×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

13

Conflicting generational ideologies, the corruption of power, political disaffection vs. the need for belief, war vs. pacifism, the attractions and perils of free-market capitalism ... All that and more is audaciously presented, contrasted and chewed over in "13."

With:
Ruth - Geraldine James
John - Trystan Gravelle
Stephen - Danny Webb
Mark - Adam James
Rachel - Kirsty Bushell
Amir - Davood Ghadami
Edith - Helen Ryan
Sarah - Genevieve Reilly
Dennis - Nick Sidi
Ruby - Grace Cooper
Milton/ Jadie - Rose Hobson

Conflicting generational ideologies, the corruption of power, political disaffection vs. the need for belief, war vs. pacifism, the attractions and perils of free-market capitalism … All that and more is audaciously presented, contrasted and chewed over in “13.” The intellectual plate-spinning of playwright Mike Bartlett (U.K. hit “Cock,” bowing Off Broadway in the spring) would be more satisfying, however, if ambition didn’t so obviously outstrip dramatic achievement.

Twelve rapidly introduced, seemingly disconnected characters — from tired charity worker Rachel (nicely end-of-tether Kirsty Bushell) to Ruth, the Conservative Prime Minister (Geraldine James), to lawyer Mark (Adam James) — all appear to be sharing precisely the same bad dream.

Their fascinatingly surreal linkages collectively suggest a looming crisis in this near-present-day dystopia, rising to a peak as all twelve, willingly or not, fall under the sway of political prophet John (Trystan Gravelle). He appears as if from nowhere and develops a Christ-like presence of unencumbered goodness. His vast following whipped up by the Internet threatens the government, specifically as it stands poised to invade Iran over its nuclear weapons policy.

Working out the links between the disparate characters gives momentum to the more effective first half. How does the God-fearing wife of the U.S. politico fit into the picture? What’s the connection between the atheist academic and the Prime Minister?

Yet once the connections are made, they fail to deepen. Puzzlingly, as if not fully in command of his structure, Bartlett also changes stylistic tack, dropping the more surreal tone in the weaker second half and descending instead to a standard-issue debate with a head-to-head of conflicting ideologies across a table between the prophet and the Prime Minister. Worse, anyone even vaguely conversant with conspiracy thrillers can smell the inevitable routing of the idealist a mile-off.

Although the intelligence of the writing is never in doubt, the theatrical texture wears thin because the diffuse ideas remain underdeveloped.

Bartlett isn’t helped by Thea Sharrock’s fitful production. Her awkward, effortful crowd scenes are unconvincing and although she gives clarity to the cross-cut stories, there’s a draining lack of cumulative energy.

Moment by moment, the actors illuminate their individual scenarios. Adam James brings piercing emotional precision to the lawyer who cracks up under the realization that his all-consuming rage is really directed at himself. And Geraldine James survives the caricature of her high-heels and upswept-hair costuming to breathe life into implausibly isolated Ruth.

Taking its cue from Tom Scutt’s predominantly black set eerily lit by Mark Henderson, Sharrock’s bleak staging is in thrall to a giant, slowly spinning black cube at the centre of the stage that suggests a metaphor whose meaning remains vague. More awkwardly still, its constantly turning surface serves to underlines Bartlett’s uncharacteristic lack of decision about his play’s sense of direction.

His questions about the nature of good and evil in the modern world are bold but an even bigger question is brought to light by the drably staged coda in which the conclusions to the stories of the twelve are trotted out by the actors in a straight line. Why didn’t the National’s literary management persuade Bartlett to take a play of such potential through at least one more major draft?

13

Olivier, National Theater, London; 1,127 seats; £30 $48 top

Production: A National Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Mike Bartlett. Directed by Thea Sharrock.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Tom Scutt; lighting, Mark Henderson; sound, Ian Dickinson; music, Adrian Johnston; production stage manager, Laura Flowers. Opened, reviewed Oct. 25, 2011. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.

Cast: Ruth - Geraldine James
John - Trystan Gravelle
Stephen - Danny Webb
Mark - Adam James
Rachel - Kirsty Bushell
Amir - Davood Ghadami
Edith - Helen Ryan
Sarah - Genevieve Reilly
Dennis - Nick Sidi
Ruby - Grace Cooper
Milton/ Jadie - Rose HobsonWith: Matthew Barker, Nick Blakeley, Katie Brayben, Natasha Broomfield, Martin Chamberlain, Sioned Jones, Barbara Kirby, Esther McAuley, Lara Rossi, Zara Tempest-Walters, John Webber, Shane Zaza.

More Legit

  • Beetlejuice review

    Broadway Review: 'Beetlejuice'

    “Such a bold departure from the original source material!” wisecracks the odd-looking fellow sitting on a coffin at the start of the Broadway musical “Beetlejuice.” The weird, nasty and outrageous title character is talking about a short lament just sung by a sad teen at her mother’s gravesite, as he breaks the fourth wall (“Holy [...]

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Ink review

    Broadway Review: 'Ink' With Jonny Lee Miller

    Garish, lurid and brash, “Ink,” the British import now on Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club production, is the theatrical equivalent of its subject, the UK’s Daily Sun — the newspaper that reshaped British journalism and propelled Rupert Murdoch’s ascent to media mogul. Like the tabloid, it feels unsubstantial, rushed and icky. You can’t say [...]

  • All My Sons review

    London Theater Review: 'All My Sons' With Sally Field, Bill Pullman

    If “All My Sons” is showing its age, it sure shows no signs of abating. Just days after a major revival opened on Broadway, moving Annette Bening and Tracy Letts into the Tony zone, up the play pops in London. The Old Vic has arguably secured the starrier cast, too: Bill Pullman and Sally Field [...]

  • Tootsie review

    Broadway Review: 'Tootsie'

    The new Broadway adaptation of “Tootsie” is old-fashioned and proud of it — and it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser, in this musical spin on the 1982 film comedy with Santino Fontana in the Dustin Hoffman role. Robert Horn (book) and Tony-winner David Yazbek (score) have a high old time poking fun at theatrical rituals — the [...]

  • Kelli O'Hara

    Listen: How Kelli O'Hara Brings #MeToo to 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    “Kiss Me, Kate” is one of the best-known titles in musical theater. But in this day and age, the “Taming of the Shrew”-inspired comedy’s depiction of the gender dynamic seems downright, well, problematic. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Kelli O’Hara is well aware of that, and so were her collaborators on the Roundabout Theatre [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content