Theatre Mask Rupert Graves Online: Stage Productions.
Dumb Show.


Production Information:

Year: - 2004.

Author: - Joe Penhall.
Director: - Terry Johnson.
Venue: - Royal Court Theatre.
Rupert Graves: - Greg.

Spacer Dumb Show

Synopsis Or Review:

First of all, let me address an absurdity:

Some criticism has been leveled at the play, Dumb Show, for its lack of originality. So, preliminarily, let me just say, straight off the bat, that it is my belief that enormous damage has been done in ALL the arts over the last 50 or 60 years by this relentless and mindless hankering after originality instead of rejoicing in a well-crafted piece -- an all-too-infrequently encountered species of originality.

All in all, Dumb Show is a good - in some ways even a fine play. It’s entertaining (and why DOES that get left out of the equation so often?), carefully crafted, well-structured, with strongly delineated characters, witty dialogue that is always to the point and moves the show along very nicely, a plot that is full of pleasant reversals and engaging and unexpected twists, and definitely has something to say, but manages to say it without thumping the heads of the audience with a pot of message.

A fun and well-made, albeit perhaps somewhat minor piece of good theatre. And I should think that it could conceivably have a longish sort of life (in little theatre and/or regional theatre) precisely because it so ably and amiably shows up the machiavellian skullduggery of a certain type of journalist as well as the frailty, fragility, lack of privacy and uncertainties of celebrities tripping over their own fame.

Terry Johnson, the director, blocked out the movements of the cast of two extraordinary actors and one very damned good one in quite a strikingly original fashion: Surprisingly often, Johnson had them doing various bits of business that are usually anathema in live theatre, and would, in a larger venue (or one with worse acoustics), be the next best thing to insane to attempt and, very likely, impossible to bring off. On several occasions, e.g., one or the other of the actors addresses the other two. Nothing unusual about that, of course.

But, instead of the two being addressed standing down stage and being harangued from, say, upstage center, the two "harangees" were upstage right and/or left, the speaker was downstage right on a kind of oblique triangular platform jutting out a good three meters or so beyond the proscenium arch, or down center full back to the audience and addressing his fellow mummers upstage. And not only was every word distinctly audible, but it was further satisfying because the audience got to see the reactions of the others.

The set, by Es Devlin, consisted largely of clear plexiglass furniture (and not much of that) and a great plexiglass window. What all that transparency allowed for is a sense of openness and clarity in distinct contrast to the murkiness of the characters. It also, on at least one occasion, allowed a very funny bit of business between a character on stage and another who is, technically, "off."

Barry (Douglas Hodge), a vaguely identified TV celebrity, is being interviewed by two smartly dressed tabloid reporters, who insinuate their way into Barry’s good graces by pretending to be “private bankers” who want him to give a talk to their staff and selected clients. A gigantic fee is the bait and Barry goes for it, though blatantly trying to make sure his agent doesn’t hear about it - or get his fee!

Greg (Rupert Graves) and Liz (Anna Maxwell Martin) - “John” and “Jane” in the personnae of their deception - lay it on with a trowel and, as it begins to ring a bit false, Barry starts to have second thoughts. Greg, therefore, leaves Liz to seduce Barry into cooperating.

Barry, apparently an alcoholic, gets thoroughly squiffy from the minibar in the hotel room where the entire action of the play takes place. And then he tries to get Liz to snort drugs, some of which he has on him! Worse, he tries to hit on her.

At which point comes the unveiling: John is Greg and Jane is Liz and both are reporters and they have his misbehavior on audio and on camera and inform the mark (Barry) that he can either do a confessional tell-all or experience an exposé in what we have no doubt is the gutter press. All, of course, without any sort of fee at all!

Fuddled as he is, but recognizing betrayal, Barry fights back. Indeed, the rest of the “act” is back-and-forth as “reporters” and celebrity try to gain advantage, Greg and Liz hypocritically hitting every one of the usual vapid “moral” notes such people employ in their nefarious trade.

Barry, striving rather helplessly for the high ground, finally has no choice but to admit that he’s been a mess lately because his wife not only wants a separation but is dying of cancer. He promptly vanishes into the bathroom to telephone his lawyer!

The reporters are dumb struck but recover quickly enough and start on how it is now an even better story! Liz calls the wife to verify; only she won’t. Barry emerges to tell them that his lawyer’s opinion is that it’s entrapment, and he’s going to sue for an injunction. When Liz tells him that his wife won’t verify his story, Barry suddenly erupts, “BECAUSE IT’S PRIVATE . . . YOU STUPID BITCH. . . .” And goes on to make the excellent point that these vipers haven’t got a clue about real human existence.

He physically assaults Greg and leaves . . . and the reporters know they’re seriously screwed, because there’s legitimate call here for a complaint to the press watchdog agency on which Greg sits! Liz tries to calm him down and the scene/act ends with Greg yelling that he is “PERFECTLY F**KING CALM!”

In the next, which is the last scene, Greg is out of the picture. Barry’s wife has just died and Liz proffers sympathy, although it gradually becomes clear she hasn’t give up by any means and tried to get Barry to work with her on a story about the whole business - and there will be a fee. Of course. Barry, musingly, waiting on the phone to talk to Liz’s editor, says tentatively, “What sort of fee are we talking about?” - FINAL BLACKOUT.

I think what I most enjoyed were the reversals: The agreeable Barry turning into a conniving whiner; the reporters’ unveiling; Greg - as manipulative and egregiously mean-spirited a man as ever lived - turning out to have something like a conscience, or at least the savvy to cover his butt: A great laugh both nights I saw the play: When Barry has won a round and is “off,” Greg complains to Liz that Barry is so manipulative! And, best of all, at the end, the most manipulative and predatory of the lot turns out to be our sweet Liz!

Acting:

Anna Maxwell Martin: I'd never had the chance to see her before, or even hear of her, because of her, hitherto, exclusively British resumé. But I bet you anything we'll be hearing more of her as time goes by. She's very young, and, without being conventionally "pretty," she's very attractive, small, curvy, blonde, i.e., nicely sexy with a great figure and legs, which she used to terrific advantage in delineating her character. She also projected a terrifically engaging personality. She was marginally less secure in her craft than the other two, but, if she goes on as she did in DUMB SHOW, she's going to be another actress very like Samantha Morton -- of whom in age, style and ability she reminded me a lot.

Douglas Hodge I've seen before, but only on film and the occasional TV thing. He's of a height with Graves, with whom his interactions, both cordial and hostile, are sometimes powerful indeed and, not infrequently, hilarious. Though they have much the same style of acting, "Barry" comes, at times, daringly close to being over the top; there's a lot of adolescent-type mugging and much wild racing about the stage. In the end, however, his exaggerated carryings-on serve, surprisingly well, to give us a very precise picture of the difficulties under which his character is laboring so. He can have you feeling rather smugly superior to his character one minute, and then contemptuous, then sympathetic, then amused -- and all of it is done so rapidly and smoothly, he manages to draw you in virtually without even recognizing what he is doing: I never once recall asking myself, till later, "How did he do that?"

Rupert Graves' character, "Greg," is scarcely the most estimable character. But, for all that he seems, at first blush, to be the villain of the piece, the part is no string of villainous clichés. Quite the reverse, in fact; the part is constructed very carefully that, even while you're convinced you'd like to slap this guy upside the head, you also can't help but find him curiously attractive. Yes, partly it's the writing, but not entirely. While "Greg" is, without a doubt, the most contemptible of the three (at least until we reach the last scene), it is, yet again, Graves who manages to run with the part and make you actually kind of like the guy, even as you are appalled at his near unbelievable chutzpah! Familiar territory, I daresay, to those of us who know Graves' work!

One point that, specifically as an American I should like to make: As the years pass and we are increasingly afflicted with film stars who suddenly come to crave the recognition of being actors, it has become, on these shores at least, a serious annoyance that, you go to the theatre, and you can't even hear these soi-disant actors, they look as if they're going to fall flat on their faces, because they don't know how to walk properly across a stage, or (perhaps worst of all) haven't a clue how to communicate with a live audience. So to see three really fine actors was a theatre-goers delight. Again, not something one realized at the time; only later: How wonderful, too, it must have been for the director to have actors -- three of them! -- of consummate stagecraft!

It will be interesting to see what happens with this play in the future. Meanwhile, from September 4, 2004 to October 16, 2004, the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, gave us a really fine example of the playwright’s and actor’s craft.
John Keith Drummond.
©Rupert Graves Online.


Cast & Crew Information:

Greg - Rupert Graves.
Barry - Douglas Hodge.
Liz - Anna Maxwell Martin.

Director - Terry Johnson.
Design - Es Devlin.
Lighting - Bruno Poet.
Sound - Ian Dickinson.

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