Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
Relocated is a play designed to disconcert and obfuscate. Anthony Neilson, who also directs, has brought together a team of theatre practitioners, most of whom are old friends.
In style, the play has similarities with the playwright's last couple, Realism and The Wonderful World of Dissocia, both of which were deliberately disjointed, as if in the mind or dreams of an individual. This time the perspective is widened, as we enter the heads of a stream of women on the edge of either discovery or breakdown.
In a gloomy, claustrophobic, widescreen black space designed by Miriam Buether, a series of short scenes plays for around 75 minutes, often repeating with small variations.
These are often shocking, sometimes memorable, but don't necessarily build up to give any substantive meaning to the piece as a whole.
Broadly, three women played by Jan Pearson, Nicola Walker and Frances Grey relive traumas in a small flat. These typically involve small children who have gone missing and there is also an element of ghost story underlying some of what is seen.
While the women are victims, the two men are positively terrifying. Stuart McQuarrie plays some kind of spymaster but also a slovenly husband who invents children, and Phil McKee starts sympathetically then slowly evolves into a Germanic murderer.
This is probably the key to the play, as it seems that Neilson only finished writing his script just before the opening night. The most telling scenes, including one where blood drips horrifically from the ceiling, suggest that the main topic for the evening is the terrible story of the Austrian father Josef Fritzl, who locked up his family and fathered children by his daughter.
His story is then combined with ubiquitous contemporary tales of murder where children are found under floorboards and in gardens on an all too regular basis, much to the pleasure of our pruriently invasive media.
One of the recurring themes of Relocated is that of the anagram and in some ways, the play is like one large anagram. It is diffuse and unintelligible but with an underlying hint that if only one could juggle the scenes and speeches into a different order, coherent meaning would miraculously appear.
In the meantime, it is best to enjoy the high production qualities and excellent acting while allowing the story to seep into the unconscious with the expectation that given enough time to marinate all might fall into place.
Playing until 5 July
Reviewer: Philip Fisher