Now Or Later

Royal Court Theatre, 3 September – 18 October 2008

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

Christopher Shinn has so much to say about American politics, Islam, homosexuality, freedom of expression and life in the public eye that his play Now Or Later, at the Royal Court until 18 October, can barely contain it all. Its brittle naturalistic structure regularly ruptures, issuing jets of superheated opinion direct from the playwright’s mind through the characters’ mouths.

Luckily – or rather, shrewdly on Shinn’s part – the play’s setting neatly excuses this kind of soapbox declamation. It takes place on US presidential election night, in a hotel room occupied by the Democrat candidate’s son, John Jr. It’s a politically charged environment inhabited by politically eloquent people (campaign staff and the potential President’s immediate family), so informed debates about the issues du jour are realistic, if not always totally theatrical.

The tangents at which the play’s many debates diverge look suspiciously like excuses for Shinn to hawk his many (and considered) political theories to the audience, but they’re interwoven in a way that suggests the personal is political, the political can border on religious, the religious is personal and issues from domestic disputes to public relations to party politics to the Middle East to Islam to Christian fundamentalism to Evangelism to literalism to homophobia and back again are so tightly knotted together that discussion of one will inevitably lead to debates on all the rest. Every tangent is painstakingly anchored in the point from which it branches; politics, Shinn seems to say, cannot help but cover every one of these issues and more. It’s impossible to discuss one topic in isolation. What matters is how it fits into the big picture.

The production has been timed to coincide with the real Presidential race, but benefits also from some serendipitous parallels with real life. The controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad feature heavily and risk dating the play considerably; but they’re mentioned in relation to John Jr’s indiscretions at a college party, evoking Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s own filial improprieties in ways Shinn could not possibly have foreseen, but which add immediacy to an already consciously topical production.

Written by Christopher Shinn

Crew includes Dominic Cooke (director), Hildegard Bechtler (designer), Charles Balfour (lighting) and Ian Dickonson (sound)

Cast includes Nancy Crane (Jessica), Domhnall Gleeson (Matt), Adam James (Marc), Matthew Marsh (John Sr), Pamela Nomvete (Tracy) and Eddie Redmayne (John)

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