Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat - 4

Mark Ravenhill
A Gate Theatre, National Theatre, Out of Joint, Paines Plough and the Royal Court co-production
Various locations
(2008)

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Fear and Misery
Royal Court

This short play takes place over a dinner hardly enjoyed by a loving if rather stressed couple who have everything that one could desire - except inner security. It eventually becomes a curtain-raiser to War & Peace (see below), which carries on the ideas that it raises but is not able to explore fully.

Dominic Cooke directs Joseph Millson and Joanna Riding playing Harry and Olivia the anxious thirtysomething parents of Alex, a baby suffering from nightmares, which they attribute to media tales of war.

The seemingly relaxed enjoyment of pasta and salad is highly appropriate for a created stage in the Royal Court's basement bar. Indeed, couples like this are the archetypal users of this trendy Sloane Square bar.

The setting is so intimate and claustrophobic that it is possible to trip up the actors in this Pinteresque exposé of modern fears.

Initially, like any affluent young parents their main concern is the baby alarm. However, there is more to blight what should be idyllic lives than a little infantile grizzling and tales of distant wars.

Their intimate exchanges become fierce, which is really shocking to those standing within a couple of feet of the dinner table. There is nothing more unsettling than being in the midst of a noisy domestic argument, especially when sex is at its heart.

The concerns are both realistic and slightly surreal. The woman, Olivia, half sees her partner Harry as a rapist, while he wants to give up their perfectly happy family home to move into a gated community where he will feel safe.

Their fears for their own future and that of their son may seem overblown but the presence in the kitchen of a headless soldier suggests that all is not well in their home but more particularly their society.

War and Peace
Royal Court

This is a strange week. On consecutive nights, two plays entitled War and Peace (give or take an ampersand) opened in London. The first, at Hampstead, took seven hours adapting Tolstoy's Russian epic on a large scale. The offering directed by Dominic Cooke in the war torn back room of the Royal Court's basement bar area comes in at about 20 minutes with a cast of 1½.

This is a much stronger companion piece to and continuation of Fear and Misery (see above), which takes place on the other side of the bar. Cooke has decided to run the pair together with a break between the two only long enough for visitors to take the twenty steps from one stage to the other.

Now, we are in the bedroom of the precocious Lewis Lempereur-Palmer's 7-year-old Alex, a mini Master of the Universe. He is there with his secret friend, a Desert War Soldier, played with just the right degree of menace by Burn Gorman.

The poor Soldier is handicapped by the lack of a head, which is enough to give any child the kind of nightmares that leave the bed soaked.

Mind you, Alex is such a prig with his ambitions to run a hedge fund from his luxury gated community that you could forgive the Soldier for wanting to wring the child's head. In fact, the warrior's ambitions are more modest, merely to borrow it so that he can yomp back to War and kill off a few "towelheads".

The play really hits its stride as the whining Soldier points out that when he was Alex's age, the gated community was a council estate.

In doing so, he commences what could easily have been a much longer debate about why soldiers should fight to keep wealthy money makers in the style to which they are accustomed but have no more right than the working classes whom they have usurped.

It may be short but War & Peace offers much food for thought, if not quite the bulk and majesty of its Tolstoyan predecessor.

The Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat index

Reviewer: Philip Fisher