Now or Later

Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London

Whilst other matters have recently overtaken the race to be the next President of the United States, the election proper in November still awaits us. In the interim, we can enjoy Christopher Shinn’s new play, set on the night of a fictional Presidential election.

John Jnr (Eddie Redmayne), son of the Democratic candidate, is holed up in an apartment with college friend, Matt (Domhnall Gleeson) idly whiling away the time when a bombshell is dropped. Photos of John and Matt at a campus party dressed as Mohammed and `Pastor Bob’ – a Christian evangelical pastor – have begun to circulate.

John has been asked to make an apology. He can’t see why he should or why they are of any interest to his father. For him, it’s a purely private matter. For his father’s minder (Adam James), his mother (Nancy Crane), Tracy, a party worker (Pamela Nomvete), and not least Dad (Matthew Marsh) it is however potentially hugely dangerous, requiring an instant exercise in damage limitation.

From all of which Shinn begins to spin a heated, ultimately moving discussion on freedom of expression, fathers and sons and the private versus the public. Shinn, a writer who first came to prominence in the UK through the Royal Court’s Young Writers festival, has never been afraid to tackle big subjects (racism, post 9/11, Iraq), usually from a personal viewpoint. Now or Later marks a shift insofar as it sees him laying out his arguments with as much emphasis on the dialectical and intellectual as the emotional.

In the hands of Eddie Redmayne, however, the latter becomes considerable. Redmayne is a star in the making. As John, gay, idealistic, he conveys a quite extraordinary inner pain. The arguments around free speech and fundamentalism may have been too well rehearsed to surprise. But Redmayne, spelling out his beliefs with passionate self-righteousness, brings home all too convincingly the price Matthew March’s ambition and political compromise are exacting on his son.

That is a lesson as relevant here, to our political masters and their use of family members, as it is the other side of the pond. Slight but memorable, Dominic Cooke’s directs, Hildegard Bechtler designs the smart, ultra-modern appartment interior.

Now or Later was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs on Sept 3 and opened on Sept 11, 2008

First published in Reviewsgate in 2008