Review: TRUE WEST (Vaudeville Theatre) ★★★★
Unsettling dialogue and sibling rivalry reign supreme in acclaimed playwright Matthew Dunster‘s revival of Sam Shepard‘s iconic American play True West, which opened recently at the Vaudeville Theatre in the heart of London’s West End.
The play stars Game of Thrones legend Kit Harrington as Austin, the successful screenplay writer who is burdened with existential angst over his achievement of the American dream. It also stars Johnny Flynn as Austin’s reckless and troubled brother Lee, whose chaotic presence is the source of the sinister tension that builds throughout the course of the play.
As one of the most ambitious titles to hit the West End in years, this play clearly aims to grab a hefty chunk of the £1 billion a year local performing arts industry, going a long way towards achieving this. Read on to find out why True West really is worth a watch.
The play brings a comical twist to what is usually a rather sober production. Harrington and Flynn make for a comical foil of each other, cracking wicked jokes at each sibling’s expense, all the while never losing the Pinteresque sense of tension and dread which makes the original so powerful.
The action takes place in the living room of the sibling’s mother’s California home, where the jokes, threats, and fights are only punctuated with the sound of crickets chirping and palm trees swaying outside. Austin has come to the house to work on his latest screenplay, leaving his prosperous and busy family life on the East Coast for some isolation.
This, naturally, doesn’t go to plan, as his bohemian, alcoholic brother Lee decides to crash following a three-month stint alone in the Mohave Desert. The two brothers represent opposite ends of the American psyche; Austin is the picture of bourgeois success, while his brother represents the instinctual, adventurous side of the American spirit.
The two begin to envy each other’s lives, yearning for the freedom they feel they don’t have. The lead actors do a stellar job of fleshing out Shepard’s most complex characters, with the explosive final scene being one of the most memorable in recent West End memory. While reviewers such as The Guardian have observed that Harrington and Flynn seem a mismatched pair to perform alongside each other, their strikingly different styles of acting are a source of riveting fascination, especially when their personalities begin to merge and swap halfway through the play.
True West is both an original and highly faithful adaptation – one that is definitely worthy of your time.
Amid one of the toughest periods for the West End in years, where platforms like Central Tickets are making a killing from giving away free tickets just to fill seats, this production feels like the shot in the arm that the industry needs. A star of Harrington’s calibre and talent will naturally draw in a large audience, in what will be his first stage production since the last season of Game of Thrones wrapped up.
The Game of Thrones franchise certainly has the commercial pull to fill seats. The series has spawned the most profitable HBO merchandising operation in its history, as well as countless books, spin-offs, and an award-winning video game series from Telltale Games. Moreover, Harrington himself has featured as a major selling point for high-selling Game of Thrones content, with the branded online casino slot from Betway, featuring his likeness, proving to be extremely popular.
That such a popular and acclaimed actor is starring in a play which has historically resulted in sold-out shows across the Western hemisphere might just be the much-needed boost that the West End has been seeking.
Aside from the obvious allure of Harrington, this play is an experience that is definitely worth paying for. In an age where capitalism and the American Dream are in seemingly terminal crisis, this play offers viewers a timely and punchy interpretation of contemporary values in the West.
The overbearing themes of alienation, greed, and liberation won’t be lost on the viewer and this is the kind of production that stays in your head long after you’ve left the theatre. The play is likely to be the talk of the town throughout the winter season, given that it’s one of the most culturally relevant productions to be staged at the Vaudeville in a very long time.
The production values are also astonishing, with it not being too difficult to imagine the budget for this play easily running into seven figures. Harrington himself is clearly gearing up for an Olivier with this performance and we’d honestly be surprised if he didn’t clean up come awards season.
Whatever your tastes, this is a play that you truly don’t want to miss.
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