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Review Round-Ups

Did critics Pity Rory Mullarkey's new play?

Pity opened at the Royal Court last night

Paul G Raymond, Paul Bentall, Francesca Ellis, Siobhán McSweeney, Sophia Di Martino in Pity
© Helen Murray 2018

Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage


"...Rory Mullarkey's catastrophic cartoon of a play goes from ice creams on a sunny day to atrocities in a fallen state in little over an hour. By the 100-minute mark, it's only gotten worse."

This is The Mighty Boosh meets Mother Courage – a broad comic gloss on the unfathomable devastation of societal collapse. Two young people, who only popped out for a cold snack and wound up getting married on the hoof, find themselves caught up in an unstoppable chain reaction of spiralling violence and social disarray. "

"Tonally, though, that sticks in the throat. There's something grossly distasteful about a show that gleefully takes the piss out of political turmoil and human suffering when such travesties are all-too-real. And yet, perhaps rampant scorn is the only reasonable response."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times

"Pity is a sort of facetious Middle England apocalypse. An arthouse end-of-term frolic in which characters address this day-after-tomorrow dystopia with picture-book pithiness.

"Pity is imaginative. Yet to what end? How are we supposed to feel once the breezy-grisly tone has been established? After almost two hours in its company I was none the wiser."

"What makes it almost worse is just how fabulous Sam Pritchard's production is. Smoke billows, explosions boom and surprises keep coming through the tinsel curtains that border a set, by Chloe Lamford, that hosts 5ft-long tanks, special forces arriving from the sky, a giant inflatable cruise liner, good gore and actors dancing to electro-disco while above them hangs a red neon sign reading ATROCITIES!

"I doubt it could be played better. The adroit cast of Paul Bentall, Sophia Di Martino, Sandy Grierson, Helena Lymbery, Siobhan McSweeney, Francesca Mills, Abraham Popoola, Paul G Raymond and Dorian Simpson look as if they're having fun. I'm glad someone is. "

Natasha Tripney, The Stage


"Sam Pritchard's production is bold but he struggles to convey the carnage in a theatrically satisfying manner, resorting to cartoonish excess. Designer Chloe Lamford has really gone for it too, carpeting the stage with green and edging it with hazard tape, suspending a canvas sky on the back wall in front of a curtain of black plastic streamers. The committed cast deliver their lines in flat, affectless tones. Chintzy cushions and other debris drop from the ceiling at regular intervals. A rain machine is deployed; there are pyrotechnics galore."

"The attempts at anarchy feel managed and tiresome. There are however passages of wit in the script – Mullarkey can be very funny –and moments of invention and humour in the staging. "

"Pity feels like a case of a writer scratching an itch. But it's hard to tell exactly what Mullarkey is trying to say with it."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"If you think the first few minutes of Rory Mullarkey's Pity are weird, then strap in because you ain't seen nothing yet. Abraham Popoola's everyman hero, initially all children's TV smiles, goes on a mind-bending journey into hell."

"Without wishing to divulge too much, designer Chloe Lamford – who deserves a prize for her orgy of coups de théâtre and cherishably cartoonish mise-en-scène – has counted more than 20 explosions all told, and that's not half the jolting bizarreries strewn across the 100-minute piece."

"A play fit, then, for the summer silly season and yet one that resonates in a more lasting, chilling way with the madnesses of our strife-riven age."

Alice Saville, Time Out


"Pity sprawls across a kind of uncannily perfect village green. The grass is too bright, the brass band is too loud, and the ice cream stall looks like a Sylvanian Families toy made huge. It's not the kind of place where bad things happen. Until they do, all at once, in a relentless scroll of lightning strikes, random explosions, civil war, plague.

"But Sam Pritchard's production doesn't always land Mullarkey's laughs. It feels slow, often uncomfortably so, thanks to the cast's ponderous monotone delivery. It's full of valiant attempts to subvert the Royal Court's auditorium as a space (a raffle, a chance to come on stage and get an ice cream) but the auditorium puts up a pretty good fight.

"Mullarkey is a playwright who's had a lot of not-wholly-successful shots at major theatre shows (and more than any female playwright could put her name to and still receive juicy commissions). "

"For the most part, it just feels glib – a tossed off comment on real-life atrocities. "

Michael Billington, Guardian


"Mullarkey's target is vague and his means disproportionate. His play comes across in performance as an apocalyptic, prodigally wasteful cartoon."

"What is Mullarkey saying? His most recent play, Saint George and the Dragon, may have been overblown, but at least it warned us society could no longer be rescued by individual saviours. Here it is hard to discern a clear point of view."

"I longed for Mullarkey to address the world's real suffering rather than create this absurdist comic strip...The play is not helped by Sam Pritchard's production, which opts for aural and visual overkill. "