Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Theatre review: Victory Condition

It’s not often a Chloe Lamford set fails to be striking and interesting, and she provides another memorable design for the Royal Court’s nightly rep, seeming utterly appropriate to both very different plays: The large Downstairs stage is filled with exposed scaffolding that reaches well into the wings, flies and below the stage, with the actors confined to one large white room in the middle of it all. For B, this maze of dangerous-looking metal exploding out of the centre could be a metaphor for a play whose characters are preparing to plant a nail-bomb. Now, for the second play, a much more luxurious, modern flat takes up the central playing area, and the exposed chaos that surrounds it makes a good clue for what Chris Thorpe’s Victory Condition does. Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Jonjo O’Neill are a nameless couple returning home to have dinner and relax for the evening before going to bed.

Their actions are utterly banal but we don’t get to hear anything they say to each other; instead we alternate between them as they monologue what might be the characters’ inner worlds, or could be a real reflection of what’s going on in the world outside them.

Their speeches are, to varying degrees, apocalyptic. As they pour wine, order pizza and play video games, O’Neill describes his life as a sniper, seemingly for some kind of autocratic regime, picking out protestors from the crowd; he knows he’s going to go ahead with the shot, but some element of sympathy for what his target believes in makes him decide to shoot her in the heart rather than the head, to leave a good-looking corpse that can be a martyr for her cause. Meanwhile Duncan-Brewster’s monologue has more of a sci-fi tinge, as she narrates herself walking into her office like any other morning, only to find that her workmates are all holograms, only realising the truth because they’ve glitched, frozen and pixelated. Her story becomes an epic spanning time and multiple realities, before all coming back to the start again.

Both speeches take in the idea of the world being connected in invisible ways, with tiny moments we’re barely aware of having momentous consequences – most likely for the worse, all while we go on with our lives ignoring it all as best we can. Vicky Feathersone’s production underpins this with the extremes the characters talk about contrasting with the relaxed way they go about their evening – O’Neill and Duncan-Brewster do a great job of inhabiting both worlds at once. At times the poetry of the speech is intriguing, but despite the theatre programming this and B on the same night, meaning many people will see both like I did, I’m not sure if that’s the best way to see Victory Condition: I think Guillermo Calderón’s play had already worn down my patience both for long speeches and the surreal, meaning Thorpe’s wilful obliqueness got me interested to start with but I got tired of it quite soon.

Victory Condition by Chris Thorpe is booking in repertory until the 21st of October at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 55 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Helen Murray.

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