Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Cause by Jeremy James at Jermyn Street Theatre

The Cause opens with the left stage only lit. There we are introduced to an aged Hungarian painter, who has come to visit an old friend of his family - he is going to paint her portrait. At the end of his visit, when he sees the old friend's daughter for the first time, he collapses. It later emerges that his left side is paralysed - with no clear physical cause - as a result. "Luckily" the family friend is a psychoanalyst so together they undertake a journey into his past, convinced his inability to move his painting arm is due to past trauma.

The past, as the artist remembers it bit by bit, is then reenacted centre stage. It turns out the elderly was one of four wild Hungarian students who, gripped by a desire to free Hungary from the Austrian yoke, decide to assassinate Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Er, what? The Hungarians may not have been keen on Franz Ferdinand's Three Crown proposal, which would have given autonomy to Slavs, but by 1914 they had already fought their own battles for autonomy within the empire - and won. The foursome do mutter at one point about not wanting to have an emperor who is doubling up as emperor of the other part of the empire - a similar kind of argument to the Australian Republican movement's one about the current Queen of England having the role of Queen of Australia as a sideline - but the students' fervour doesn't make historical sense to me. Perhaps there was in reality a bunch of hot heads like those portrayed in the play, in which case I apologise and limit my criticism to the very clunky dialogue of this group, the rather school play acting standard and the dreadful costumes - why couldn't they have had plain white shirts (and given how little painting they appear to do, must all of them have their hands smeared so thickly with different shades of paint the entire time?) - but as things stand I am baffled about how such a historically flawed play could be put on.

As if all this were not enough, on the righthand side of the stage, officers of the Black Hand movement appeared from time to time, to provide, rather astonishingly, a bit of comic relief. The two actors in this section were the best thing in the production but using the Black Hand as a humorous recurring interlude struck me as an error. Some sections of the audience were provoked to laughter by their pantomime villain jolly japes but, as the Black Handers were actually vicious terrorists, whose actions turned the world into an infinitely worse place, I just felt uncomfortable.

In the final preposterous plot twist, the old Hungarian painter recalls that he murdered someone - although not Franz Ferdinand. How do you forget you shot someone point blank in a vicious, cold hearted and thoroughly pointless gesture? It slipped my mind, guv,sorry. Having rediscovered what he's done, the old painter faces the actor playing his younger self and is urged to forgive himself. I don't think there is any reason to do so - and I think there is even less reason to forgive the playwright for producing this drivel or the theatre for staging it. What were they thinking? This is one of the most misconceived dramas imaginable. I am sorry to say that I cannot come up with a single good thing to say about it.  The suspension of disbelief was absolutely impossible. Complete and total rubbish. the kind of thing that gives theatre a very bad name

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