Theatre N16, London – until 6 August 2017
It seems utterly unfathomable that Sam Shepard’s play, The God of Hell, was written in 2005 and not yesterday. Written as a response to George W Bush’s Republican Party’s war on terror following the attacks in September 2001 only 12 years after this play’s premiere America seems to be run by a God of Hell now whilst Bush, in hindsight, seems like a competent clown.
Craft Theatre’s production, which mades its London premiere in 2005 at the Donmar is set on a Wisconsin Dairy Farm Emma (Helen Foster) and Frank (Craig Edgley) live an isolated life, the arrival of Frank’s mysterious old friend Haynes (Ryan Prescott) brings intrigue, excitement but also terror. He is twitchy, erratic and his arrival leads to a visit from the equally mysterious Welch (Toby Trimby), a smartly dressed man who asks about rooms and lack of patriotic material. Trimby’s intensity makes this and it is his scenes that turn this from a standard drama to an absurdist look at Americanism and its policies in a time of fear.
The performances from all 4 are outstanding, Helen Foster as the confused Emma brings a cartoonish performance to an absurd script aided by its black and white set, which contrasts well with the darkness of the other characters. It also transforms the Theatre N16 space and it feels like it is a production ready for a transfer. It soon descends into farce, Welch is torturing Haynes in their living room via his penis, he then infects Frank with his Pro-America stance.
Whilst this is a great production, it just isn’t a great script. Shepard of old is a much classier writer than this (see the recent revival of Buried Child) and what should be a subtle satire of the hysterical Republican policy, which bubbled loudly through Obama’s presidency, is so in your face that it loses its charm. Frank, whose transformation from struggling farmer to patriotic American bribed by Welch’s American society is beautifully performed by Edgley. Its short running time also suggests that the story has very little to develop into and it just doesn’t get you to think or even make you mad, especially when you leave the theatre and take a look at your news apps.
Craft Theatre’s aims are to ask “What more can society do?”, there are many answers to that but for me, all Craft Theatre can do is keep on reviving works related to their aims that get the audience to think about what is going on in the world.