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Saturday 6 April 2013

The Low Road, play by Bruce Norris Royal Court Theatre, London, 7* out of 10

The Low Road by Bruce Norris is a three hour play in the form of a fable narrated by the 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith. Based on the biography of a certain Jim Trumpett (Johnny Flynn) the uncouth bastard son of G. Washington (which G Washington? does the G stand for George?) and his very well spoken upper class black slave John Blank (strong performance by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) it critically examines one of Adam Smith’s central tenets: that the pursuit of self-interest unintentionally augments the common good mainly by means of the “invisible hand of the market”.

Norris` sharp intellect and biting, ironic humour are on display throughout this rather overlong (3 hours) piece. What is sorely missing here though, is his facility with surprising turns of plot (which he performed so masterfully in Clybourne Park). Moreover, the didactic somewhat rigid format of the play, the fable,  emphasises exemplary characters with whom the audience is not meant to, and indeed does not engage emotionally.

There is however one 20 minute segment of the play, when the author shows all his brilliant writing talents and fully engages his audience, a true gem that stands out from the remainder of the play.

The format of a theatre play is not very effective when it comes to making a punchy critique of capitalism: although a plethora of such plays has appeared in the wake of the financial and economic crisis which the the Western World is struggling with they generally get lost in some no-mans land between trying to educate and trying to entertain. Lucy Prebble’s Enron remains the exception to this rule; and despite its flaws, Anders Lustgarten’s play If You Don`t Let Us Dream We Won’t Let Us Sleep, which also recently hada run at the Royal Court, was more original and more effective than Norris' ambitious effort.

Director Dominic Cooke ensures that the production, acting ensemble and set combine to set the high standard that one can always expect to see at the Royal Court.    

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