Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Theatre review: Arthur's World

In the Bush Theatre's Attic space, playwright Helena Thompson wears Philip Ridley's influence on her sleeve as a group of damaged characters clash in a small London flat, while apocalyptic violence rages just outside the window. In Arthur's World, alcoholic pensioner Arthur (Paul Greenwood) seems to have kept himself to himself most of his life, but in the last couple of years he's pretty much become a recluse. This is in part because that's how long it is since a popular mobile phone game somehow exploded into reality, players no longer hiding behind their avatars but seeking out their opponents in reality, resulting in the ongoing, bloody riots known as The Fights. The other reason is that in the early days of The Fights Mikey, the son Arthur raised alone, went missing. Never having quite given up on his son returning alive, Arthur has stayed in the flat despite the violence raging just outside. On Mikey's 20th birthday, he's even baked him a cake, just in case.

Mikey (Enyi Okoronkwo) does turn up, but not before his old friend Kino (Joseph Tremain) breaks into the flat and attempts to rob it. So when the presumed-dead Mikey turns up alive, both men have a lot of unfinished business with him.

Mel Cook's production has the audience sitting on stools and cushions around the action, an intimate setup to enjoy the contrasting performances: Greenwood's Arthur pretty much worn out by life, Tremain's Kino comically desperate, and Okoronkwo's Mikey providing a contrast to both with his eerie serenity.

As well as the apocalyptic siege, Arthur's World also takes in a ghost story, and something I think is going to be a major theme in theatre in the next few years: Narrative that's influenced by the rules of video games. The latter strand isn't given much chance to breathe, as the running time isn't long enough to explore everything Thompson throws at the play. She's also opted not to play the different strands as plot twists, giving the audience major clues early on about both the secrets Mikey is keeping from his father. It means when they were revealed I was hoping for the various elements to tie together more than they did.

But there's a strong trio of performances (and having had to escape from a box with a false back on stage myself once, kudos to Okoronokwo for his smooth disappearing act.) Anna Reid's set also takes on a surprising life of its own, with the most mysterious cracks in the walls since Matt Smith's first season of Doctor Who. Arthur's World is always interesting, but in its wealth of ideas it loses focus.

Arthur's World by Helena Thompson is booking until the 14th of February at the Bush Theatre's Attic.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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