Straight Line Crazy, Bridge Theatre

“A visit from the Old Testament!” proclaims a member of the Vanderbilt dynasty, as future head of the New York City planning commission, Robert Moses, invites himself round to talk with one of the city’s great landowners about the common man’s newly discovered taste for leisure and the opportunities therein. Vanderbilt’s right; Robert Moses is a biblical character. A man with a god complex, yes, but also a desire to create the world in his own image and impose his values. When nominative determinism is this on the nose, a play outlines itself.

The biblical Moses turned his back on the Egyptians and lead the enslaved population to freedom. The 20th century Moses admires antiquity’s architectural perfectionism and ignores the cost in human lives. The mind wanders to other egos from recent history who were big on city planning.

David Hare’s dramaturgical design incorporates biographical nooks and mile upon mile of social commentary. Moses, we learn, is a man whose narcissism works in tandem with a sliding scale of contempt for those he regards as barriers to progress. The more poor, female and non-white you are, the greater Moses’ tendency, fashionable amongst the intelligentsia of the early 20th century, to bulldoze your neighbourhood in the name of paternalism – an authoritarian and distinctly undemocratic tendency that’s useful for hiding all manner of destructive instincts. “Vandal”, “doctrinaire”, these words get bandied about. Uglier words spring to mind.

Straight Line Crazy’s a grand character study but it might have been a better play, though perhaps a weaker piece of biography, had Hare not delineated Moses’ self-interest when an up and comer. Though he later explores the irony of a neophile whose ideas have been frozen in aspic, Ralph Fiennes’ megalomaniac might have been a more tragic figure still had he actually once believed in a benign form of utilitarianism.

Swaggering and wryly cynical, Fiennes suitably puffed up and incredulous – his hands on his hips like a weary Leonard Rossiter, the younger Moses sets out his implicitly contemptuous idea that the green spaces he’ll create, betwixt the city’s new arteries, are a sop to the virtue symbolised by nature – manna for opinion formers.

His later declaration, that roads are simply the means by which urban renewal is facilitated, is either self-deception or outright dishonesty. As the play reaches its crescendo, with conserving forces finally rallying, though too late to prevent the commodification of traditional living, there’s no doubt. Moses’ plans for further “improvements” are defeated but the unforeseen consequence is lifestyle as a fetish – saved communities available only to the most affluent.

It’s sobering to think that just as Jane Jacobs was waking up New Yorkers and the American architectural orthodoxy to the deprivations caused by their abstract thinking (The Death and Life of Great American Cities was published in 1961), foaming UK urban technocrats, eyes like wall cavities, were preparing to replicate it as a panacea for the country’s post-war housing problems.

What lay behind the plans – corruption, fear and hatred of the working poor and minority communities, a Mr Toad-like fascination with cars, which just happened to exclude the worst off – was the same as before and it had exactly the same sociological impact; the displacement of generational communities, homes replaced by living cells in isolated blocks – anomie, alienation, and the low paid turfed into poor housing stock or the sense-deadening sprawl.

It would be comforting to exit Hare’s play and call it history. But some patrons will return to so-called shared owned homes in lifeless, recently built appends to once vibrant communities throughout London and lament an evening in the company of the man who made it all possible. You may want to contact your Housing Association by the way, that damp wall is starting to smell.  

Martin McDonagh World Premiere to Open At The Bridge 2018

A   V E R Y    V E R Y    V E R Y   D A R K   M A T T E R

A new play by Martin McDonagh with a cast led by Jim Broadbent

 

Following Martin McDonagh’s success at the Venice, Toronto and London film festivals with his critically acclaimed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the London Theatre Company announces, in advance of its next programme, the world premiere next autumn at theBridge Theatre of a new play by McDonagh. With a cast led by Jim Broadbent and directed by Matthew Dunster and designed by Anna Fleischle, A Very Very Very Dark Matter will preview from 10 October 2018. Tickets will go on public sale on 14 November 2017 at 10am GMT with priority booking for Bridge members opening today at 10am GMT. The 12-week run will conclude on 29 December. Further casting and members of the creative team will be announced in due course.

 

In a townhouse in Copenhagen works Hans Christian Andersen, a teller of exquisite and fantastic children’s tales beloved by millions.  But the true source of his stories dwells in his attic upstairs, her existence a dark secret kept from the outside world.  As dangerous, twisted and funny as his National Theatre and Broadway hit The Pillowman, Martin McDonagh’s new play travels deep into the abysses of the imagination.

Martin McDonagh is an award-winning writer and director.  His plays are The Beauty Queen of Leenane, A Skull in Connemara, The Lonesome West, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Pillowman, A Behanding in Spokane and Hangmen.  As a writer and director for film his credits are Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges, Six Shooter as well as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which won Best Screenplay at this year’s Venice Film Festival, the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and was the closing film at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Jim Broadbent is a BAFTA and Academy award-winning actor. He has previously appeared in Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman at the National Theatre where he was also seen in Improbable Theatre’s Theatre of Blood.  Broadbent has worked extensively for the Donmar Warehouse, the Old Vic, the Royal Court and the Royal Shakespeare Company and has most recently been seen on stage in A Christmas Carol at The Noel Coward Theatre.  His many film credits include Iris, for which he won an Academy Award, The Lady in the Van, Paddington, Brooklyn, Iron Lady, Le Weekend, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Moulin Rouge and King Lear, currently in production.  His more recent television credits include Game of Thrones, War and Peace, London Spy and The Go-Between as well as his BAFTA winning role in Longford. 

 

Matthew Dunster.JPGMatthew Dunster directed McDonagh’s Hangmen at the Royal Court where he has also directed Liberian Girl.  Other directing credits include The Seagull and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Open Air Regent’s Park, Love’s Sacrifice for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Love the Sinner for the National Theatre, Doctor Faustus, Imogen, The Frontline and Much Ado About Nothing for Shakespeare’s Globe, Mametz for the National Theatre of Wales, Before the Party for the Almeida Theatre and Saturday Night and Sunday MorningMacbeth and Mogadishu for the Royal Exchange Theatre.  As a writer his plays include Children’s Children which premiered at the Almeida Theatre and You Can See the Hills which premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre as well as an adaptation of 1984.

 

 

London Theatre Company will announce the remainder of the Bridge programme for 2018 early next year.