Clearly so was playwright DC Moore, who crams every other conceivable narrative into his new two-and-a-half hour play, Common – billed as 'an epic tale of England's lost land'.
Despite spirited performances from some of our favourite stage actors, the production still leaves you pummelled by plot. There’s prostitution, revenge, trickery, animal sacrifice, mysticism, lesbian romance, incest, politics, Irish tensions, illegitimate pregnancy and murder – and that’s just the first half.
The over-egged story is told through a colourful olde worlde dialect, with a bouncy rhythm borne from a tautological excess of words.
The heightened macabre is amusing enough initially, but the overall is effect is that of mannered, slightly silly Sunday night period drama – except there’s at least four seasons’ worth of increasingly over-the-top plot packed into one play. You don't get any time to know or care about the characters between each graphic fight or florid seduction.
Anne-Marie Duff as Mary and Cush Jumbo as Laura
After an opening ritualistic harvest dance from the large ensemble cast, Anne-Marie Duff holds court as scheming rogue, Mary. She speaks directly and knowingly to the audience, bringing us into her confidence in a manner that feels forced in the vast Olivier auditorium. Duff is vivacious enough to just about make it work, but there’s a strained sense of polite awkwardness to the audience titters.
The ensuing story is too sprawling to summarise, but highlights include Cush Jumbo as superstitious country girl Laura and John Dagleish as her brother, King.
Along with Duff, these are actors who can illuminate a stage and compel the audience, but their talents are too tangled up in this muddle.
Headlong Theatre director Jeremy Herrin matches the pace to the plot developments, drawing the issues of privatisation, public amenities and class clashes into a none-too-subtle reflection of contemporary politics. 'What beasts rule this world?' Mary implores, as the voice of the common people.
Instead of exploring these parallels, Common buries them in a muddy heap of intrigue, fake blood and far-fetched plot.
|What||Common, National Theatre review|
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
30 May 17 – 05 Aug 17, 7.30pm, matinee performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays
|Price||£15 - £65|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|