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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?
Royal Court Theatre Winter 2006

This new, very short (barely 40 minutes) play by Caryl Churchill is a political satire in the disguise of a homosexual love story.

But the satire is so heavy-handed that it can convince only the already-convinced, the disguise is so flimsy that she need hardly have bothered, and the love story exists at all through the talents and efforts of the actors, with little help from the playwright.

The cast of two, one American and one British, spend the entire play on a sofa even as, over eight short scenes, it rises in the air, hovering in the darkness. The Brit is a married man who once had a brief liaison with the American, and now, meeting him again, impulsively runs off with him. Though things about his lover will make his infatuation waver from time to time, he will stay with him over what appears to be close to forty years. But, as I said, that plot is really irrelevant.

Once the situation is established, the play consists almost entirely of the American exulting in his work and the Brit getting caught up in the enthusiasm.

At first the Yank's excitement about manipulating foreign elections makes him sound like a CIA operative, but very quickly you gather that these are not meant to be individuals at all, but personifications of the US and Britain as nations.

The play is a catalogue of America's political, economic and military imperialism over the decades, and Britain's love-smitten acquiescence and involvement.

Well, hands up, all those who don't know that the US has interfered in other countries' internal affairs, manipulated trade agreements to its own benefit, supported repressive regimes when it suited US policy, bombed the hell out of anybody they chose to, and at least allowed (if it didn't actually indulge in) drug and arms trading, the use of chemical and biological weapons, and torture. This play has something to tell you.

Hands up, all those (It may be a slightly smaller group) who think the US is bad for doing all these things and the UK misguided for going along. This play agrees with you and will congratulate you for being so right-thinking.

Hands up, all those who would like a bit of subtlety or finesse with their satire, or something new said about the subject, or a real play to carry the catalogue of complaints. You, I fear, will be disappointed.

Churchill's dialogue, written entirely in the rapid exchange of brief phrases and fragments, often single words and rarely more than four words at a time - the technique does get boring very quickly - is little more than a list of atrocities, from "byebye Lumumba - byebye Allende - always love Israel - shah of Iran, byebye Mossadegh - oil" through "calling it search and destroy - experiments in pacification - terror against the Huks - and applying that now in Vietnam" and "beautiful fields of poppies - same trucks can deliver the arms and take the heroin back - massive trade figures - lot of people happy" to "need to be accurate - precise pain - for precise effect - so practice on beggars in a soundproof room"

Churchill's one original insight is to characterise the Special Relationship as a sexual infatuation, Britain occasionally finding American activities too much to handle but always being drawn back by an irresistible attraction.

But even that, to the extent it is conveyed, is much more a product of James Macdonald's direction and the acting by Ty Burrell (American) and Stephen Dillane (British), who bring all the humanity and realism to their allegorical characters.

Go if you hate America and want to be flattered by someone who agrees with you. Don't go (even if you hate America) if you want a real play.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Drunk Enough to Say I Love You - Royal Court 2006