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Wild East

April de Angelis
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2005)

Wild East publicity image

Director Phyllida Lloyd has teamed up again with designer Mark Thompson in a partnership that is becoming regular. The latter's set is like a beige art exhibit with Bridget Riley walls and an Anish Kapoor-style bowling ball-sized silver globe sculpture on one of its ultra-modern tables. He also has a dramatic surprise up his sleeve for the denouement.

This 80 minute long, three-hander works on a number of different levels. It starts off simply enough as Tom Brooke's Frank, a greasy-haired, nerdy anthropologis, attends a job interview with two imposing female doctors (the PhD kind). This seemingly unemployable graduate of the University of Lampeter is desperate to get a job, market researching in the Old Soviet Union for what seems a somewhat sinister company.

Initially, the interview could not go worse as he demonstrates a startling lack of basic social skills and a desire to tell banal stories, all to his own disadvantage.

However, all is not well between Drs Pitt and Gray. The forme, played by Sylvestra Le Touze,l has an arm in a sling and has just returned to work following a beating that has left her prone to moodswings. Her colleague, Helen Schlesinger, is much sunnier and sympathetic on the surface.

It soon becomes apparent that this pair had been lovers and are now in a state of mistrust bordering on the murderous. This isn't helped by insecurities brought on by the recent take-over of their company.

Soon, power alliances shift in every combination between the three protagonists, in a microcosm of the primitive lives in which their education has been grounded.

April de Angelis hasn't finished yet, as she has a message to get across. She achieves this by introducing the mystical in the form of a shamanic 30,000-year-old bird and some strong hash.

Eventually, the silver sculpture takes on great symbolic significance. This modern globe destroys the ancient culture as surely as the globalisation propagated by the company is sucking Siberia dry of both wealth and culture.

The acting under Miss Lloyd's direction is strong with Tom Brooke unforgettable as the awful Frank, the perfect antidote to Indiana Jones.

Wild East is an odd piece that prefers tangents to the direct approach. For this reason, it will not be to everybody's taste.

It can be extremely funny as the trio jousts, constantly and rather unpredictably, changing attitudes while discussing such subjects as the ethnology of yoghurt. For the most part though, its deeper meaning is best understood by those who are willing to offer the reflection that abstract art so often demands.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher