Vaudeville Theatre, London
Kit Harington is no doubt the star draw for True West but it is Johnny Flynn who is the star in this new production of Sam Shepard’s play of fraternal tension.
Harington plays Austin, a screenwriter who is house-sitting for his mother in Southern California. He is using the peace and quiet to work on a script and meet with film producer Saul (Donald Sage Mackay) when Lee (Flynn), his estranged older brother, turns up unexpectedly.
The brothers couldn’t be more different. Austin is neatly dressed and groomed – almost nerdy looking – professional, patient and law-abiding, the urban, sanitised ‘west’ to Lee’s ‘wild’. The latter has been living in the desert for two months, wears dirty jeans, drinks beer like it’s an accessory and has a pilfering past which makes Austin nervous about loaning him his car.
While their mother’s house presents a respectable, domestic backdrop, the ever-present chirrup of crickets and nighttime howls of coyotes press up against the windows. Sibling rivalry, resentment, and jealousy escalate when the meeting with Saul takes an unexpected turn.
Harington and Flynn prove themselves agile performers with quick-fire dialogue and sharp comic timing. Game of Thrones fans will find little of the heroic Jon Snow here, instead, Harington’s Austin has a painful lack of cool and bravery.
It is Flynn’s Lee who really shines although arguably he has more to work with. He inflects Lee with a hint of drunken swagger, displaying clever manipulation by being at turns kind and intimidating. He also manages to somehow give off an air of cool reserve coupled with nervous energy.
It is not until later in the play that Harington gets to let loose from Austin’s reserve although there was something a little awkward about his drunkenness.
While the play perhaps demonstrates human nature is, like the Californian landscape, only ever a few steps from a wilderness, there is nonetheless something not wholly believable in Austin’s about turn.
It’s two hours long including an interval and is at the Vaudeville Theatre until February 23.
I’m giving it three and a half stars.