X review Alistair McDowall's new play at the Royal Court Theatre
Going to the theatre is fraught with all sorts of anxieties already — and now there's a new one to add to the pile. Did you "get" what you were watching? Trying to make sense of X, a new play by a new hotshot playwright Alistair McDowall at the Royal Court, is like looking for sense in a Donald Trump speech: he's definitely speaking, but is he saying anything?
The five characters who populate the space station floating somewhere near Pluto talk — a lot — at one point just in x's, though there's not much in the way of XXX talk (only a rudimentary chat about the benefits of masturbation). But while they talk of a world they have left behind where birds and the trees they used to occupy have both died out, and one of them remembers fondly a time when he last ate real meat at the age of five, it goes nowhere.
Nor are they, it turns out, going anywhere either: they've lost to touch with planet earth entirely. Even the digital wall clock that tells them the (earth) time has gone haywire, so they have no idea what time it is anymore.
But watching it I was all too aware of the infinitely slow passage of time. I felt entirely unconnected with what was going on; and maybe that, of course, is the point. So are we all.
Artistic director Vicki Featherstone directs on a set that resembles a B-movie version of a space station. The actors don't look much like fit astronauts either.
One thing I can say for it: the play's title provides its own star rating.
But it would also be fair to say that although I didn't "get" it, others may: I've already seen other reviews ranging from one star (The Times) to five (The Stage).
"He is well served by Vicky Featherstone’s airtight production, by Merle Hensel’s unnervingly off-kilter design and by a talented cast."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"McDowall has created a new genre, sly-fi: you make dismissive assumptions about what you’re watching at your peril..."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph