Though barely an hour and a quarter long, Christopher Shinn's new drama has more meat to it than many plays twice its length.
It puts Shinn in that small company of playwrights (Shaw, sometimes Frayn, sometimes Hare) who can make intellectual debate theatrically dramatic, and it will leave you thinking and wanting to continue the discussion, either with others or within your own head.
Set on the night of an American election, in the hotel of the Democratic candidate who is about to win, the play centres on the candidate's university-aged son. Word has leaked out about a prank he played at school that could be interpreted as anti-Islamic, and his father's political advisors are rushing to defuse it.
But the boy, who has jealously guarded his privacy and separation from his father's political life, resists their pleas that he apologise. It was a purely local event with no interest to the outside world, he insists. If there was a political element, it was strictly about campus issues, and cannot be taken as a comment on Islam in general, and even if it were, it comes under the heading of legitimate free speech that should not be repressed.
The fact that the boy is gay, and therefore has a particular sensitivity to repression, Islamic, Christian or just the cowardly political, strengthens his position as he argues that any concession would be allowing the repressive forces to redefine the boundaries of freedom. On the other hand, he has little defence against charges of being insensitive to the realpolitik of his father's position or to a totally alien culture that can only interpret his actions in their lights.
The play is set in the boy's room, as one envoy after another from the candidate's suite - an unfriendly political aide, a friendly one, the boy's mother, and finally the father - enter to try one argument after another. And the debates are good, examining every issue from every side, giving full force to every argument, convincing us that important things are at stake and, above all, holding our attention with the dramatic energy of the ideas and the passions behind them.
Given that all the characters could have been nothing more than mouthpieces for their various arguments, it is striking how successful Shinn, director Dominic Cooke and the cast are in fleshing them out and letting us relate to them as real human beings to whom these issues really matter.
Eddie Redmayne (He was the son in Albee's The Goat a few years ago) is particularly strong as the young man who finds himself voicing and defending principles he may never consciously have thought of until this moment, with solid support in particular from Domhnall Gleeson as a school friend and Pamela Nomvete as the more sympathetic of the political advisors.
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Review - Now or Later - Royal Court 2008