REVIEW: Pity, Royal Court Theatre ✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews Sam Pritchard’s production of Rory Mullarkey’s play Pity at the Royal Court Theatre.

Pity review Royal Court
The cast of Pity at Royal Court. Photo: Helen Murray

Pity
The Royal Court Jerwood Theatre.
18 July 2018
3 Stars
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The entrance to Sam Pritchard’s production of Rory Mullarkey’s new play immediately raises expectations. If you’re in the stalls, you will enter the theatre via the alleyway, and to get to your seats you cross the stage, across  a set of a typical English town market square, with a brass band playing, ice cream for sale from a stall, and tombola for which you are given a raffle ticket. Cautious members of the audience seem a tad confused by this, whilst frustrated thespians make the most of a few fantasy moments treading the boards of the Royal Court stage. (Not me of course, you understand.) So far so good, but by the time the audience are seated and the raffle is drawn, its way past the starting time and I’m willing the play to start. And, for me, it sums the play up, some fantastical sequences but also some frustrating treading of water.

Pity Royal Court
The cast of Pity. Photo: Helen Murray

It’s a normal day and a man, an excellent narrator type figure warmly performed by Abraham Popoola, is watching the world go by. What follows I can best describe as Monty Python meets Black Mirror as the world disintegrates from sunshine, ice cream and shops to civil war, snipers, bombs, (lots of bombs), tanks, (fantastic Dalek like creations that I yearn to own), atrocities and a nation split apart. Its classic British surrealism and satire, in which Mullarkey creates a roller coaster of a ride along the insanity of the last two years and into the pit of the future. I loved not knowing what was going to happen next, and Chloe Lamford’s design is excellent, capturing the comic strip flavour of the piece perfectly. Yet, at one hour and forty minute with no interval, I felt the piece peaked at about the sixty minute mark. The civil war sequence is far too long, and repetition is the downfall of this piece, strobes and bombs become tedious quite quickly, and the succession of souls departing to Heaven is endless. It also means that there is little poignancy to this death toll, but if your taste is naturalistic, emphatic drama, this isn’t the play for you.

Pity review
The cast of Pity. Photo: Helen Murray

However, it’s a terrific ensemble, which connects strongly with the auditorium to tell the tale. Paul Bentall gets proceedings off to a hilarious start with his angry Professor, and Sophia Di Martino is excellent throughout as his Daughter. Sandy Grierson shines as the Red Warlord and I loved Helena Lymbery’s Prime Minister, “I’m the Prime Minister and this town I’ve forgotten the name of suddenly matters now”, echoing recent events in Salisbury, and Dorian Simpson’s balletic Captain is a scene stealer. Paul G Raymond has a ball in all his roles, and Francesca Mills is wonderful throughout, especially her stroppy co-worker who speaks in social media anger and emotions, and poignancy is finally delivered in Siobhan McSweeny’s Sal the Postman. All roles are played by the company and they excel.

It makes Yellow Submarine look like a Merchant Ivory feature; such is the style and surrealism of the production. I just feel some judicious editing would take the play away from the self indulgent edge a bit more. In saying that, it’s an enjoyable ride when you’re at the top of the roller coaster.

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