BWW Review: THE CANE, Royal Court
Caning may be something from long in the past, but in Mark Ravenhill's new drama it's all anybody ever seems to talk about. Under Vicky Featherstone's direction, the narrative follows a teacher under siege from the kids he used to teach. The drama unfolds as their estranged daughter visits this world of anarchy, confusion and hostile aggression.
It's been a long time since we've last seen a Mark Ravenhill play. Famed for the shocking and provocative tactics he uses, this approach is a more subtle one. His concept is interesting; through corporal punishment the play taps into how past decisions can come back to haunt people, exploring the notions of culpability and cultural traditions.
Ravenhill asks the question of how much an individual should take responsibility for a societal decision, repeating the phrase "it was just what happened in those days." For Alun Armstrong's Edward he was just following orders. There's claims that he isn't a bad man, for he always caned the boys in a way that was respectful and dignified. His wife agrees; the mob outside certainly don't.
Chloe Lamford's set seems simple at first, but the more you stare at it the more it reveals the decay of time, which also goes to show the damage that's been caused over the couple's history. It's evident that a lot has happened in this home; there are axe-marks, dirty carpets, unfinished plastering - for people with a career so accomplished, their existence seems pretty glib.
Press who saw this play earlier in the week have hailed it as "clever and witty" (Independent), and "utterly terrific" (WhatsOnStage), however Friday evening's performance left a lot to be desired. After much anticipation pre-visit, the result was an incredibly disappointing one. And it then begs the question of what has been missed.
Ravenhill's text is written in a way where the dialogue should bounce back and forth. However, the cues aren't picked up and the cast indulge a little too much, meaning it all gets a bit stagnant. The passive performances bring the stakes to an absolute standstill, which remove all sense of urgency.
It's a shame because the company features such accomplished actors, (Nicola Walker and Maggie Steed performing alongside Armstrong). All are undeniably talented, but for one reason or another, the combination of the three struggles to work on stage. Perhaps it was just a one-night blip, but the production certainly lacks a clear drive and pace.
However, during the bows there are cheers and comments from several people praising the production, so it could just have been personal taste that prevented me from engaging. It's also important to note that my opinion seems to differ than the majority of other publications.
My advice is to go to the Royal Court and see for yourself.
Photo credit: Johan Persson