Catch

April de Angelis, Stella Feehily, Tanika Gupta, Chloe Moss and Laura Wade
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2006)

Publicity image - the writers

Claire Munonyedi is the coolest woman that you could hope to meet. A therapist who builds people's confidence back up after they have become victims of identity theft, she is an obvious role-model to a 15 year-old work-experience girl and also to her clients.

However, as a result of a series of mishaps, her life begins unravelling and soon Claire, excellently played by Tanya Moodie both when she is on top of the world and suffering, begins cracking up.

This contemporary play has been compiled by five female playwrights and pleasingly the joins rarely show although at times the styles are varied enough that Royal Court regulars might have fun guessing who has written which part.

The project, which closes the theatre's golden jubilee year, has been written, in part, to pay homage to the Court's legendary artistic experiment from 1971, Lay By, written by seven men who between them were to go on to become some of the finest playwrights of their generation. Who could fail to be impressed by a team featuring Howard Brenton, Brian Clark, Trevor Griffiths, David Hare, Stephen Poliakoff, Hugh Stoddart and Snoo Wilson?

Their 2006 equivalents are almost equally distinguished with a wide range of interests and ages. April de Angelis, Stella Feehily, Tanika Gupta, Chloe Moss and Laura Wade have between them put together a play that catches the interests and fears of society today.

Until a rather limp ending, the play is gripping and full of drama. Its two primary subjects are the nature and theft of identity, both by government and society at large, and the violence of youth today.

The director is Polly Teale, who is now far better known for her work with Shared Experience than at the Royal Court. She might well have designed the play since the script does not credit anybody else. The theatre is set up as a traverse with a big open space littered like the underpass that for much of the time it represents.

The action takes place at either end of the stage, the more comfortable being Claire's office in which we meet her insecure clients but also young Maya, an intelligent youngster, well played by Kathryn Drysdale, who is a little more interested in the visitors than her mentor might wish.

The opposite pole is controlled by a teenage gang led by Fatima and Casey, Farzana Dua Elahe and Niamh Webb. They are a little more intelligent than one might expect and like to film their deeds on mobile phones. These hip little girls have the street patois off to perfection and are simultaneously funny and chilling.

After Claire is first assaulted and then forced to face up to her past, they are both catalysts and witnesses who erase the evidence with terrifying efficiency.

Catch catches the mood of the times tremendously well, playing on the fear of identity theft but also investigating its close cousins, the identity card and the marketing database.

By combining this with a worryingly believable portrait of the terror that one is forced to overcome travelling through any quiet, dark underpass (or street for that matter) late at night, this quintet has provided a fine closure to a celebratory year that may not have been consistently brilliant but has contained enough highlights to allow departing artistic director Ian Rickson to feel proud

Running until 22nd December

Reviewer: Philip Fisher