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Cat's Paw

William Mastrosimone
King's Head Theatre
(2007)

Production photo

Cat's Paw is not so much a play as an extended polemic. Having said that, it is an impressive polemic that at certain points almost makes an unanswerable case for eco-warriors who choose to take radical steps to publicise and further their cause.

We are helpfully informed by the programme that American playwright William Mastrosimone's title refers not to a playful kitten with a ball of wool but "a person who is used by another, typically to carry out an unpleasant or dangerous task".

In this play, that other is the humourless, preachy Victor, a hairy Rambo-like spokesman and would be eco-bomber for Earth Now. The snappily-named Washington-based organisation is a minority grouping that might have its roots in the likes of Greenpeace but believes that the only way to stop the American government from polluting its citizens is direct action.

American actor Noah Lee Margetts works wonders with lines that often border on the unspeakable. He creates and trots out a party line that frequently feels as if it was written to make points rather than imitate normal speech. Victor is great with clichés, platitudes and maxims, as he tries to persuade a pretty young TV anchorwoman, Kosha Engler's Jessica Lyons, that his case is worth airtime on the peak time news.

They meet in a lovingly recreated warehouse hideout, presumably designed by Margetts who also directs. It features camouflage netting on the walls, sinister canisters piled high and, as the lights come up, a hooded hostage, David Darling played by Richard Sandells.

He is not quite as innocent as he seems, having worked for a Government department that is indirectly responsible for the deaths of 2,500 Americans each year through water pollution. Even so, this weak, literally shaking, man does not deserve the fate that he suffers at the hands of his not always sympathetic captors.

The core of the play commences with the arrival of Ms Lyons, as feisty as they come, to interview the mysteriously omniscient Victor for a home movie that will undoubtedly entertain millions following a suicide bombing by the third member of this tiny terrorist (not a word that the big man appreciates) cell.

Time and again, as Victor spews out his own misguided views, the pretty TV journalist bravely challenges them and launches accusations that, were he as unstable as he seems, would almost certainly have led to her summary execution.

In fact, he is really a pussycat who allows the expert to take control, apparently grateful for her superior journalistic experience. It is only following the death of his colleague Cathy (Siri Steinmo), who gets her own big speech, that he really gets into top gear.

Then, overriding the professional, he interviews/interrogates Darling revealing the wickedness of George Dubya's FBI colleagues and to an extent, justifying his actions.

Cat's Paw really has its heart in the right place, as it attacks national institutions that are more concerned with their own political correctness than the people that they are elected to protect.

By the end, having heard phrases such as "unacceptable risk to public health" that really mean state-sponsored murder, one begins to sympathise with eco-warriors everywhere and that must surely have been the play's purpose.

The pity is that William Mastrosimone spends so much of the 90 minute running time using his characters as puppets rather than constructing a coherent drama with real human beings. Even so, for those who are interested in a subject that rarely makes it on to a London stage, the trip to Islington will prove enlightening and possibly even encouraging.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher