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On Emotion

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The latest “theatre essay” by director Mick Gordon and neuropsychologist Paul Broks is a tense domestic comedy dressed up as a demonstration of emotional dysfunction. It looks good, like a low budget Complicite-style space odyssey through the night sky, with four actors and a puppet spaceman, but it generates minimal theatrical heat, and never answers its own central question: are we the puppets of our emotions?

Stephen (James Wilby), a cognitive behavioural therapist, is treating, and fantasising about, Anna (Caroline Catz), a suicidal puppet maker who has had a miscarriage. Anna’s best friend is Stephen’s daughter, Lucy (Rhian Blythe), an actress who is always falling in love with unsuitable men and becomes pregnant. Stephen’s son Mark (Mark Down) – he’s a child, played by an adult - has an obsession with Star Trek.

While Stephen is preparing a lecture and incidentally asserting that Hamlet anticipates his calling by nearly four centuries in the single line, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” Lucy is rehearsing Rosalind in As You Like It and funnelling her emotions through a series of deceptive masks until she can no longer restrain herself.

This is almost an echo here of Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers, but there’s no comparable intellectual resolution to the conflict of philosophy and action, reason and impulse. In fact, apart from a statement of the bleedin’ obvious – that we give ourselves away through our expressions (and they might as well quote Shakespeare again: “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”) – the purpose of the show evaporates long before the ninety minutes are up, along with our patience.

Still, I salute the acting, especially that of Wilby, which is resourceful and deftly controlled, even when he is required, alas, to simulate a deed of masturbation on the black leather sofa. Blythe is a little too much, but she is playing an actress, Catz is foxy and charming, and Down little short of brilliant as the boy locked out of his father’s study and condemned to travel in the imaginative hinterland with Captain Spock. The design is by Nick Barnes, the puppetry by Blind Summit.

- Michael Coveney


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