John Patrick Shanley's Savage in Limbo is revived above a Camden pub, but the result suffers from poor direction and casting. A valiant attempt by young company to take on a difficult script, but not a particularly brilliant result.
Not particularly well known over here (outside of the grimly acerbic Doubt), Shanley is much more famous in his native New York for his well-observed and witty plays, of which Savage in Limbo is one of his first and best known. Featuring a cast of losers in a deserted Bronx bar, the plot follows all of them trying to escape their desolate and difficult lives in a collection of early mid-life crises and romantic complications, with plenty of detailed subtext about Catholicism - although it quickly becomes clear that no-one is going anywhere fast.
New company Planktonic have taken on a mammoth task - this is not an easy play, and it's therefore not surprising that they struggle so. The entire cast are too young (all 20-somethings) to play the 30-something characters, so none of the world-weariness makes any sense - and the required, thick, meaty Bronx accent wavers from everyone too frequently to let this settle. The difficulties with accents also slow down the pace - the whole thing drags like a lead balloon, which is never a good idea for a play starting so late at night. The direction is torpid - scenes stop and start fitfully, and actions that should seem natural don't. In short, it's a performative mess. Add to that that it's a site-specific piece in a room above a pub (with no noise reduction at all from the busy Camden street outside), which the company have attempted to design as a New York pub, and the whole project starts to fall apart.
The real shame is that these are all forseeable problems: the director's a first-timer, the venue is not a theatre venue, the company's new, the cast are all young, and it's a fringe show of a difficult script. I'm all for ambition, but this was clearly a bridge too far from the outset; it's even more of a shame considering how much work this company have done to promote their show, with a programme full of partners and plans and collaborations and interviews - they've produced excellently, but the project doesn't stand up.
It's a shame to start off a new company's review sheet with a negative, but this is really not a very good show. They clearly have their heads screwed on right, and I wish them the greatest success, but would encourage more humble beginnings and a better conceived project next time.