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Victory at the Dirt Palace

Adriano Shaplin
The Riot Group at the Riverside Studios
(2003)

Victory at the Dirt Palace comes to London with a very good track record and the highest expectations. When it was presented at The Garage in 2002, not one of the larger Edinburgh Fringe venues, it almost scooped the pot. It won a Scotsman Fringe First, an Angel from the Herald and was nominated for The Stage Award for Best Ensemble.

Like Jason Cattrell's The Executive Lear, which played at Edinburgh the previous year, the story is loosely based on King Lear. It cleverly intertwines modern-day American speech, quotes from Shakespeare and language that is somewhere in the middle.

The play tells the tale of a successful TV anchorman, James Mann (played by Paul Schnabel), who is now 62 and after 30 successful years faces a younger challenger. This is his daughter Katherine (Stephanie Viola) who is working with a competing channel.

In the background are too treacherous assistants who seem have their own interestsat heart at least as much before as those of their stars. They ensure that the stars are constantly at each other's throats.

The play is somewhat episodic and would work well on television. It initially shows the two protagonists preparing for their big head-to-head showdown, like prospective presidents of the United States. As the stakes increase, they are egged on to greater and greater insults by their backstabbing assistants.

Having said that, this is based on King Lear, In many ways, the plot differs significantly from the original, as Cordelia was much more self-effacing than Katherine, and her sisters are missing.

It works especially well when James is beaten in the contest and begins to spiral into a Lear-like madness using the old King's own words. It is perhaps inevitable that the father and daughter will end up wiser but happier on a minor cable channel in the sticks.

The play is apparently directed by the whole of The Riot Group and is a very slick, fast-paced production that both satirises the cult of news personality and addresses more serious issues. It is no coincidence that the major news event that is the centrepiece of the contest is a September 11-like terrorist attack.

It is clear that this company has been together for several months as they are rarely wrong-footed as they keep up the breakneck pace. The acting can sometimes be a little hysterical, which might be intended as a statement on the stresses of the roles that such people play; and contemporary times. Ultimately, the result of this is that it is hard to sympathise with either Mann as they destroy each other.

This satire is an enjoyable confection that is probably best seen at an event like the Edinburgh Festival. However, the Riverside Studios has the right feel and is not a bad alternative venue for one of the hits of Edinburgh 2002.

Read Peter Lathan's review of the Edinburgh production here.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher