Donmar Warehouse, London – until 10 August 2019
Guest reviewer: Luke Jones
“A dirty nothing place” is what the Donmar is dressed up as this summer. It’s a chilly, lightly filthy train station in a forgotten part of Europe. “A place people pass to get somewhere.” Even the interval drinks are wheeled round in carriage trolleys.
This 25th anniversary revival of David Greig’s play is, for the most part, a long chin scratch about home, belonging and division. What in this wide continent unites us and what forces are agitating against it? That kind of thing. Apt during the years of the Yugoslav war. Apt now during our never ending Brexit debate. But nonetheless a sinfully tedious drama on an evening in June. The station is closing, refugees have arrived, racism is bubbling and many want out. The town is literally being cut off from the rest of the continent. WHOOSH, there goes clunking metaphor No.1.
Ron Cook, as the put-out station master, is entertainingly straight; a man of broom, tannoy and timetable. His daughter Adele (the forever charming and and charismatic Faye Marsay) is a far more romantic breed of train fancier. She wants to break free from the small town so is naturally obsessed with the trains that leave the station. CLANG, metaphor No.2.
Onto this concourse arrive two weary refugees, Adele’s husband and his increasingly racist friends. Wolves from the forest, we’re told, newly emboldened, often decent into the town. CLUNK – keeping up?
Onto this it heaps wooden dialogue and a preference for the kind of strained, ethereal conversations people only have in (small p) political plays. Shane Zaza (returning to the town after making it big abroad) has a maddening melodic delivery and Natalia Tena (as the refugee Katia) barely shifts an eyebrow or tone. It’s packed with these strange dehumanising decisions: but thankfully a gently thrilling love story and a couple of genuinely shocking violent moments perk you up.
But the only genuinely impressive aspect of the evening is Tom Visser’s juicy lighting. The rumble and rattle of passing trains is beautifully expressed. We get a flock of rattling ceiling tubes, flashing streaks across the floor, slutty neon, warm sunrise. If only the text had such dramatic grammar: if this is what we can expect from new Artistic Director Michael Longhurst, I’ll be changing at the next station.
Box Office: 020 3282 3808 to 10 August