Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs (****)
What an irritatingly liberating playwright Anthony Neilson is. There’s something irredeemably adolescent about his writing, as though unwilling to let go that side of himself that is forever young, anarchic, rebellious and in tune with what it is to be teen and twenty.
Neilson has one almighty joke in Unreachable – amongst many of spiralling outrageousness – the creation of Ivan (known as `The Brute’), clearly based on German actor Klaus Kinski who worked regularly with Werner Herzog and who like Ivan here, enjoyed an explosive relationship with his director.
Jonjo O’Neill, in blonde wig (and strangely reminiscent as if an updated teutonic version of Rocky Horror Show’s Dr Frank-N-Furter) plays Ivan to the hilt, savouring every abusive morsel in a play deliriously off-kilter about a film director obsessed by the search for and capture of a moment of `light’ – a moment that for Matt Smith’s Maxim, as so often in the search for perfection, remains out of reach, a chimera.
Though Neilson has Max seriously caught up in the current cinematic debates of shooting digitally or on film, you can’t help thinking ultimately that Neilson is having us on. Unreachable becomes a jolly send-up, a play-within-a-film-set divided into short scenes – Act 1, scene 1’ – with stage management steering aluminium screens and boxes around the Royal Court’s empty stage.
Improvised and created by the company and Neilson together, it’s ridiculous, huge fun and frequently horrendously politically incorrect.
Smith’s shambling, neurotic Max is beautifully contrasted by Tamara Lawrance in a stunning debut as his deadpan, black leading lady, Natasha (`I’m an actor; if you want me to feel pain, f*ucking pay me.’), Amanda Drew as Anastasia, his long-suffering exec producer, Genevieve Barr as a deaf (cue more jokes) influential financial backer and Richard Pyros as Max’s slightly dumb cameraman, Carl, in extremis both about Max’s demands and Anastasia’s hot-cold feelings for him.
Increasingly out spoken about what he considers the pathetic state of contemporary British theatre, ironically, when all the comic posturing is taken away, in Unreachable Neilson has delivered a rather wonderful essay on the fake in life and in art, using film as his metaphor for it.
In the end, dear reader, I loved it!
Unreachable runs at the Royal Court to Aug 6, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate, July 2016