~ a guest review by Susy Brett
Rory Mullarkey’s bizarre new play Pity runs at the Royal Court until August 11.
Pity tells the story of a small, relatively normal market town, which becomes anything but normal. Over the course of 100 minutes, two strangers meet, marry, and see their home turned into a warzone, beset by famine, illness and war crimes. It starts with a bolt of lightning, and it ends with a land-splitting earthquake. All the way through there are bombs, bombs and more bombs. If it sounds completely bizarre, that’s because it is.
Pity is an absurdist play that is completely absurd. It starts from the off: audiences are invited to enter through the back of the theatre, walking on stage to find an ice cream cart and raffle machine before carrying on to their seats. The play opens with a raffle prize draw. Other memorable moments include an extended dance sequence, titled ‘Atrocities’, where enemy fighters machine gun each other down before performing a victory dance. There are refugees, snipers, the Prime Minister, a famous actor, and a lot of talk about tanks.
It’s difficult to find the words to describe Pity. It feels like the most vivid hallucination after being involuntarily drugged. It is an unbelievable trip. The lighting is electric, the colours are vivid, the sound is resonant – a bomb might go off at any minute, after all. The world is on fast-forward, moving from scene to scene so quickly audience members may get whiplash.
Everything is confused. Most of Pity moves too fast to spare any time for audiences to think and interpret. However, there are occasional moments of the profound. These are typically in the rare stripped back moments of the show. A touching monologue by a postwoman, who arrives amidst the fighting, is typical of this, and performed to perfection by Siobhan McSweeney. A speech given by the Prime Minister in the wake of tragedy is on point, as are two very different opinions on the ownership of tanks. That’s not forgetting my favourite moment, involving a famous actor.
None of this would be achievable without the phenomenal creative team, who deserve all the plaudits here. From the very start, design is the star of the show. A picturesque, very green, market town goes from dandy to utter chaos. The sky falls in and provides shelter for our heroes. There is a coffin boat. The stage literally splits in half. There are tanks on stage.
Direction is deliciously eccentric. Actors walk in exact time with one another, break the fourth wall and may burst into song at any moment. The music itself is bonkers, hitting the mark even when the mark itself is unclear. It booms through the audience, overwhelming them in what feels like a magnificent trip. One cannot critique Pity for being without atmosphere.
Did all of the incredibly out there concepts mesh perfectly together? Of course not. There is so much, all at once, and the feeling in the audience was division over its effectiveness. Some ideas get explored, but most are thrown into the audience like a bomb, allowing barely a second’s recovery before the next. There is no time to think or digest. Pity is a true spectacle to watch, but this is the kind of art that will mean a lot to some and very little to others. Whatever the reaction is, however, Pity is weird enough to get audiences talking about it.
~ a guest review by Susy Brett