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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Riflemind
Trafalgar Studios Autumn 2008

Though ostensibly about the reunion of a rock band - the title is the band's name - Andrew Upton's play is actually a sad study in the unbearable emptiness of ordinary life after exposure to some kind of excitement, be it music, fame, sex, money or drugs.

As we watch the members of a band that broke up twenty years ago manoeuvre uneasily around each other, we become aware that each has a different but equally desperate need to recreate the past, even if the impulse is futile or self-destructive.

John Hannah plays the lead singer and song writer, who broke up the group twenty years ago and has been living with his wife Lynn (Susan Prior) in an isolated country house. Only slowly, in their odd nervousness at the arrival of their old comrades, do we sense that they have been hiding from the world out of fear of what it might lure them into - the drugs and alcohol that almost killed them.

But John's brother Phil (Paul Hilton), who is still on drugs, misses the glory and excitement of the band that was his only connection to his brother, Phil's wife Cindy (Ruth Gemmell) knows that Phil is dying without it, drummer Moon (Steve Rodgers) is willing to return to the abuse they all heap on him because at least someone is acknowledging his existence, and manager Sam (Jeremy Sims), aware that he can't claim any talent, yearns for the days of free sex and the hope that he was at least a good stud.

And perhaps only at the end do we realise that John engineered the reunion out of his and Lynn's self-destructive need to be sucked back into their addictions.

The dynamic of the play has them each hiding and then admitting their real motives, with the main characters each given a set speech of self-revelation, usually in the form of an embarrassed confession to one of the others - Phil on the excitement of being at the top, Sam on how being good in bed gives him an identity, and, most eloquently, Lynn on the unbearable emptiness of life without drugs and the comforting warmth of a relapse.

If this all sounds a bit schematic, it is. Every character has a secret agenda, every one gets his or her turn to confess it, and they all jigsaw together to make the same point - real life is dreary after sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Almost inevitably, the characters are reduced to one note each, giving the actors little scope to develop them.

Film actor Philip Seymour Hoffman directs, and though he has clearly guided the actors to find as much as they can in the text - the big speeches all work - he's less successful in making us really care about them.

A few isolated moments aside, you are likely to feel yourself watching this play from afar, with no emotional connection or more than passing interest.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Riflemind - Trafalgar 2008