God In Ruins @ Soho Theatre, London

cast list
Jude Akuwudike
Richard Atwill
Sam Cox
Brian Doherty
Ryan Gage
Emmanuel Ighodaro
Sean Kearns
Jason Nwoga
Patrick O’Kane
Mark Theodore
Joel Trill

directed by
Anthony Neilson
The RSC is not usually a company one immediately associates with a willingness to experiment and to push back theatrical boundaries. A bit harsh perhaps, but in the main, a fair assessment. So the idea of them joining forces with Anthony Neilson for a unique collaborative project was intriguing to say the least.

Neilson is the man behind The Wonderful World Of Dissocia and Realism. His work can be in-your-face and infuriating at times but it is never dull. This new piece was commissioned without a script and was developed via an intense period of writing and rehearsal that took place over a number of weeks. It sounds, in theory, like brave, innovative, forward-thinking theatre. Indeed, Artistic Director Michael Boyd even boasts in the programme notes about still not having seen the finished script. However, had he done so, one suspects his enthusiasm for the project may have rather dwindled.

God In Ruins is a strange mishmash of poorly developed ideas. It begins with a mildly amusing prologue in which Ebenezer Scrooge, now fully redeemed after his encounter with his three ghosts, turns out to be just as insufferable in his new perky and life-loving incarnation as his old bah-humbug self. It’s a nice, if slight, idea that the production milks until it falls flat.

We then leap forward to the present where Brian (played by Brian Doherty), a divorced, alcoholic reality TV producer, is having his own Christmas Carol moment. Having been rude to his ex-wife and failed to tip a pizza delivery man, he is visited by the white-suited ghost of dead dad, who is there to help him get his life back in order and, more specifically, to help him to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

Shoehorned into this over-familiar narrative there are scenes featuring internet porn and self help groups. At some point, for no reason that I could fathom, the original Scrooge also shows up to aid Brian on his quest. There is a reasonably funny interlude where two young children discuss the fact that Santa is dead and a, much less amusing and rather pointless, moment when the characters become aware that they are in a theatre and that they are being watched by an audience. This is followed by another strange sequence when a ‘real’ homeless man bursts into the auditorium and interrupts proceedings, causing the actors to break character and call for the police.

None of this seemed to have been included with any real purpose behind it and it merely added to the air of sixth-form skit that already hovered over the production. It didn’t feel inventive or anarchic, merely juvenile and tired. There was a handful of decent punchlines, true, but most of the laughter was of the uneasy ‘this is supposed to be a funny bit, right?’ type forced and awkward.

Brian, of course, eventually completes his quest and finds his daughter; though since he was desperate to get in touch with her at the start and was only prevented from speaking to her because he was so totally inebriated, it’s not really much of a redemption. There is also an out-of-nowhere suggestion that his unhappiness might be to do with latent homosexuality.

Doherty and the rest of the cast give it their all, but there’s little they can do to make all the flailing elements of this messy show coalesce. But while a little bit of thematic untidiness can be easily be forgiven if a production is innovative and interesting; here in a show that runs for only an hour and a half Neilson has managed to spectacularly undermine his own manifesto. Thou shalt not bore he declared in the Guardian, earlier this year. If only he’d heeded his own advice; for all the noise and colour and cussing on display here, this is a dull evening indeed.

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