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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Curse of the Starving Class, Royal Lyceum review

Published in The Guardian © Mark Fisher

Curse of the Starving Class, Royal Lyceum review

The fridge sits centre stage. In any other American play, it would be packed with produce, a domestic symbol of the land of plenty. But in Sam Shepard's alternative vision of the postwar boom years, the cupboard is bare. His family of hard-bitten misfits out in the "boonies" of California repeatedly open the fridge in the hope of finding it full. The best it brings forth is a bag of artichokes.

Even in the most socially conscious Arthur Miller drama, life never looked so threadbare. Shepard's vision is altogether more bleak. The radio jingles that introduce each scene in Mark Thomson's production sing a hymn to consumerism, but this family, bound together less by affection than by violence, can scarcely make it from one meal to the next.

With a grim echo of our own credit crunch, they are living beyond their means, ever vulnerable to the coyote-like profiteers circling the house ready to take their prey. Their hopes for a better life are desperate and delusional.

There is much to commend in the production. Carla Mendonça is brilliantly unnerving as a mother made emotionally numb by brutal circumstance. As her alcoholic husband, Christopher Fairbank is scarily plausible, at once pathetic and dangerous. And Alice Haig is excellent as the droll daughter, her intelligence showing up the lumbering brawn of Christopher Brandon as the son.

Together they create moments of startling theatricality, whether it's Brandon urinating on his sister's homework, carrying a live lamb on to the stage or walking naked across the room. But it also comes across as an uneven piece of writing, compelling one minute, drifting the next. The overly naturalistic presentation diminishes the play's political and dramatic sense of purpose.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

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