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The Low Road, Royal Court

Bruce Norris 
Directed by Dominic Cooke

Pros: This is an extremely well-written piece, commenting on current economic issues using an historical context. Polished performances and fluid set changes keep the pace and interest high. 

Cons: The American accents are inconsistent and distracting. The final scene, although poignant, is a tad cheesey and the costumes in this scene prevent the important punch line from being clearly audible. 

Our Verdict: Another great script from the Royal Court with high production standards. This play is three hours long, but don’t let that put you off – it is pacey, relevant and a great yarn. 

Courtesy of The Royal Court

This drama is primarily set in Massachusetts in the 1770’s, a time of the American revolutionary war. It is the story of a boy named Jim abandoned at the door of a brothel at birth. It deals with the man he subsequently becomes and the people he encounters on his life’s adventure. The thing that really stands out for me is that although this is a brand new play, it is written in truly narrative style like a good old fashioned yarn. This is most enjoyable – each scene is like a chapter of a book, with lots of twists and turns along the way. Prostitution, murder, slavery, social class, religion, disability, are all cleverly illustrated, set against the backdrop of what is, essentially, a tale of money, power and the free market. Jim is a clever, thieving rascal, driven by money and the accumulation of it, living off the backs of other peoples labour, and risking other’s hard earned or inherited cash to furnish his betterment.

Jim is clearly the forefather of our modern day villainous bankers, and just in case this comparison is missed, we are catapulted to a modern day conference where the panel members include his successor, Richard Trumpett, of Trumpettbank Global LLC. In fact, the panel incisively draws the 18th century story into a modern light, exposing the underlying premise that some things haven’t changed rather they are simply masked by modern day economics. This is a really clever scene, and once it has delivered its impact, we return to the 1770’s and the story continues. The final scene is intended to have a similar enlightening effect and although there is some rather spectacular scenery and stage direction, it falls wide of its mark. This is partly because the actor’s voices are muffled and the delivery is unclear. The story line and the literary device used are a tad cheesey and seem naive in the context of the wonderfully constructed story.

The acting is really very good, although I found the inconsistent American accents annoying after a while. As there are both American and British characters in the story, the performance calls for distinction. The accents are loose and slip a lot, blurring the distinction required. The mother and son characters have very different accents which makes no sense. That said, there are some really notable performances. Bill Patterson as the narrator, Adam Smith is impeccable, leading us gently and comically through the tale. Elizabeth Berrington portrays the hapless Mrs Trumpett with wonderful humour and empathy and is satirically perfect as Belinda Tate. Johnny Flynn brings arrogant conviction to Jim Trumpett and quickly sets him as the villain of the piece. As a worthy foil to Jim’s villainy, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith has an almost regal presence on the stage. I also really liked the performance from Simon Paisley Day who plays several supporting characters and moves between them with astonishing conviction. It was very difficult to imagine these parts are played by the same actor. Ian Gelder as Nathaniel Pugh and Ellie Kendrick are both excellent in their supporting roles.

This is a really enjoyable performance and one of the most cleverly observed commentaries on the banking crisis. There is a classic quote from the modern day banker, Dick Trumpett, which sums up the inescapable irony for me. He says “and what’s unfair to me, ya see, is a system where the people who work hard, wind up giving all their money to support a buncha freeloaders.” Rich words indeed coming from a man who’s fortune was founded on money swindled 200 years earlier!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Low Road runs at Royal Court until 11th May 2013
Box Office: 02075655000 or book online at http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/the-low-road

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