Grimly Handsome at the Royal Court Theatre
In The Site – a building normally used for rehearsals and workshops – it seems the Royal Court has found somewhere even more malleable than the ever-shifting Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. Reflecting the peculiarities of the space is the fact this production of Julia Jarcho’s Obie award-winning Grimly Handsome isn’t credited to a director and designer in the traditional sense, but rather as a collaboration between Sam Pritchard and Chloe Lamford. The result is theatre by way of art installation, one that increasingly brings the latter into the former as the play progresses.
Much like the upbeat antics that greet the audience when they enter the National Theatre’s Barber Shop Chronicles, the strange, grubby rooms that you wander around pre-show are the perfect mood setter for Jarcho’s trio of connected vignettes. A pair of Christmas tree sellers hawk their wares from a grotty grotto; a couple of classic New York cops trail a festive serial killer; vermin discuss a potential uprising. It’s a bit like Fargo, only filtered through Martin Crimp’s The Treatment; macabre, droll distillations of the gaudy detritus of the city.
It’s also worth emphasising that it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Alex Austin, Alex Beckett and Amaka Okafor – all pulling triple duty minimum, constantly raising the question of identity – are pitch perfect as the paranoid sad-sacks and sickos that make up the cast of the play. And the second and third sections are particularly enjoyable, parodying both detective dramas and the Disneyification of unsavoury critters.
Pritchard and Lamford have clearly had a ball putting the whole thing together. Large parts of the the first act take place outside, the audience either watching through the windows or on screens littered about the space, while multiple scenes are filmed in the rooms created for the installation. They even have the always-visible stage manager dressed in a red panda onesie, as if she is one of the urban creatures roaming the streets. It reinforces the idea of this as a hybrid piece of art. Both aspects – the play and the installation – work perfectly well on their own; however, the synergy of the two together adds to the dreamy/nightmarish nature of the text, items plucked, as if from one’s memories, and placed in a new context on stage.
It’s not hard to imagine something as wilfully weird and meandering as Grimly Handsome being divisive. But go with it and there’s a witty, self-aware, slightly noir-ish snapshot of the city’s violent peripheries – especially, predictably for women – encased in one of the most imaginative stagings produced this year.
Photos: Johan Persson
Grimly Handsome is at the Royal Court from 6th until 23rd December 2017. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.