Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre, has made a commitment to increase the volume of new work across the National’s three stages. Common by DC Moore follows the disappointing Salomé onto the largest and most difficult stage, the Olivier.
Moore’s plot is a tangential and confusing depiction of surreal events in a village, set against the backdrop of the 19th century enclosure system. Con-artist and rogue Mary (Anne-Marie Duff) returns from London to the village of her childhood, dies, is resurrected a couple of times and tries to run off with her ex-lesbian lover, Laura (Cush Jumbo). If this sounds confusing now, not only does it get worse, but trust me – it was even more disorientating in the auditorium.
the plot ricocheted from location to location and topic to topic with an astonishing lack of cohesion or substance
The evening started full of promise. The strikingly bleak and ominous set was filled with villagers clad in pagan animal masks performing a ritual-like ceremony at the play’s opening. Amidst the insistent drumming, the lone, compelling figure of Mary appeared in a bright scarlet dress, contrasting with the drab, muted tones of her surroundings. Mary instantaneously broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience with a mix of informal and antiquated language. Then, despite some excellent performances, the plot ricocheted from location to location and topic to topic with an astonishing lack of cohesion or substance.
Notwithstanding the mess of the plot, I did enjoy the evening – unlike the many people that left in the interval. It is a co-production with theatre company Headlong, and director Jeremy Herrin does a good job of conjuring up some impressive, symbolic images. However, it is up to the cast to keep the audience engaged. Luckily, the formidable Duff was entirely convincing in portraying a credible character despite the play’s mis-steps. Sadly, Cush Jumbo was underused, but still managed to deliver the most passionate performance of the evening. It was refreshing to see her back on stage after her US TV success.
it was a waste of the talented creative team, as no matter how hard they tried, the quality of the play ultimately let them down
Overall, I found it a directionless and confusing play that kept me on-side solely due to impressive aesthetics, atmospheric music and some strong acting. I felt it was a waste of the talented creative team, as no matter how hard they tried, the quality of the play ultimately let them down. This will appeal to fans of Anne-Marie Duff, Cush Jumbo and the film The Wicker Man. If you’re none of the above and you’ve had a long day, maybe give it a miss.
Image: Johan Persson