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Now or Later

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
It is the day of the US elections and the Democrats are heading for victory. As the results pour in through the night, a problem: the candidate’s twenty-year old gay son has become a topic of heated debate on the internet, after photographs have been posted of him dressed as Mohammed at a college party. Is he really anti-Muslim? (Of course not). Will he apologise?

American playwright Christopher Shinn’s Now or Later is a deft piece of writing, skilfully directed by Dominic Cooke, unfussily designed by Hildegard Bechtler and beautifully played by a small cast including a bullish Matthew Marsh as the Democratic President-elect, John, and a gangling, emotionally pent up Eddie Redmayne as his son, John Jr.

But in a week of Brecht and Sam Shepard in London, it does not strike me as being either very theatrical or, to be frank, all that interesting. The arguments are well expressed but deeply predictable, and the idea that a senior politician’s son would not wish to repair the damage immediately, however anxious to prove he is “his own man,” seems ridiculous.

But that is the only way the short eighty-minute play is sustained, as mother, father, best friend and party officials successively throw themselves against the brick wall of John Jr’s intelligent vanity. The boy’s homosexuality simmers as an issue and only boils over when John Jr retaliates to the pressure by accusing his father of sharing a platform with an evangelical homophobic bigot.

This exchange accelerates into a free-for-all in which the politician’s pro-Israel stance is mocked and the play collapses suddenly on a note of sour victory. Shinn is a gifted writer whom the Court have presented several times in the Theatre Upstairs. But here the play ticks too many boxes too glibly and seems over-naive in its critical content.

Curiously, Marsh resembles a stunted Gerald Ford in his turbo-charged dynamism, while Redmayne has the freckly, high cheek-boned look of the Kennedy clan. Nancy Crane is delightfully ditsy as a blankly conciliatory mother in a mauve suit, while Domhnall Gleeson as John Jr’s stolid chum and Pamela Nomvete and Adam James as the political gofers all play their part in sustaining the play’s temperature if not its physical urgency. The piece will sound good on the radio.

-Michael Coveney


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