No Quarter

Polly Stenham
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Maureen Beattie (Lily), Tom Sturridge (Robin) Credit: Johan Persson
Joshua James (Arlo) Credit: Johan Persson
Zoe Boyle (Scout), Taron Egerton (Tommy) Credit: Johan Persson

At times, No Quarter feels like a pair of bookends with no books in between. At the start and finish, there is a family drama that asks some interesting questions about our world today. In between is a long stretch that is closer to one of those 1960s drug-fuelled happenings than a serious investigation of character.

As advocates saw in her multiple award-winning That Face, Polly Stenham is hung up on Oedipal relationships and the pairing of Lily and Robin follows that pattern.

The mother, played by Maureen Beattie, is a free spirit who never grew out of her hippiedom. She did however manage to find the cash to own what is practically a stately home, albeit one that looks rather like a spacious antique shop, in Tom Scutt's design concept, which enchantingly encompasses the whole auditorium.

Film favourite Tom Sturridge's Robin is a home (hardly)-educated Peter Pan who lacks all sense of the values that make the world go round but plays a mean piano. This is made very clear by the contrast created with Patrick Kennedy as his elder brother Oliver, a deeply respectable politician.

Their tetchy meeting is all set up as Lily is dying a horrible death from Alzheimer's Disease, having escaped from a hospital or hospice to die as she had lived. It also sets up a final scene where wastrel Robin is obliged to hide his nobility of spirit, while consistently denying obvious truths.

In between the battle of the brothers and some uncomfortable revelations comes the best part of 90 minutes of trippy self-indulgence.

In the aftermath of Lily's memorial service, Robin breaks into the house to enjoy a spirited party with a group that could almost have been shipped in from Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem but without containing the same degree of conviction and authenticity.

There are a rough drug-dealer and a 14-year-old girl who become equally and inexplicably obsessed with Robin.

For accompaniment, his only friends and possibly the corrupters of this innocent roll up. They are twins with odd ideas and names twins, Scout and Arlo and, to complete the bizarre group, a cousin who only reveals that she is a trainee policewoman after enjoying a coke (the fizzing white powder, not fizzing brown liquid)-spiked drink that threatens her career and leads to a period of trance music and behaviour.

What begins and ends as a promising drama picking up on themes from Polly Stenham's earlier plays spends far too long going nowhere prior to a thoughtful ending that shows what might have been.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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