Pity at the Royal Court Theatre
It’s (super-smart) silly season at the Royal Court. Rory Mullarkey’s Pity is CBBC theatre, only if the acronym’s usual meaning was replaced by some configuration of Cartoon Brechtian Breakdown Comedy. And, to be clear, that’s meant as the biggest compliment in the world.
Trying to sum up the plot feels like something of a Sisyphean task, especially since Mullarkey has opted for the Monty Python or Adam McKay/Will Ferrell school of narrative construction, building his play from a series of sketches. There are a few constants, however. Never really leaving the town square of some anonymous British “f***hole”, we go from catastrophe to atrocity to collapse, following newlyweds Abraham Popoola and Sophie Di Martino as they rush about the rubble.
If Pity and last December’s Grimly Handsome are anything to go by, director Sam Pritchard and designer Chloe Lamford are a match made in heaven. Springboarding off Mullarkey’s absolute hoot of a script, the pair give Pity a big budget Fringe feel, late-night stupidity and satire transferred onto one of the country’s most prestigious stages. When it’s firing on all cylinders – and there are a lot of cylinders to be fired, literally – it’s like watching a Looney Tunes short injected with some The Day Today DNA, rapid-fire punchlines duking it out with the play’s political fangs.
Like a lot of its cinematic antecedents, Pity drags a bit in the middle, with the disco version of an online deathmatch perhaps outstaying its welcome, just a tad. Then Mullarkey pulls out a beautiful postwoman monologue, dense with domestic detail and wartime shock, just to silence any critics who might quibble about the show’s lack of “proper” writing. It’s basically the playwright showing off while shifting the tone into a darker direction.
In a sense, Pity is the cartoon cousin of Chris Thorpe’s grossly underrated Victory Condition from last year. Both – in part at least, each show is tricky to pin down – try and capture that sense of ambivalently scrolling through Facebook and Twitter and The Guardian and YouTube, turning other people’s lives and tragedies into everyday ephemera, unbothered as long as “I’m alright”. That is until doom creeps up on you and you find yourself in a hastily erected bivouac, sheltering from a debris-laden sky. But where Victory Condition opted for hyperrealism, this production takes a deep dive into the theatrical toy-box, tossing out mini-tanks and balletic SWAT teams as it journeys into civil war.
It also shouldn’t go without mentioning that Pity is funny. Not theatre funny, actually funny. Obnoxious and abrasive, and gleefully willing to annoy the Royal Court’s stuffier attendees, it’s the kind of show that should convert any stage-sceptic.
Pity is at the Royal Court Theatre from 12th July until 11th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.