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No Quarter

The sibling showdown at the end of the dysfunctional family drama "No Quarter" -- in which playwright Polly Stenham underlines the importance of choice and responsibility -- is truthful and telling.

With:
Robin -Tom Sturridge
Lily - Maureen Beattie
Scout - Zoe Boyle
Coby - Alexa Davies
Tommy - Taron Egerton
Arlo - Joshua James
Oliver - Patrick Kennedy
Esme - Jenny Rainsford

The sibling showdown at the end of the dysfunctional family drama “No Quarter” — in which playwright Polly Stenham underlines the importance of choice and responsibility — is truthful and telling. It doesn’t quite, however, come as a fully earned climax. The ramshackle life she and designer Tom Scutt vividly create for the central character Robin (Tom Sturridge) is matched by too wayward a construction for Stenham’s ideas to land with ideal impact.

Playing to the bitterly low expectations of his elder brother Oliver (assured Patrick Kennedy), gaunt, self-tormenting Robin presents as being typically feckless, rattling around drunkenly in the decaying family manor in the middle of nowhere. This, however, is swiftly revealed as a ruse. He is in fact behaving, if not responsibly, then at least unselfishly. He’s secretly assisting his dementia-ridden mother Lily (Maureen Beattie) in a suicide attempt. Or is he?

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But it’s not just university music student drop-out Robin who is misrepresenting the state of affairs. Stenham too is artfully playing games. After the first act suggestion that this will be an “issue” drama, the final two acts shift into an after-the-funeral play awash with denial, delusions uncovered, recriminations and often highly enjoyable, bad behavior.

The controlled chaos of Jeremy Herrin’s sharply cast production is made manifest by Scutt’s set, which creates the time-ravaged family pile by piling the Theater Upstairs to the rafters with the exotic paraphernalia of generations of treasures and knick-knacks from stags’ heads to ropy patchwork quilts.

This further symbolizes the chaos in the head of whiny, poor-little-rich-boy Robin, whose self-obsession and victimhood is made watchable thanks to Sturridge’s charismatic performance. Faced with the sale of the family home, he topples heedlessly into one last hurrah with a combustible assortment of friends and acquaintances who pitch up after his mother’s memorial.

As in her striking debut “That Face” and follow-up “Tusk Tusk,” the 26-year-old Stenham displays her idiosyncratic way with pungent dialogue slung arrogantly from the mouths of the self-absorbed. But although Robin’s dangerously disengaged ex-university twins Scout (Zoe Boyle) and Arlo (Joshua James) provide fuel for the play’s bonfire of vanity, they and other arriving characters lead the play off down a tangent that even Herrin’s direction can’t stop from muddying rather than developing the play’s the main thrust.

Amid the ensuing mayhem in the drink-and-drug-fuelled party, Taron Egerton is entirely convincing as a bullying, ex-army drug dealer, but even he can’t effect the underwritten transition into a man falling beneath Robin’s spell. The writing of this and other relationships lacks momentum.

The play’s pivot arrives with Jenny Rainsford’s beautifully conflicted, cliche-free, policewoman trainee, who starts talking sense. But she too gets dragged down into the melee and the character fades.

The final act undeniably delivers revelations for the characters and the audience but also Stenham’s views about how choice and bravery matter in one’s dealings with the past. Unlike the earlier plays, this sees the addition of a stated authorial position. Voicing thoughts through elder brother Oliver, who bookends the play, adds a further weapon to her armory. But for all the punch of that and of individual speeches, often filled with pain and passion, there’s a sense that this meandering play is still a draft away from fully delivering the author’s goods. The controlled chaos of Jeremy Herrin’s sharply cast production is made manifest by Scutt’s set, which creates the time-ravaged family pile by piling the Theater Upstairs to the rafters with the exotic paraphernalia of generations of treasures and knick-knacks from stags’ heads to ropy patchwork quilts.

This further symbolizes the chaos in the head of whiny, poor-little-rich-boy Robin, whose self-obsession and victimhood is made watchable thanks to Sturridge’s charismatic perf. Faced with the sale of the family home, he topples heedlessly into one last hurrah with a combustible assortment of friends and acquaintances who pitch up after his mother’s memorial.

As in her striking debut “That Face” and follow-up “Tusk Tusk,” Stenham displays her idiosyncratic way with pungent dialogue slung arrogantly from the mouths of the self-absorbed. But although Robin’s dangerously disengaged ex-university twins Scout (Zoe Boyle) and Arlo (Joshua James) provide fuel for the play’s bonfire of vanity, they and other arriving characters lead the play off down a tangent that even Herrin’s direction can’t stop from muddying rather than developing the play’s the main thrust.

Amid the ensuing mayhem in the drink-and-drug-fueled party, Taron Egerton is entirely convincing as a bullying, ex-army drug dealer, but even he can’t effect the underwritten transition into a man falling beneath Robin’s spell. The writing of this and other relationships lacks momentum.

The play’s pivot arrives with Jenny Rainsford’s beautifully conflicted, cliche-free, policewoman trainee, who starts talking sense. But she too gets dragged down into the melee and the character fades.

The final act undeniably delivers revelations for the characters and the audience but also Stenham’s views about how choice and bravery matter in one’s dealings with the past. Unlike the earlier plays, this sees the addition of a stated authorial position. Voicing thoughts through elder brother Oliver, who bookends the play, adds a further weapon to her armory. But for all the punch of that and of individual speeches, often filled with pain and passion, there’s a sense that this meandering play is still a draft away from fully delivering the author’s goods.

No Quarter

Royal Court Theater Upstairs, London; 87 seats; £20 $32 top

Production: A Royal Court Theater presentation of a play in one act by Polly Stenham. Directed by Jeremy Herrin.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Tom Scutt; lighting, Philip Gladwell; sound, Fergus O'Hare; music, Paul Englishby; production stage managers, Alison Rich and Julia Slienger. Opened, reviewed, Jan. 16, 2013. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Cast: Robin -Tom Sturridge
Lily - Maureen Beattie
Scout - Zoe Boyle
Coby - Alexa Davies
Tommy - Taron Egerton
Arlo - Joshua James
Oliver - Patrick Kennedy
Esme - Jenny Rainsford

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