by The City, its “loquacious content” and failure “to ignite” making it “fatally underpowered”. Katie Mitchell’s direction garnered mixed responses, with some critics applauding her “superbly disciplined production” while others tired of her evident reverence for Crimp’s piece. Benedict Cumberbatch, Hattie Morahan and Amanda Hale were widely praised for their performances, although overall it was felt that they couldn’t save a production that was “all enigma and self-conscious artistry”. The Guardian’s Michael Billington provided a contrasting view – he praised Crimp for his “subtle articulation” and concluded that here was a “writer in full control of his talent”.
- by Kate Jackson