13 MAY 1989, Page 43


A Madhouse in Goa (Lyric, Hammersmith)

Shouted down

Christopher Edwards

two distinctly separate parts. Each has a voice to match its contents. The first, Where the action is set on Corfu in 1966, is a beguiling sotto voce. The second, set in a house above the volcano on Santorini, is very loud indeed: it deafens the first and then bellows artlessly at us. . Part One entitled 'A Table for a King', Is a slight short-story of a piece that leaves You feeling mildly diverted by the time the interval arrives. Those who admire Martin Sherman's shrewd technique (he is the author of Bent and Messiah) are left hoping that this whispered understatement is all artful preparation. This admirer was dis- appointed. David, a young homosexual American Jewish writer, is visiting Europe for the first time. Brilliantly played by Rupert Graves, David is a buttoned-up, callow neurotic. He commits his gauche artistic efforts to a journal, extracts of which we hear in a voice-over. He is seduced and blackmailed by a Greek waiter, Costos (Ian Sears), who speaks, hilariously, in half-understood refrains from Sixties pop songs. More significantly, David encoun- ters Mrs Honey from Mississippi. Mrs Honey (Vanessa Redgrave) is a garrulous middle-aged fantasist whose children have sent her packing on a non-stop tour of the world. The widow of a dentist from Utah, she is a dreamy, desolate creation who might almost have wandered in from a minor Tennessee Williams tale. This great actress accords the role a fraction of her talents and brings her delicately and amu- singly to life. The main event of the holiday is Mrs Honey's battle with the owner of the taverna, Nikos (Larry Lamb), who wants to seat the king of Greece at her reserved table. A flirtatious battle of wills turns nasty when Nikos compromises Mrs Honey and secures the table.

The wittiest remark in Part One touches on the meaninglessness (in the Greece of the Sixties), of Nikos's mysterious qual- ification — an Oxford degree in political science. In Part Two, entitled 'Keeps Rainin' all the Time', this, and much else, is placed in starker perspective. The time is 1990. We encounter Daniel Hosani (Arthur Dignam), a writer who enjoyed instant fame for his first novel written years ago, but whose mind and body have been destroyed by over-indulgence in drugs, sex, etc. His successful book, we eventual- ly gather, was the story of David and Mrs Honey. He was the David character. But the story set in Corfu, based on fact as it was, left out all the unsavoury details. There was cancer in the family of the real Mrs Honey, political revolution simmering in the tavernas.

Part Two might have turned into a critique of how fiction charms reality into something easy, private and distracting. That in itself would have been a large enough subject for a play to contend with. Instead, the point is lost in a veritable deluge of despair about the modern world. To be sure no one could accuse Martin Sherman himself of failing to addressing burning issues.

Daniel is attended by an ageing Sixties earth mother, Heather (Vanessa Red- grave). Heather is dying of cancer and obsessed with nuclear pollution, Aids and her young computer-wizard son Dylan (Ian Sears). I cannot recall if she is also deeply concerned about Middle East terrorism and volcanic eruptions, but I believe so. Most of her worries are prophetic, and boil over into events during the climax of the piece.

Heather has come over to Santorini to sell Daniel's one great success to a mad born-again Hollywood film producer called Barnaby Grace (Rupert Graves). With Jesus as his co-producer, Grace wants to turn the book into a pappy musical. Mean- while, a deadly cloud of acid rain is moving across Europe towards the island. The fact that all this is pitched at a consciously over-blown, near farcical level does no- thing to make it any more effective. Either the production is at fault in failing to hit the right level of grotesque, fast-moving panic, or (more likely) the writing is just too stilted and unwieldy to be cranked up to that pace. A measure of the problem facing the talented cast is that not even Vanessa Redgrave can make much of her part, save of course for being always watchable and intelligent. Robert Allan Ackerman directs.

'That's right . . . Marquis of Queensberry comprehensive!'