The Richard Dreyfuss affair with the London theatre has not been happy. Some years ago he had a modest success, and mixed reviews, in a Neil Simon comedy. More recently he was dropped from The Producers before the show even opened. And now he’s lumbered with a boring role in a boring play that he’s not been able to fully master.
Joe Sutton’s Complicit is further confirmation that Old Vic supremo Kevin Spacey, who directs it, is still having trouble finding good new plays. This one drones on about a writer, Benjamin Kritzer (Dreyfuss), whose book about torture techniques in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay has landed him in a court case. As the programme carries a disclaimer on the play’s allegations against the US government, not even the Old Vic can stand all that squarely behind its own production.
We are asked to consider whether the publication of this book has made the country less safe, but as the details are denied us, and the content fuzzed, why should we care? Sutton keeps shifting his ground between anger at foreign policy and an attempt to differentiate between Kritzer’s responsibilities as a citizen and his professional duties as a journalist.
The case against him could be one of espionage or contempt and his lawyer tells him that the judge is likely to take a wider view of the affair in the context of a war with Islam. Then it transpires that Kritzer has been out drinking for hours on end, and there’s even a question of a girlfriend. But by this time we’ve given up on the whole caboodle.
Dreyfuss bumbles about the stage roaring at no-one in particular, palpably reliant on an ear-piece prompt, while David Suchet as his exasperated lawyer and Elizabeth McGovern as his anaemically saintly wife stand by wondering what on earth might happen next. And then there are some awful television inserts, with Dreyfuss sitting on Andrew Marr’s red sofa at the BBC, which seems ludicrous given that the case is presumably being heard in Washington.
It is always a pleasure to see Suchet in action. He’s a Rolls Royce actor, giving off a low hum of vulpine authority with absolute physical control and sonorous vocal technique. But he’s wasting his time here, and an audience is left with nothing much to admire apart from the reconfigured Old Vic theatre, maintained in Rob Howell’s design from his work on the wonderful Alan Ayckbourn season, already a distant memory.