Imagine all the bad, unlucky and disastrous things that could ever possible happen. Let them all happen one after the other, make it bonkers, and then you have Rory Mullarkey’s latest play Pity, now on at the Royal Court Theatre. Directed by Sam Pritchard, it’s likely to be the strangest production you see this summer, but it may also be the most impressive.
I don’t know if there’s already a record for the most objects to fall from the loft of a theatre in one show, but Pity is certainly trying to break it. The set design and coordination is remarkable — designed by Chloe Lamford and built by Ridiculous Solutions (a fitting name if there ever was one). With ice creams, bombs, a ballerina SWAT captain, earthquakes, an entire war, thunderstorms, blood, guts, tanks, snipers and a whole load of candles, Pity is the play that keeps on giving even when you think there’s nothing left. There’s even a brass ensemble, performed by members of the Fulham Brass Band, throughout most of the show. The rest of the play’s music is a strange concoction of various situational genres. The show is unpredictable in a way that reminds me of Douglas Adams or Jonas Jonasson.
The outright absurd story is loosely focussed on a young couple, played by Abraham Popoola and Sophia Di Martino, who are “alright” in the face of serious adversity. Despite the bizarre dialogue and presentation, the point of which is perhaps to not have a point, you find yourself really rooting for the couple to survive and succeed. For the cast, Mullarkey’s script calls for “a big, mixed group that represents the world” and this rendition certainly delivers on that. The cast are a dream team, all equally committed to make the random events as strange and striking as possible. Highlights include Popoola’s breezy performance, Sandy Grierson’s monologue as the Red Warlord, Francesca Mill’s consistently pithy delivery and every scene with Paul G Raymond in it.
Undoubtedly, there’s lot of satire in this play, like with Helena Lymbery’s uncanny performance of “a” Prime Minister. When war breaks out between “the reds” and “the blues,” the metaphor feels a little too obvious, until its confirmed when “the purples” show up with a yellow flag branded “sorry” — make of that what you will. Pity doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you, but there’s also something meditative and therapeutic about being shocked into laughter by issues that some might consider to be a little too close to home.
Prepare to have your senses heightened and your imagination stretched, with this weird and wonderful piece of contemporary theatre.
Pity is playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 11 August 2018
Photo: Tristram Kenton