Friday 27 April 2018

Absolute Hell, the Lyttelton Theatre, the National, South Bank, central London

Images from the National Theatre web site
Lavish and lengthy, Absolute Hell at the Lyttelton Theatre is a revival of a repetitive and downbeat play by Rodney Ackland originally performed in the 1950s and then revised to be more explicit in the 1980s. Set in a Soho club at the end of the Second World War, in the run-up to the Labour  victory in the 1945 General Election, the cast of 30 portrays characters from many walks of life who have one thing in common - they all want to escape reality. The club patrons, which include writers, artists, soldiers, pensioners, preachers, racketeers and aristos, obscure the outside world by indulging in alcohol, sex, literature, religion, music and nicotine. They are mostly a miserable lot, apart from an old lady with dementia.

A mute prostitute
Although there are a handful of funny scenes and the choreography can be top notch, this three hour production lacks a compelling plot and the story moves forward at a snail's pace. The play rotates through a carousel of cameos, often repeating the same gags over and over again. The multiple appearances by a bible bashing lay preacher banging on about Jesus being born on Boxing Day are particularly tedious. Throughout the performance, a mute prostitute walks round and round the stage like an robot, underlining the circular nature of the play.