The Lying Kind

Anthony Neilson

Royal Court

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

Anthony Neilson's new, incredibly black farce has many of the ingredients of the classic Christmas nativity play. It is set on Christmas Eve, has a great interest in young children, contains a wise man called Balthazar, some animals and a few Carols.

While The Lying Kind is as close as the Royal Court is likely to get to a Christmas production, it is hardly Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. Perhaps a better analogy would be a combination of the works of the novelist Tom Sharpe and the playwright Joe Orton.

Everything seems suitably quiet and innocent as the lights come up on Bob Bailey's beautifully painted suburban terrace. Once the facade disappears, he demonstrates an ability to create what must be one of shabbiest living rooms that has ever graced a stage. Complete with MFI furniture, a 1970s music centre and dowdy settees and wallpaper, it is perfect for its purpose.

The play commences with two inept policemen, Blunt and Gobbe, played respectively by Darryl de Silva and Thomas Fisher, building up the courage to inform an elderly couple of the death of their daughter, Carol. Even before the terrifying tattoo-necked Gronya arrives and grabs them by the balls, they have more than their fair share of problems.

Once the unlovely representative of PAPS (or Parents Against Paedophile Scum), a group that satirises the vigilantes that pursue paedophiles with a view to lynching them, turns up, the play takes off. It doesn't take long it to realise that you are in a horribly realistic world turned on its head.

There is almost always some kind of internal logic to the plot, but it is very surreal, extremely funny and often anatomises today's society with fearful accuracy. As with all of the best farces, there are couple of policemen, a vicar, and an old couple, one of whom is mad and the other has a dicky ticker. There are also numerous misunderstandings that lead to some incredibly funny moments. Even those great innocents, Rolf Harris and Harry Potter, fail to escape the playwright's barbed pen.

The Lying Kind can be a little patchy, and some of the jokes miss their marks. However, thanks to Neilson's excellent direction and writing, the audience is led deeper and deeper into his strange, parallel world. The play is beautifully structured and action-packed, and every time it appears to be reaching a lull, there is a new shocking turn that keeps the narrative driving forwards. This ensures that, at least metaphorically, the audience is regularly beaten about the head, a fate that meets most of the play's characters rather more literally.

Neilson has a reputation for shocking his audiences but surprisingly, despite deaths of humans and animals, cross-dressing vicars and undertones of paedophilia, no one left the theatre before the rousing reception for a universally excellent cast. In particular, Alison Newman is superbly as the paedophile-hating Gronya, while veterans Sheila Burrell and Patrick Godfrey have great fun hamming it up.

Many people either love or hate farce and Ray Cooney has given it a particular character. Even those who profess to hate it and are not planning to visit a pantomime this year, should give Anthony Neilson's version a try, as his combination of the blackest comedy with elements of farce is a great success. Merry Christmas!

The Lying Kind is playing until 11th January, 2003.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.