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An island melodrama lost at sea

Further than the Furthest ThingIs there a painful irony to preaching about the perils of capitalism whilst charging upwards of £56 for tickets? The Young Vic's new production of Zinnie Harris' award winning Further than the Furthest Thing drowns under the weight of its themes and heavy handed polemics. Strong performances do their best to anchor it, but the production is a rudderless dud to be washed away by the sea.

An arable island community is evacuated after a volcanic eruption and brought to England by Mr Hanson (who is inexplicably South African). They are strangers in a foreign land, their pastoral idiosyncrasies are swallowed by the city's cosmopolitan callousness. In a reveal that will shock just about nobody, Mr Hanson, the charity shop Gordon Gecko, is an evil capitalist deceiving the islanders to exploit their stolen land and labour.

It's supposedly set in 1961 and based on the real-life eruption of Tristan da Cunha but you couldn't tell from watching it. It lavishes in ambiguity seemingly taking place in an indistinct fairy-tale like purgatory somewhere between reality and make believe. Its sparse in-the round-staging has minimal props and takes place on a fittingly porridge coloured stage, a colour that matches its mostly beige tone and pacing.

Without any conceptual footing, the script is brimming with wearily vague references to "the island" or "the war," "the ship" and the audience becomes lost. Lugubrious imagery and portentous, but severely undercooked, themes about immigration, sexual assault, abortion, and religion drown the production in a sea of its own ambition.

The play's dramatic heart is undernourished by an artistic vision is more concerned with tacky symbolism than an actual story, a classic case of style over substance. Mr Hanson, with his slicked back hair and wasitcoat, is such an obvious walking metaphor for rapacious greed that resulting finger wagging inditing him as a profiteering villain is as hackneyed as it is infantilising. We are all old enough to know how the world works.

Questionable directorial decisions muddy the waters further. For some seemingly inexplicable reason the islanders have different accents. One is Irish, another Scottish, another is oddly generically Northern. It feels like a self-aggrandising jab at England's colonial past tacked on clumsily to score virtue points. It makes no sense within the world of the play and the humanity at the story's core is stranded in the doldrums.

Despite the direction working against them, the performers garner strong chemistry even if they struggle to acclimtise to Harris' deliberately jarring vernacular. The first act may feel more like a rehearsed reading than an actual performance, but the second half gathers more momentum aided by trippy lighting and sound that organically undulates to evoke the play's elemental focus. Further than the Furthest Thing is not quite duller than the dullest thing, but it's not far off.

Further than the Furthest Thing plays at the Young Vic until 29 April

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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Photos: First Look at FURTHER THAN THE FURTHEST THING at Young Vic Theatre Photo
Production photos have been released for Zinnie Harris’ multi-award-winning play Further than the Furthest Thing in a visionary revival by Genesis Fellow / Young Vic Associate Director Jennifer Tang. The cast includes Olivier Award winner Jenna Russell, Cyril Nri, Gerald Kyd, Archie Madekwe and Kirsty Rider with live vocals by Shapla Salique.

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