Anthony Neilson’s latest offering opens on a sparse stage. Tamara Lawrance walks to centre stage and delivers an emotive monologue as an audition for successful director Maxim’s (Matt Smith) epic film Child of Ashes. The intensity dissolves instantly as she reverts back to herself, an ability Maxim struggles to understand throughout, determined there must be some real life pain at the root of her moving performance.
The play quickly descends into humour, bordering on farce with the introduction of Ivan ‘The Brute’ later in the act. The audience are witness to the raw and unpleasant life inside the film business. Maxim is temperamental, self-centred, and outrageous in his demands. His child-like behaviour has only been heightened by his recent award of the Palme D’Or. He delays the filming almost endlessly, apparently over his concern for capturing the perfect light but in reality masking his anxiety over completing the film he has been working on for ten years. Director of Photography Carl (Richard Pyros) loses patience and can’t understand Anastasia’s (Amanda Drew) seemingly endless devotion to him.
Anastasia is manipulative, using Carl’s feelings for her in order to get what she wants, and casually offering sex when she needs to relax. Her commitment to Maxim’s films is evidenced when she reveals that she missed her mother’s funeral because she was on set with him. This should be a shocking revelation but the lack of emotional depth in the characters makes it almost a throwaway line.
As the play progresses we see the characters pushed to their limits in terms of what they are willing to sacrifice for their art and success. Despie the serious themes present the audience was in raptures, especially in response to Jonjo O’Neill’s hammy performance as Ivan. The star performance for me, however, was Lawrance whose versatility was apparent in Natasha’s ability to switch on any emotion thrown at her by Maxim.
There were some excellent performances but none of the characters were particularly likeable and I struggled to connect with any of their stories. The set design helped create the oppressive environment of the studio and the final scene was a credit to Chloe Lamford and Chahine Yavroyan’s set and lighting designs. Not quite to my taste but clearly very pleasing to other members of the audience, this unusual play runs until August 6th at the Royal Court Theatre, London.