Tuesday, 13 April 2010


5/4/10, Donmar

Another dud from the Donmar, though we were seeing a late preview. Mark Haddon's theatrical debut, he of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. That was about autism, this was about bipolar disorder.

A (who has experience of bipolar disorder in the family) liked it a lot. She evidently recognised something truthful in the fractured narrative, the vaguely hallucinatory succession of disconnected scenes and Jodhi May's performance as Kay: bouncing, funny, confident one minute, howling convincingly with distress and hatred the next.

The performance was good, but the play itself was all over the place. The chronology was deliberately jumbled and badly signposted. It began and ended with the central character's death, which was fine; but as matters proceeded she was sometimes a child, sometimes an adult, sometimes married, sometimes not. Her mother was alive, her mother was dead, her mother was alive again. At one point she was pregnant, but no child apparently resulted. There seemed no logic to this, though perhaps A would say there is no logic to bipolarity. The problem was that without clearer signposting we were adrift and, frankly, a bit bored. And there were too many long speeches.

Worst of all was the character of Jesus. First he appeared as Jesus, long hair, beard, flowing white robes, glossing his career for the modern and sceptical Kay. Maybe he was a figment of her imagination. Maybe he was a fellow-inmate in the loony bin. Who could tell? Then he appeared as one of her ex-boyfriends, re-encountered when she went awol from her marriage; a weekend of reputedly great sex ensured. Then he appeared to give a lecture on the process by which the human body decomposes (dragging on by way of illustration a "body" wrapped in polythene sheeting). And your point?

The other characters were conventional. There was Kay; her husband John (Richard Coyle, rather touching), who loved her but was ultimately driven to despair by her impossibility; her shit of a brother (Paul Hilton) and a her widowed mother (Celia Imrie, a bit shaky still). Mother was widowed and, beneath her posh exterior, needy: father had hanged himself when they were children. There was a vivid description by the brother of finding his body and remembering only that he'd wet himself and his bowels had opened.

There were some nice touches. In the first scene John announces to the horrified brother that he has killed Kay and hidden her body in the cellar. John you assume is the madman, the brother represents outraged decency. By the end you see why John was driven to it and the brother is revealed as distinctly iffy. Kay is fascinated by polar bears and remembers a visit to Svalbard (real or imagined?). In one early scene she chatters excitedly into her mobile claiming she's in Oslo. Is she really? No way of knowing.

The set consisted of a bare stage, a back wall of sliding glass panels with a corridor behind it and a walkway above (they had to get down rather clumsily by a ladder). Kay was (wanted to be?) a children's writer and at one stage sheets of paper came tumbling from the ceiling to lie scattered around the stage for the rest of the play. She tried to set fire to them at one point.

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