Unreachable at the Royal Court
“Whores and cuckolds,” Ivan the Brute addresses the audience, “None of your faces surprise me; I have imagined all of them.” Anthony Neilson’s Unreachable is full of absurd, standalone lines like these that do not drive the narrative forward, but revel in the present. Devised totally during rehearsals, it has been in a constant state of flux, the final version only coming into existence two days before press night. It’s a fitting way to mark the 60th anniversary of the Royal Court, the theatre that has always championed the experimental.
Maxim (Matt Smith, of Doctor Who fame) is a filmmaker on a mission to capture the perfect light. “It is the smell of the sound of the colour of the feeling of life,” he raves. His producer and cameraman are caught between loyalty and exasperation toward him, while his actors spin ever further out of control. The star of his film is a cold-hearted actress who delivers tear-jerking performances by pretending, never feeling. Playing opposite her is an egomaniac with a slack grip on reality. As Maxim’s elusive light becomes an unattainable dream, each of the characters flounders and fails on their own path to fulfilment.
Neilson, a poster boy for the In-yer-face theatre that emerged in 90s Britain, has always courted controversy. Unreachable features simulated sex and violent imagery, as well as a mild throwback to his 1997 play The Censor, in which the female lead defecates onstage. In keeping with its subject matter, the pace is filmic with lots of short scenes that transition quickly. The comedy – and ensuing laughter – is near constant.
The immediacy and energy of the rehearsal room follows the cast onstage. In an early scene, Matt Smith tries to capture a moth that has made its way across the audience and now flits by the stage. Later, Jonjo O’Neill, who plays Ivan, makes a joke that does so well with the audience that he eventually joins in their laughter. We feel we’re still a part of the creative process, that we’re watching the work take shape.
Unreachable ponders the farce that is life, the way that art tries to give it meaning, the frustration of that evasive quest and the beautiful, accidental moments when life does seem to make sense all on its own. It’s about reaching for something intangible. Isn’t that what all theatre should be?
Unreachable is on at the Royal Court from 2nd July until 6th August 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch the a clip from the Unreachable rehearsal room here.