How do I explain what drew me to this world premiere production of Christopher Shinn’s new play Against? Well for starters, my favourite actor Ben Whishaw is leading the cast and that’s enough for me to buy a ticket. I also find myself intrigued by new plays, they must be good if a theatre with acclaim behind it like the Almeida wants to produce it.
The play is set in Silicon Valley, California and follows a rich billionaire named Luke (played by Ben Whishaw) who receives a message from God one day that he should “go where there’s violence” in a bid to change the world. As a result of this, Luke becomes somewhat of an overnight sensation with everybody wanting to hear what he has to say to the point where he has enough and goes to hide out at his mum’s house.
The scenes that Luke isn’t in are filled with small explorations of the characters that Luke meets. I think these scenes could have been executed well if they didn’t feel like fillers. There are some really interesting conversations to be had. Luke meets a girl called Anna who is in a poly-amorous relationship and wonders whether or not it’s a right fit for her. Her creative writing professor (played fantastically by Kevin Harvey) challenges Luke on whether Luke’s bid to change the world includes sex workers, which was a truly interesting discussion. But ultimately the rest of the piece is quite bland. I found it quite tedious that things weren’t really explained. But then I wondered if that was the point? Seeing as Luke started receiving messages from God with no explanation? If it is the point of the play, it comes across as incredibly lazy.
I was actually a bit disappointed with some of the direction. I had previously seen Ian Rickson’s production of Mojo (which also starred Ben) and it remains to be one of my favourite plays. Some of the directing is so bare and plain and I remain unsure as to whether that was down to the lack of space. I was expecting better.
Overall, it’s an alright play that does give food for thought and features some fantastic performances by Ben Whishaw, Kevin Harvey and Amanda Hale (in two roles as Luke’s partner Sheila and an old friend of his, Kate). Unfortunately, you have to trudge through a very bland first act to get to the exciting climax at the end of act 2.
For further reading I do recommend Rebekah at Rebekah’s Reviews post on Against as I think it’s written brilliantly. It’s more spoilery than this one but worth the read.
Against is running at the Almeida Theatre until 30th September. For tickets and more information please visit https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/against/12-aug-2017-30-sep-2017
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