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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Pity
Royal Court Theatre   Summer 2018

Rory Mullarkey's new play begins as a party and then becomes in turn a farce, a bitter satire on war, an apocalyptic nightmare and a comforting reassurance that none of the bad stuff really matters and a happy ending is waiting for us. There are some effective moments, both comic and serious, but none of it hangs together. 

I think there's meant to be something in there about how modern life and the sensory overload of 24-hour news have made us incapable of being moved by the horrors around us. But it is buried under so much cleverness-for-its-own sake that too little other than the cleverness comes through. 

The distraction begins when we are not allowed to enter the Royal Court the normal way but are sent down an alley to go in a backstage door and cross the stage on our way to our seats. 

This does route us past an onstage ice cream stand that may draw an extra two pounds out of some but seems to serve no other purpose. 

There's an onstage brass quartet tootling away pleasantly, and a tombola with prizes for a few in the audience, and then – none of this being in the published text and therefore presumably director Sam Pritchard's additions – the play begins. 

A man identified only as Person decides to go into town and people-watch. Cue the rest of the cast crossing back and forth in a series of silly walks, broad mugging, exaggerated double-takes and other visual gags. 

He meets and instantly marries a girl. Someone is struck by lightning. Someone is killed by an offstage bomb. Someone is killed by an onstage sniper. And suddenly we are in a war zone. 

The war is represented by half the cast shooting the other half and claiming victory, only for the dead to rise and shoot them, claiming victory – the cycle repeated five or six times to pounding techno music and a neon sign flashing ATROCITIES. 

When the war peters out there are a string of bangs and flashes that are not always clear but that the text identifies as an earthquake, flood, meteor strike, plague and a passing-but-not-stopping-to-chat angel. And then – spoiler alert – there's a sort of a happy ending. 

The opening scenes in the town square are amusing, the repetitious war sequence and lines like 'The plan is to keep bombing until it gets better' feel like things some really clever schoolkids might have come up with, and many of the in-passing gags (like the angel) generate legitimate laughs. 

The single best-written sequence in the play, a passing postwoman's account of her day, is so completely different in style from everything else that you can't help suspecting it was written separately and shoehorned in here, but Siobhan McSweeney delivers it very effectively, anchoring the play in a mundane reality that is missing elsewhere. 

Abraham Popoola and Sophia Di Martino as the central couple, and the rest of the cast, all tripling and quadrupling roles as Everyone Else, manage to keep straight faces most of the time, though without ever giving the impression that they know what's going on.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Pity - Royal Court Theatre 2018  
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