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FringeReview UK 2016

Low Down

Unreachable is another play from Anthony Neilson which only come together just before the run. Neilson directs his own play at the Royal Court Downstairs with Chloe Lamford’s minimal set, stripped back with no adornments save a few screens and wheeled trunk. There’s a twist to that however.


Anthony Neilson directs his own play Unreachable at the Royal Court Downstairs with Chloe Lamford’s minimal set, stripped back with no adornments save a few screens and wheeled trunk. There’s a twist to that however.


Unreachable is a profoundly quizzical play about directorial and film-mogul silliness, using one liners, indeed silliness to address these questions. In spite of himself Anthony Neilson can’t help producing an entertaining if sprawling narrative, which suddenly looks to a conventional climax and discovers a coup.


Dr Who’s Matt Smith lopes and startles back as the shy megalomaniac who having just won the Palm d’Or with the same team now tortures them in waiting for the right light, ordering digital film to be ditched for real. His Maxim is the kind of egomaniac who uses shyness and sotto voce as a steely weapon. By never puncturing this bubble of haplessness, Smith rounds Maxim consummately. Smith’s achievement is to maintain this boyish demeanour whilst twisting his cast around every fish-eye distortion his poor cameraman Carl (Richard Pyros) can swivel.


We begin with an audition for Natasha whose monologue about killing her baby before the torturers come only to find she’s being rescued is as kitsch schlock as the later arrival of an actor who makes Smith’s Maxim look the acme of modesty.


Carl’s ambitious to replace Maxim both in the affections of producer Anastasia and as director. Carl’s no Machiavel, more an exasperated opportunist. Part-way there he’s already having sex with Amanda Drew‘s Anastasia, a comic mime, wiggling on separate wheeled trunks. Despite this Anastasia’s too devoted to Maxim, sardonic but besotted; Drew’s sighs alternating with decisiveness, deserve a touch more prominence.


The three couples comprising the six-strong the cast motivate the shifts of this profoundly silly scenario, peppered with one-liners to motor the reedy narrative; it’s never dull.


Neilson’s famed for both asking for actors to smile as if corpsed but as we find out, there has to be a genuine corpsing, and there is: new lines can erupt, the text subtly shifts each night and only the end of the run will produce a definitive version in aspic.


Characters are fixing slowly too. Tamara Lawrence’s Natasha admits she’s a sociopath and her curious off-hand devotion to Max shimmies through her blunt lack of empathy. You’d never think from her one-liners she was devoted to anyone but her own self-proclaiming shallowness and an ability to act.


There’s more to Tamara than the play can allow. Offering her room for Max to hide in she remarks ‘there’s a smell.. I squirt’ and dislike of babies: ‘they suck tits cry and shit on you’, eliciting Maxim’s mordant ‘I know actors who do that’. Her deadpan elicits shining foils from Smith’s character, his desire to control on a par with Natasha’s misconstruing everything literally. So when Maxim proclaims a week more delay is needed, Natasha does something drastic. Moving from mock-agonized scena to off-hand Lawrance rather convinces in both.


Drew’s Anatasia and Pyros’ Carl, true sick-hearted slaves are also fixers; one of these fixes from Anastasia brings on the deaf financial assessor Eva, Genevieve Barr minding her firm’s millions the overrun’s called forth from Anastasia’s deal. Barr’s matter-of-factness parallels Lawrance’s, and a shaft of lip-reading jokes she flips with elegant ripostes and mis-timings. But Eva too has a weak spot.


However self-sabotage runs deep, Maxim brings on The Beast, Ivan (the Terrible is I suppose silent) Jonjo O’Neil’s long blond pseudo-Viking whom no-one dares work with for his comically violent outbutrsts worthy of a Woody Allen movie: ‘I walked a thousand miles to save a fly… after I accidentally killed a penguin..’ ‘In the ruins of Sarajevo I fed the mutt snot and it was grateful..’ or of Maxim ‘a monument to mediocrity’. His unexpected taming by love then finding it won’t last elicits a volte-face of character then a final squawk and bizarre demand, in itself bringing in a whirligig from Carl.


One wonders if self-sabotage runs in Neilson too: O’Neill’s magnificent, but licenced creation turns so pantomime he’d even have trouble in an Allen piece in this role. Here O’Neill’s Ivan gently tips the piece to burlesque, but it didn’t need much and on the night I saw it – every night is different – it didn’t jar .


The climax might seem neat but contrived too, the whole play memorably comic in spite of its metaphoric pretensions to puncture the film and acting worlds. Neilson achieves this effortlessly through comedy, coming unstuck only when he fells impelled to be something other; he could trust to his creation a tad more and leave the metaphors to fend blissfully for themselves. Still, Lamford holds a design ace worth waiting for.