Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?

Caryl Churchill
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
(2006)

Publicity graphic

On a superficial level, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? is a simple love-story about a married Englishman, Jack (played by Stephen Dillane) who falls for a handsome, younger American named Sam (Ty Burrell).

These two actors, who have had successful stage and screen careers on opposite sides of the Atlantic, work exceptionally well together.

However, anyone who has seen a play by Caryl Churchill will know that she does not deal in the superficial. Although her latest play lasts for less than an hour, following in the highly successful slipstream of Harold Pinter/Ian Rickson's Krapp's Last Tape, it packs a mighty punch and has far more to say about the state of the world today than almost anything else currently showing on a London stage.

It soon becomes clear that these lovers are barely concealed representatives of their own nations. This is political theatre at its most cutting and in no time, using the jargon of the CIA and MI6, the pair are boasting about their worldwide conquests.

Director James Macdonald, helped by a top American scenic designer Eugene Lee, has the good sense to realise that many of the images portrayed are pretty horrifying and, given the opportunity offered by a script completely bereft of stage directions, injects humour with a steadily rising couch and cigarettes and coffee cups that materialise from thin air. Macdonald's other success is in achieving a satisfying rhythm, starting slowly and remaining relaxed.

This gives the audience a little light relief but does not in any way detract from the seriousness of the subject-matter under debate.

The first scene may be about love between the two men but, very soon, disinformation as a means of doing down legitimate governments in the Third World, methods of mass slaughter and political destabilisation take over. Eventually, after some pithy comments on globalisation and the impact of the destruction of the twin tower, the play brings us up to date and the use of global-warming as a weapon. These terrifying manifestations of Anglo/US power all show how much Jack and Sam, representatives of England and America respectively, are in each other's pockets.

You can feel Miss Churchill's vitriol at the burgeoning relationship between these two countries, as she flings every piece of damning evidence of their collective malice towards the innocent into her script.

Even so, she cannot resist a good joke when the opportunity arises and her juxtapositioning of American hatred of cigarettes and even passive smoking with their determined pollution of the atmosphere is simultaneously thought provoking and hilarious.

Recently Caryl Churchill has developed a fine skill in writing short but powerful two-handers, as her last play in this space, A Number which starred Sir Michael Gambon and James Bond (Daniel Craig), took a similarly intense look at human cloning.

Plays like this can make a big political impact although one cannot guarantee that statesmen will understand some of the more the subtle nuances of Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?

Indeed, a former Cabinet Minister in Lady Thatcher's Tory government enjoyed herself so much when she visited the Royal Court on press night that she was able to sum up the piece in a single word - "bullshit".

Others may well take a little more time to reflect on this marvellously inventive satire on jingoistic triumphalism, before concluding that a world that can throw up a drama as coruscating as this one is desperately in need of some serious political surgery.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher