Common @ National Theatre – Olivier Stage
Cast Includes Anne Marie Duff, Cush Jumbo and Tim McMullan
Running Time: 2 hours 25 mins, inc. interval
The National Theatre is facing a difficult start to the summer in the Olivier. After mixed to negative reviews for Salome, it’s latest offering to open, Common has also been receiving largely negative press. DC Moore’s work is billed as an ‘epic tale of England’s lost land’ however becomes a meandering narrative that is unfocussed and has too many ideas.
Common features the character of Mary (Duff) who returns to her village, prosperous after becoming a prostitute in London. The piece then attempts to tackle both her attempted reunion with her lover, the enclosure of common land and several other issues, however Common has a messy narrative that at times is unclear (possibly due to the huge cuts the piece has received in previews after scathing audience responses and walkouts). The piece is rather surreal and by the time of the second act, where Mary returns from the dead and talks to crows, the piece gets even more strange. Supposedly an ‘atmospheric’ moment, the audience were laughing at the preposterous turn of events.
For all the cuts and the amount of ideas in the piece, the pacing is abysmally slow. Scenes feel lacking in point, yet along with already mentioned points there is also ritual sacrifice, Mary’s telepathy and incest all touched upon, yet none of the subjects are given any particular time to develop.
The play also employs a strange, ‘olde worlde’ style of speech that at many times is both confusing and annoying. It means that many of the scenes take even longer to unfold and distances the piece from the audience. The text is also littered with profanity which feels gratuitous and loses any impact after the first few minutes that is especially annoying.
The set for this piece also does not do the production any favours – the barren stage rarely has any props on it and almost feels like it has been produced on a budget. It also feels like the stage has been filled with people at times to distract from the barrenness of the set – many of the cast have very little to do.
Huge kudos must go to the cast for this production, especially to Anne Marie Duff who really feels like she is driving the piece forwards. The fact that they play the piece with such conviction is frankly astounding due to the ludicrous nature of the text.
Summary: An appallingly tedious production that is highly dull with a messy, unclear narrative. Avoid. **