Review - Rory Mullarkey's Pity at the Royal Court

Our critics rating: 
Friday, 20 July, 2018
Review by: 

Rory Mullarkey is bored of your plays. He’s had enough of predictable plots and complex characters. Instead, he presents Pity: a barmy take on middle England society that feels like new wave Monty Python that yearns to be quirky and off-the-wall, but instead launches itself into a pile of rubble.

Pity starts feeling more like a village fete than a play; the audience pile in across the stage as a brass band plays, ice creams are sold and party bags are handed out to tombola winners. It’s fun, I’ve never done that at the theatre before, and that’s what Mullarkey is going for; he wants you to see something completely unique.

And it certainly is different. An unnamed town teeming with unnamed characters comes under attack, with shops, hotels and the beloved ice cream cart among bombers’ targets. The Prime Minister visits to deliver an archetypal, ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ disaster response, and the residents quickly become engaged in civil war.

Mullarkey clearly has something he wants to say about the current political system. Like half of all the new British plays I’ve seen in London over the past year there’s an overt Brexit metaphor, as the Prime Minister randomly sings about having ham or cheese sandwiches, or finding the right ratio between having both. As the war breaks out, the two sides (the reds and the blues, who literally end up on the left and the right of each other) continually seesaw between declaring war during an at times tedious dance number. Pity tries too hard to appear like it’s not trying, but also to be weird.  

Credit to Chloe Lamford, who has been dealt a long list of challenges, while giving the production a cartoonish vibe, matching the sometimes infantile nature of the dialogue. The biggest laugh probably comes as a literal tank bursts onto the stage, and most of the comedy comes from Sam Pritchard’s direction and the cast members’ clear individuality.

Each actor – all Ministry of Funny Walks alumni, surely – inject the piece with their own humour. Whether it be Francesca Mills’ spot-on comic timing, Dorian Simpson’s robust, balletic movement, or – making his stage debut – Paul G Raymond’s cameos as some of the play’s funnier characters.

Loosely at the centre of the piece are a couple, Daughter and Person, who become married and parents-to-be in the space of fifteen minutes. One thing Mullarkey has touched on is the play being like a theatrical version of our Twitter feeds, which does add some perspective. New characters are constantly appearing, sharing intimate details about their lives with strangers, which seems pretty ludicrous but is simply a representation of what social media is, and the speed at which we live out our lives.

Pity is, without a doubt, unlike anything you’ve ever seen, I can safely say that. But that doesn’t make it fresh or necessarily interesting theatre. While the production is pretty glorious in all its extravagance, the text could do with a clearer voice and a subtler approach to become an enticing watch.

Pity is at the Royal Court until 11th August. 

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