It’s refreshingly various, that’s for certain. The National Theatre requires Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 comedy and refashions it as contemporary satire, in which a single poor sap’s woes become the focal point of a disconsolate, austerity-reduce, hashtag-fixated Britain. It can be entertaining and wise: Suhayla El-Bushra’s script has pith, venom and some very funny moments and Nadia Fall’s staging brings a surreal, jagged, hip-hop style to it, breaking up the action with freeze frames, drum solos and large selfie projections. But it’s also pretty hit-and-miss – it drifts perilously in locations, the style feels uncertain and the cast often struggle to hold the comedy airborne.
Sam Desai (played extremely engagingly by Javone Prince) is in a miserable state: his advantages have been sanctioned, his marriage is turning stale, he lives in a cramped flat with his overworked wife and oversexed mother-in-law. In a moment of despair, he threatens to end it all. That would be the end of it – had some tiny busybody not filmed his howl of pain on a smartphone and flashed it around the globe. Soon Sam has grow to be a lead to célèbre: a host of individuals come smarming by means of his door to persuade him that carrying out himself in would certainly be the ideal thing – for them.
Exactly where the original takes on Stalin’s Russia, El-Bushra brings us a host of modern scourges. There’s the exhausted social worker who wants to use Sam’s demise to protest against cuts to mental wellness solutions, and the would-be councillor who spies a chance to cut them additional. There’s a preening urban poet, a vacuous hipster café owner, a cheating girlfriend and, loudest of all, Patrick: a trustafarian film-maker (Paul Kaye, outrageously vain and funny) who desires to make Sam the symbol of all that is wrong with society. Quickly Sam is getting the time of his life – so lengthy as he promises to finish it at noon.
Behind all the comedy there are of course serious political points: about suicide among young males, about welfare cuts, about a society where even despair can turn into a USP (it’s no accident that the action takes place in the battered Clement Attlee creating and one scene shows Margaret Thatcher busy monetising heaven). There are too a lot of targets and broad caricatures, nonetheless, and the production labours to preserve it all afloat and to sustain the tone. It’s at its greatest on the twitchy solipsism of social media. “I’d strike quickly,” Patrick’s earnest girlfriend (Lizzie Winkler) advises Sam. “Before men and women get bored.”
To June 25, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
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