Rare Earth Mettle at the Royal Court Theatre
A large pendulum swings across Moi Tran’s rustic, sparse set, with its white-tiled stage representative of the Bolivian salt flat at the centre of this sprawling story. The pendulum’s movement from left to right echoes the conflict experienced by Nayra (Jaye Griffiths), an indigenous woman determined to become head of state. She is in the middle of a tug-of-war between tech billionaire Henry Finn (Arthur Darvill), who wants to use the lithium from the salt to power electric cars, and medical doctor Anna (Genevieve O’Reilly), who wants to use it to help treat mental illness. The owner of the land Kimsa (Carlo Albán) just wants his daughter to survive her cancer. Yes, there is a great deal to digest here.
The pendulum’s rhythmic sway also reminds viewers of time ticking (Henry, Anna and Nayra are all on the clock to achieve what they want and need) – and time is the biggest factor in this production. At three hours and ten minutes long, including an interval, this is simply too long, and after a pacy opening, the play unfortunately enters the realm of repetition as it progresses.
Plot far outshines character here, and while the satirical story is often humorous, mostly gripping and packed with pleasing twists and turns, it is undoubtedly convoluted and at times tries to be too clever for its own good. Writer Al Smith should be praised for tackling such weighty subject matter and successfully incorporating references to both Brexit and the pandemic, which allow the piece to carry a current and timely urgency, however the script is in dire need of an edit.
The cast promote the material they are given, endeavouring to implant depth into their characters and make them well-rounded and believable. Nevertheless, the parts have been written to serve plot, convey theme and essentially act as ciphers for the author’s views. Darvill’s Henry embodies all the stereotypes of the socially inept, eccentric American tech giant; boyish and brattish, he is more cartoon than character. The actor does capitalise on the comedy and is enthralling to watch, although one never truly cares about him. Perhaps that is the point.
O’Reilly offers a cool and steely Anna in an assured performance that keeps the audience guessing about her motives. She is well supported by Racheal Ofori as her confrontational colleague. Lesley Lemon, Marcello Cruz and Ian Porter also deliver in strong supporting roles, the latter especially convincing as disgraced university professor Albert Palmer. Griffiths, though, is without question the star of the show. Effortlessly flitting from Henry’s associate Calista to Nayra, she breathes fervency into the production, although, like her cast mates, she is not gifted the multifaceted character an actor of her calibre deserves.
Ambitious and pertinent, Rare Earth Mettle is certainly not without merit and there is a lot of fun to be enjoyed here. One can’t help but imagine, though, what the end product could have been had Smith, director Hamish Pirie and the cast and creatives been afforded more time in the rehearsal room.
Photo: Helen Murray
Rare Earth Mettle is at the Royal Court Theatre from 10th November until 18th December 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: