BWW Reviews: IN THE JUNGLE OF CITIES, Arcola Theatre, September 18 2013
In "Yes Minister", when Sir Humphrey Appleby describes one of Jim Hacker's more outré ideas as being "brave", he does not mean brave of course - he means "naive". Likewise, when I read of a playwright being "influential" (and few have that word attached to them more often than does Bertholt Brecht), I always think "difficult". I'm not often wrong.
In the Jungle of Cities (at the Arcola Theatre until 5 October) is difficult - who's the hero and who's the villain? What's his motivation for doing that? Why doesn't she do something about it? - but it's also a hideously stripped down version of life in The Modern City. In this city - a Chicago with echoes of Upton Sinclair's Chicago of corruption, corned beef and quarrels in "The Jungle" - two men fight, for years, each life made and destroyed, each man forgetting what it was they fought over, each increasingly committed to the fight the more pointless it becomes. With nature excluded from their lives, banished by electric lights, central heating and global transport, the men are left only with themselves as enemies - and so they struggle.
As the two fighters, Jeffery Kissoon has something of Samuel L Jackson's performance in Django Unchained about his passive obsequiousness, disguising a deep-rooted misanthropy, all masked by the privileges that come with money and position, if not ethnicity in city simmering with racism. Joseph Arkley's Garga owes something to Russell Brand's manic flights of fancy, declaiming the worthlessness of everything, wilfully blind to the suffering his actions cause to his family, eyes never far from the fight.
And it is the women who suffer most, and prove the most interesting of the characters presented. Helen Sheals as Garga's mother is initially squashed by the drudge of everyday life, but later liberated by the false freedom of the brothel. Garga's wife, played with a touch of the early Carry-Ons' Barbara Windsor by Mia Austen, is happy with the attention of men - whether her husband or her lovers - but her life is drifting and she knows it. Best of SplitMoon's ten noble actors pushed and pushed by the script, epic theatre's requirements and director Peter Sturm's pace, is Rebecca Brewer, Garga's sister, whose descent from innocent seamstress to forsaken lover and unhappy hooker, is horrible to behold. Ms Brewer never quite lets us forget that this was once a happy girl, though she is the unhappiest of them all long before the brutal denouement.
You couldn't call it fun, though there's plenty that's funny in the darkest of black comedy's hues, and you couldn't call it entertaining either, but in the Arcola's exposed brick, ex-industrial space and with The Edge of Dalston there the moment you push open the door on leaving, In the Jungle of Cities still has much to say. And, with 2011's urban riots still fresh in the memory, you'd be a fool not to listen.