National Theatre, London – 5 August 2017
Guest reviewer: Tom Ward
Common, DC Moore’s paganistic tale of one woman’s desire to save the lady she loves from an oncoming darkness, is causing quite the stir – for all the wrong reasons.
The main problem with this National Theatre and Headlong co-production, contrary to popular opinion, is not in the writing, but in the space itself, as well as in the modern audience’s approach to theatre. And that is an issue with the pairing.
There is a general consensus among audience and press alike that Common is confusing both in its theatrical execution and its geographically jumping plot. It is placed no more specifically than ‘in the countryside’. Here the dramatist Antonin Artaud seems wholly relevant, “Who ever said theatre had to define space?”. True, Moore’s text does not offer a cookie-cut play. It attempts to find a rawer expression, one where the pastoral image of England (however dead) generates memories of our country’s dear old history; one that follows suit with a text blending Old English and a heavy helping of foul language.
The combination makes the play sing in parts and hit deaf notes in others. Old English will always require attentive listening, but this should not put people off engaging with this text. After all, does everybody understand Shakespeare the first time they read or watch it?
Whenever something in theatre does not make sense, it is important to reflect – does it actually matter? Does it matter if Mary (Anne-Marie Duff) is dead or alive? Within the first five minutes of the show, we are introduced to pagan-rich images that culminate in a thoroughly engaging ritual (fire never fails to excite). So, within this realm, within this carnivalesque tale, anything can happen. Mary cannot die and Ravens can talk. It is in the play’s muddy waters where, just below the surface, there is gold to be found.
Common‘s greatest fault is being on the Olivier stage – the space feels empty. Much of the dialogue is said between two characters, who are oftentimes spread out so comically afar that any desire to create power or evoke an emotional reaction is lost in space. There is little to visually engage with in Richard Hudson’s design during each scene, but much to highlight in Stephen Warbeck’s music that makes the production beautifully stylish. The transitions however havemore to behold, with the exception of a huge, painted set piece flown in to take us into a large dining room.
Common sits strangely within the mind. It both excites and intrigues, yet suffers from drowning in its own textual weight. Overall, in the right space with just the right casting (Anna Crichlow’s Eggy Tom grates on the ears) Moore’s text has the potential to generate a fantastic theatrical experience.
Writer: DC Moore
Director: Jeremy Herrin; Joseph Alford (movement)
Designer: Richard Hudson; Ian Dickinson (sound); Paule Constable (lighting)
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Cast: Ian-Lloyd Anderson; Lois Chimimba; Peta Cornish; Anna Crichlow; John Dagleish; Brian Doherty; Amy Downham; Anne-Marie Duff; Trevor Fox; Hannah Hutch; Cush Jumbo; Tim McMullan; John O’Dowd; Ian Shaw; Edward Wolstenholme
Images courtesy of Johan Persson
Common plays the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre until 5 August 2017. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the website.