Hampstead Theatre Spring 2019
Edward Hall ends his
admirable tenure as Artistic Director of the Hampstead Theatre by
producing and directing a new play by Howard Brenton, but neither
play nor production are the triumphant farewell for which he might
Brenton's drama is
inspired in part by Thomas Hardy's
Jude The Obscure, about a self-taught man's hunger for higher
But it also wants to say
things about the plight of modern
refugees, academic politics, Greek literature, Islamophobia, the
economic downturn, Britain as a police state and the effect of
American pork production on British pig farmers.
And gardening. And
religious confusion. And sex. And I'm not sure that's all.
an illegal Syrian immigrant teenager, a brilliant and driven
autodidact who uses pilfered books to teach herself Latin and
classical Greek so that she can sight-translate Homer.
Her dream is
to get into Oxford, a possibility that seems remote until a chance
encounter with a female don who is as intrigued by the diversity
boxes a Syrian unwed mother non-public-school student would check,
and by the girl's attractiveness, as by her academic potential.
and I will not apologise for this spoiler – the deus-ex-machina
intervention of British security forces (who are actually
investigating a cousin of Judith's who is, incidentally, totally
innocent) scares Oxford off.
At this point Howard
narrative, which has been somewhat iffy all along, with big gaps and
flashbacks within flashforwards, becomes completely incoherent. I
watched the last two minutes of the play with care, but can not tell
you what happened or what it meant.
Along the way the
only keeps getting sidetracked by one or another of the play's
secondary interests, but seems from scene to scene to have forgotten
what he said before.
The god of Judith's
idolatry shifts from Homer
to Euripides and back, the dream figure she has imaginary
conversations with is sometimes her father and sometimes Euripides,
and the play repeatedly invokes Medea in an ominous foreshadowing
that turns out to be a total red herring (I think – as I said, the
ending is very opaque).
Isabella Nefar captures
Judith's attractive passion for
learning but never for a second seems a teenager. Caroline Loncq as
the don and Shanaya Rafaat as the cop offer generic stock
They and the other cast members, whose performances range from wooden
to confused, all seem desperately in search of a director.
In a programme note Edward Hall thanks Howard Brenton for his frequent contributions to the Hampstead Theatre. It might be that in this case gratitude got in the way of artistic judgement.
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Review - Jude - Hampstead Theatre 2019