Review - Against starring Ben Whishaw at the Almeida Theatre
Two years ago the Donmar Warehouse presented the British premiere of Christopher Shinn's Teddy Ferrera, a complex and highly charged play of University sexual politics. Now Shinn returns to the London stage, this time with the world premiere of Against, a similarly dense, provocative and ambitious play. It has the same strengths as the earlier play with an intense, argumentative passion for examining different moral universes, but also some of its weaknesses, too: it likewise becomes overloaded with subplots, and would also seem at times to be more comfortably perhaps the draft for a television screenplay with its shifting locations and narrative drive.
But former Royal Court artistic director Ian Rickson, just as his successor at the Royal Court Dominic Cooke did for Teddy Ferrera, directs a production that grips and alarms, by turns, with a performance from Ben Whishaw that provides the enigmatic centre of the play. He plays Luke, a Silicone Valley billionaire who becomes a man with a mission: to address and challenge violence in the world, with a project that he personally leads after he hears instruction from God to "Go where there is violence." Slightly implausibly for such a rich, connected man, he seems to have only a loyal assistant for company, with whom he is in fact avoiding the intimacy he craves but denies himself.
It takes him from a high school, where a young man has massacred his fellow students and then killed himself, to an industrial warehouse for a company called Equator (with a remarkably similar logo and business model to Amazon), where business interests override ethical concerns and the workers' own emotional welfare (relationships between them are forbidden).
Whishaw continually compels attention as Luke, an entrepreneurial thinker with a conscience, once again showing why he is one of the most interesting stage and screen actors around. He's a man of mystery and deep reservoirs of feeling, and you are instinctively drawn to his charismatic unknowability.
The play, meanwhile, foments an unease with a liberal billionaire's attempts to put the world to rights, and raises uncomfortable questions about individual responses and responsibilities for changing things.
To read more about Ben Whishaw, click here.