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Narrative, Royal Court

Written and directed by Anthony Neilson

Pros: This is a very different format which is interesting and challenging – there is a lot to think about. The acting is very good and the sound and lighting design are really excellent.

Cons: It’s not really comprehensible – the theme seems inconsistent and diluted by unrelated scenes and other themes. The characters are shallow and selfish and there is little connection with the audience.

Our Verdict: There are some great ideas here that should perhaps have been separated into different theatre events. For this reason, I’d only recommend it for the hardiest of theatregoers.

Courtesy of The Royal Court

It’s always a pleasure to go to the Royal Court – it’s got a buzzy atmosphere and brings the best

of new writing to London with fantastic production values. The Jerwood upstairs is a great theatre space too, so intimate and versatile. Every time I go, the seating and staging are so completely different that it’s hard to believe it is the same space. It is necessary to get this context when discussing Narrative, as I feel that this play in any ‘lesser’ space would struggle significantly, as it was the production that made the script work. This is not a story as such, but a series of characters and events, mingled with video, surreal dream-like sequences and sound effects, which cross over, relate to each other and yet remain detached. This format is interesting and definitely challenging, and the audience has to work hard to make sense of it, to thread it together.

The theme is set by the opening video clip, which describes a painting in the Lascaux Caves in France, depicting an eviscerated bison seemingly killing the man who attacked it. This is said to be one of the earliest known narratives, and there is discussion about the impact on the narrative of the interaction of the bison. The theme of the bison crops up throughout the play, not least of which when some of the characters don horns! It is a great concept and if I understand it (even a little), it is very clever at times, but it is very quiet and inconsistent throughout – it seems diluted by other themes. There is also a discussion about expectations– what do we expect and why, and whilst interesting, it doesn’t seem to relate to the established narrative theme and distracts from it. Add to this another distraction of extra-terrestrial noises in the sky, voices from the grave, and visions of desert inhabitants and it’s very difficult to comprehend the underlying message and I think, unfortunately, I may have missed the point.

The characters all have selfish motivations and strange insecurities, and with one exception there is no empathy generated to draw the audience in. There is some humour, primarily we are laughing at the characters and their predicaments without feeling for them. This is disconcerting and keeps the audience at arms length – we watch the characters live through a series of sometimes inexplicable events, sporadic and mingled with actually inexplicable events, and as the play progresses we get a connection between them as the narratives collate. The cast are very good – there is a natural ease about the performances, perhaps because they are playing actors and their associates, possibly even themselves? Their performances are let down somewhat by the lines they deliver, which leave the characters a bit ridiculous and hollow. If there are redeeming features, they are the lighting design (Chahine Yavroyan) and sound design (Nick Powell)- both are really first class and definitely pull this production together. Without this high quality sound and lighting this production would simply be a series of bewildering events. I did enjoy elements of Narrative, but I struggle to recommend it.

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

Narrative runs at the Royal Court until 4th May 2013.
Box Office: 020 7565 5000 or book online at http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/narrative

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