The Theatreguide.London Review
Soho Theatre Autumn 2012
Three road-building Irish labourers – or they may be three aspects of the same man – tell the story of one's life, beginning with his impulsively killing an older man at a crossroads and then solving a riddle and meeting and marrying an older woman, and have you spotted the problem yet?
Playwright Colin Teevan very inventively transfers the greatest of classical tragedies to a modern setting, but he tips his hand too soon. You'll spot the story he's really telling about as quickly as you did in this review, and then have nothing to do for the rest of the play but stand apart from it, admiring the playwright's cleverness.
This is a real shame, not just because Teevan is working with one of the most resonant of tragedies but because his retelling has all the skill and poetic power to be emotionally involving and tragic if only he had allowed us to be drawn more fully into it before the 'Aha!' moment that turned it all into just a gimmick.
I'm being a bit unfair. Teevan, director Lucy Pitman-Wallace and the three actors work to create an evocative atmosphere of myth and tragedy. The language is unforcedly poetic in the way slightly heightened stage Irishness can easily be.
The three men, identified only as Young Man, Man and Old Man (respectively Anthony Delaney, Owen O'Neill and Gary Lilburn), are discovered shovelling rocks and pebbles on a work site, and never fully stop working even as they weave their story, literally weaving amongst each other as they take turns being narrator, chorus and subsidiary characters in each episode.
Teevan adds a few twists to the received story (laying on an extra layer of incest) and fleshes it out with the wholly new account of the hero's rise from hired labourer to contractor to construction mogul. And he effectively adds levels of irony by telling the story out of order, so that one narrator's description of the younger man's rise in business climaxes at the same time as another's account of the fall.
And all of this could be, if not quite Sophoclean in power, at least moving, if we weren't pushed back so early in the play into the suspicion that this was all just a bit of authorial showing-off, a sceptical position from which we might be able to return as far as cool observation and intellectual appraisal, but not to the depth of emotional involvement that tragedy requires.
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Review - The Kingdom - Soho Theatre 2012