Private Room

Mark Lee
New End Theatre
(2004)

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The scandalous treatment of prisoners held for years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba without charge is very much flavour of the week in north-west London. Hot on the heels of Guantanamo at the Tricycle, comes another world premiere selling itself on the back of this subject.

In fact, The Private Room is actually as much a play about unpleasant Wall Street traders as it is a dissection of American political intrigues.

On one side of the stage, the action takes place in the private back room of a restaurant near Wall Street presided over by Bernice Stegers' hero-worshipping Anna.

Her prize guests, Lawrence (Michael Hayden) and Tommy (James Howard) are "Masters of the Universe" who could have walked straight out of Bonfire Of the Vanities, although their characters are more reminiscent of those in Neil Labute's In the Company of Men.

These happy-go-lucky misogynists have no qualms about bending the rules a little to make even more money. As the play opens, they are in danger of being caught out by a junior employee, the underdressed Barbara Dempsey, played with great energy by Janet Kidder.

The downward spiral of the lives and careers of the money men is paralleled by the action taking place stage left. In her spare time, their clerk moonlights as a military intelligence officer in the army reserve.

She takes a year out to become an interrogator and having been posted to Cuba, her poor victim is Richard Sumitro's Salman Bashir. It is not clear as to whether he has done anything wrong but by the end of the play, the interrogation that uses sex as a weapon at least as much as violence leads to his committing suicide by cutting a vein in his elbow.

The problem with The Private Room is that none of the characters are believable as rounded human beings and the plotting struggles to maintain coherence. Far too often, individuals will make statements that seem to be far more those of playwright Mark Lee than themselves.

Ultimately, there is no real sense of the glamour of making millions or the horror of being tortured.

Lee's original concept had scope to create a really powerful indictment of American foreign policy and as a by-product, attack the worst excesses of greed and capitalism. Sadly, for the most part he fails to deliver on either count.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher