It’s a very hard play to do, Sam Shepard’s 1983 Fool for Love, and it’s only fair to salute the courage of Sadie Frost and Libertines founder member Carl Barat in taking on a pair of sibling lovers tearing each other the shreds in a motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
But Neil Sheppeck’s production for the Love and Madness ensemble - opening a season to be followed with Richard III (Sadie Frost as Lady Anne) and a devised play about William Morris - never does much more than scratch the surface. It’s a noisy ninety minutes, but it’s not dense, sexy or gut-churning.
Barat’s Eddie is lonesome rodeo rider and stuntman who has driven thousands of miles to track down Frost’s May, a highly strung termagant in a slash of a red dress who is working as a short-order cook and waiting for her new boyfriend to take her out to the movies.
The only movie she sees is the one she’s in, as the encounter implodes into a savage anatomy of an unresolved relationship, full of hurt and recrimination.
It’s hard to think of the actors as convincing remnants of trailer-trash land. Frost is too bright and too English while Barat has the right spaced-out loping demeanour but is nowhere near the essential outdoors urban cowboy style that is the Shepard trademark.
Usually, the pair’s antics are observed by an old man sitting quietly in a corner on a rocking chair. It’s a good idea, this time, to have the actor, Gerard McDermott, wandering among the audience, swigging from his bottle of Jack Daniels, but it does dissipate the power of his presence, and its mystery. He is, after all, supposed to be a ghost, not a character.
The other quality missing is that of a dead-at-night atmosphere suddenly disrupted in that climactic conflagration when a runaway car bulldozes into Eddie’s horse-trailer outside and lights up the desert sky. You never feel as though you’re in the back and beyond of Southern California.
The last West End revival with the Los Angeles rock chick Juliette Lewis and the young New Zealander Martin Henderson - both of them in their early thirties - was infinitely superior and achieved that sense of the play being a Greek tragedy in the mid West. This is more like a domestic squabble in Tufnell Park.