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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Royal Court Theatre       Spring 2006

According to the publicity, Simon Stephens' new play is about a soldier who returns from Basra to an alien England of antiwar feeling and moral ambiguities that drives him to an extreme reaction.

Unfortunately that does not describe the play we see onstage.

Yes, Danny has returned from the war, but the England he finds is characterised by a brother who puts him up, an old friend who offers him a job, a former girlfriend who tries to avoid a confrontation with him and long-estranged parents who are nonetheless willing to lie for him.

The worst thing he encounters, aside from an illegal gun dealer he searches out, is a harmless swinging couple looking for a bit of fun. Oh, and the antiwar movement gets hardly a mention.

Meanwhile, we are told that Danny always was, in the play's word, a psychopath, and we see him stalking his ex-girlfriend on his way to a particularly ugly crime against an innocent bystander, and a general nastiness to everyone else.

So what the play is really about is a violent nutcase who is using his war experience as an excuse to be what he always was, only more so. And that is neither particularly attractive to watch, nor particularly interesting.

And, not finding much else to hold our attention, we are free to notice how much of the dialogue sounds like a bad imitation of early Pinter, with the over-formal syntax and the allusive hints at never-disclosed subtexts.

Director Ramin Gray seems to have sensed this, since he tries to dress the play up in a kind of anti-theatricality, setting it on a totally bare stage, with the building's back wall and the stage manager visible, and having the cast change the few props (mainly some chairs) in stylised between-scenes choreography that has nothing to do with the tone or content of the play.

Daniel Mays gives Danny all the wild flying-off-in-a-hundred-directions energy the character needs, though he is unable to make him make much sense. The rest of the cast is given little to do, though Tom Fisher is attractive as the brother and Ony Uhiara sympathetic as the hapless victim.

Gerald Berkowitz

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