Royal Court Theatre, London – until 11 August 2018
Things start off well at Rory Mullarkey’s Pity. We’re directed to the rear of the Royal Court, enter through the back and get to walk over the stage with tombolas, ice-creams and brass bands all around (I’d happily listen to the Fulham Brass Band’s version of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ all day). Chloe Lamford’s design certainly looks a treat in all its cartoon-comic brightness but ultimately, is indicative of a real issue with Sam Pritchard’s production.
For Mullarkey’s play is concerned with violence – paradigm-shifting, society-shattering violence and the way that the British might very well respond to it. And as he suggests that we’d react to the collapse of civilisation by making a cup of tea, you can’t help but wonder, really? On the one hand, everything here is telling you not to take things so seriously. On the other, communities across the world are being ripped apart in actual conflicts. It’s a tension that never satisfactorily resolves here.
The production’s cartoonish nature – although a strong initial conceit (who doesn’t love a blast of Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’) – soon becomes wearying as whack-a-doodle event follows whack-a-doodle event. Fatal lightning strikes, mini-tank warfare, PMs singing about sandwiches, exploding supermarkets, poisoned water supplies, it’s all so relentless and random that it soon fails to come to mean anything, letting its audience off the hook.
And as strong as the cast is (Abraham Popoola and Siobhán McSweeney stand out), the hyperactive knowing style in which they deliver the play also grates. Mullarkey offers up a handful of morsels (the angel’s joke, the postwoman’s soliloquy) but there’s not enough here to satisfy. More’s the pity.