Vaudeville Theatre, London
Squeezed into a lean and tightly filled two hours, Sam Shepard’s True West is an acerbic glimpse of domestic dysfunctionality that plays out in sweltering Southern California, a blasted backfiring of the American Dream.
In this piece of exquisite theatre Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn are brothers Austin and Lee. The Ivy League-educated Austin is apparently the slicker of the two, with a promising career beckoning as a Hollywood screenwriter. Lee, who initially suggests echoes of Oklahoma!’s Jud, is poorly educated, a drifter as well as a (potentially violent) criminal.
Yet Shepard’s genius lies in showing that between these two siblings, once the trappings of academia are discarded, the smarts are equally shared. As layers are stripped away, so is the menace is calculatingly increased – and yet for all the improbability of Lee’s apparently usurping his brother’s gift for storytelling, Shepard gives this tale of sibling rivalry a ghastly plausibility.
Perfectly cast, Harington is bookish, bespectacled and moustachioed – a wimp against the ripped six pack of his brother’s (bare-chested in the second half) frame. Yet both men immerse themselves in compelling performances, ratcheting up the suspense with perfectly delivered dialogue, and immaculately choreographed movement. (Bravo fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown)
The creative talent behind the production is flawless. Director Matthew Dunster painstakingly eliciting every carefully weighted nuance from Shepard’s already well-honed script, as Jon Bausor’s ingenious trailer-trash set and Joshua Carr’s lighting, perfectly capture the Mojave desert’s oppression.
Dated perhaps, but the play’s dynamism is timeless. Harington and Flynn define scorching drama in what is unmissable theatre.
Runs until 23rd February 2019Photo credit: Marc Brenner