Tag Archives: Hamish Pirie

“Goats” at the Royal Court Theatre

There are real goats on stage for Liwaa Yazji’s new play. Set in a Syrian village at war, the animals are given as compensation to families whose sons are said to have been martyred fighting. It’s a brilliantly repulsive idea. But bringing the animals on to the stage is misguided – they prove too distracting, creating a lack of focus indicative of a play overwhelmed by its subject matter.

Goats is sparse on specifics. Perhaps, as a Syrian documentary maker and poet, Yazji takes too much knowledge for granted from a UK audience. And, while the depiction of paranoia and the dissemination of propaganda are both effective, if the intention is for the play to serve as a parable, it is clumsy and too long.

Hamish Pirie’s direction encourages a poetic reading. There are many inventive touches and some strong imagery. But there are also too many technical shortcomings, with performances that are halting and stilted, a clumsy tackling of satire in the script and a lack of marshalling both of the text and the players that hinders comprehension.

There are some strong moments. Amir El-Masry plays returning soldier Adnan in compelling fashion. A confrontation with his family is riveting and brings out a strong performance from Souad Faress as his mother. A subsequent encounter with a grieving father, the local school teacher, Abu Firas, takes us to the kernel of a powerful plot point. These scenes are pinpointed, intimate and tense. But when the view is widened, the play falters.

Questioning the complicity of the wider society in the war needs far more exploration. Pinning so much on the character of Abu Firas makes sense, but the role isn’t fleshed out and the burden proves too much for Carlos Chahine, who struggles with the part. Similarly, the war’s effect on four youths is too cursory – it could be a play of its own. Too many nonsensical moments and untied ends result, making Goats too messy to be moving or enlightening.

Until 30 December 2017

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

 

“Human Animals” at the Royal Court

Stef Smith’s new play looks at control and civilisation, depicting a particularly English apocalypse under the veneer of an environmental disaster. The dystopia created when pigeons and foxes go mad (my, how playwrights love these disasters) leads to quarantine and mass destruction. It’s predictably grim but nonetheless affecting.

The production is innervated by direction from Hamish Pirie, while Camilla Clarke’s colourful murals, video projections and windows splattered with blood create an impressive set. Efforts are made to inject tension, but the trajectory of the story and political responses of the characters frustrate this.

Human Animals

The cast is top notch. Stella Gonet plays a grieving widow wonderfully (it’s the best part), joined by Natalie Dew as her spirited daughter. Their respective approaches to the crisis – resignation and revolt – are the central dynamic for Smith and could have made a play of its own.

Human AnimalsA young couple, admirably performed by Lisa McGrillis and Ashley Zhangazha, share the dilemma of what to do as the state takes charge. One saves animals secretly and the other works for the company profiting from slaughtering all the wildlife. Their relationship is depicted carefully but the argument is blunt.

Human Animals

For a final pairing, oddity is the theme. Two unlikely drinking partners, with bizarre twists to their conversations, are apathy and action personified. Even performers as magnetic as Ian Gelder and Sargon Yelda can’t save the roles from being a puzzle. Showing their bestial sides, as society breaks down, isn’t enough of a pay off.

With the majority of characters too briefly sketched, and the scenario less than compelling, it’s fortunate Smith writes with a powerful, poetic turn. Vivid imagery and bold scenes, where the cast combines to choral effect, are the highlights that ensure this sketchy play becomes impressively pushy.

Until 18 June 2016

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Helen Maybanks