True West at the Vaudeville Theatre
It’s hard not to be cynical about True West. A big (white male) TV star, in a classic play by a big (white male) American writer, plonked in the West End of London. In essence, it’s a tourist trap, a money-grabbing exercise – yeah, there are tickets for £15 but you’ll be hard pushed to find them; the rest range from £39.50 to £85 – designed to lure in those unassuming punters looking for a pre-Christmas treat. And fine, that’d be (almost) forgivable if it were any good.
It’s not any good.
Austin (Kit Harrington) is stuck in front of his typewriter, desperately trying to scrape together something noteworthy – read commercial – enough to make his big break in Hollywood. From out of the darkness steps his tearaway brother Lee (Johnny Flynn): a drifter, a whirlwind, that specifically American breed of charismatic, sinister hustler. Two men, increasingly acting like little boys, with too much alcohol and some unresolved daddy issues.
If you couldn’t hear what he was saying, you might think Harrington was giving a decent performance, his Austin permanently hunched over in agitation and frustration. Sadly, theatre isn’t a purely visual medium. Focusing on keeping his American accent in check, the Game of Thrones actor is so one-note that it, at points, appears like he is executing an exquisite deadpan demeanour, only for the realisation to settle in that he just isn’t doing anything with the role at all.
In comparison, Flynn is a huge relief. Scratchy-voiced, with a tittering laugh and a propensity for petulant flashes of rage, his Lee at least feels like it has some thought behind it. But even then, the pair have zero chemistry to speak of. Their lack of crackle, alongside some lazy, lumpen direction from Matthew Dunster – who, considering he also helmed the execrable A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter, is having a bad 2018 – deadens the play’s momentum. It’s the kind of production where you can see each of the grinding gear-changes as it stumbles towards the finish line.
This writer hasn’t previously seen or read True West, so maybe it is deserving of past accolades. Here, however, it comes off as “The Dangers of the American Dream” 101, a bland take on a well-worn topic constructed from the vestigial remnants of attempts at family drama, absurd farce and desert-hot intensity.
Photo: Marc Brenner
True West is at the Vaudeville Theatre from 23rd November until 23rd February 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.