Three Kingdoms – A Euro Jumble At The Lyric

Experimental theatre that's not for the faint-hearted, says theatre critic Liz Vercoe

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Lyric Hammersmith

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This play, about a murder and the sex trade in west London, Germany and Estonia, comes heaped with health warnings about its “adult” content. It should also warn you that this Euro co-production goes on for far too long.

The premise is fine. A prostitute’s head in a bag washes up on Chiswick Eyot and launches a murder enquiry that the local cops think they’ll have sewn up, with a suspect banged up, in time for tea.

Nicholas Tennant and Ferdy Roberts are convincing as DI Ignatius Stone and sidekick DS Charlie Lee who realise the evidence doesn’t actually add up if they’re to pin the girl’s murder on Shepherd’s Bush tearaway Tommy (Rupert Simonian). He’s far too nice anyway.

No, they need to go in search of a man with a foreign accent – probably German, definitely not French, says Tommy, who clearly got something useful out of his Hammersmith and Fulham education. Fortunately the DS went one better and went on a foreign exchange at school and ended up speaking fluent German, so off go the doughty duo to the sex dens of Deutschland.

This scenario by writer Simon Stephens, he of the award-winning Punk Rock, paves the way for several characters with foreign accents because the majority of the cast are Estonian. They come from improvisation-led company Teatre NO99 of Talinn. And the whole shebang is under the direction of Germany’s Sebastian N übling and supported by the Munich Kammerspiele theatre.

Yes, as part of the three-month long World Stages London project, linking up international co-productions, this is a Euro-drama smorgasbord. While there are no actual Scandinavians in it they have broken us in for this type of foreign language drama. Anyone who is a fan of TV’s The Killing, or The Bridge, or even Wallander without Kenneth Branagh, will be used to reading subtitled translation as the police solve gruesome murders between steamy sexig/sexet/seksikas scenes.

Here it’s surtitles above the stage, but no matter, they are something to read while actresses, who sometimes wear deer heads and sometimes nothing at all, absent-mindedly strap on sex toys and actors vigorously rub creams and foams onto assorted tubular props to indicate the everyday life of oppressed sex workers on the continent.

No doubt this is steeped in artistic reference to the comedians in ancient Greek theatre marked out by their eye-catching appendages but here there is just too much jammed into the plot to dwell on it. For example, the historical oppression suffered by Estonia, Brits losing their moral compass when “abroad”, men who use women as objects, something about suitcases, lots of suitcases, and whether the walls of the set will survive kicking, punching, wall running and head stands. No wonder the first half lasts 110 minutes.

The second act is the Estonia-located conclusion to the story stumbled upon by a cop who is not alone in losing the plot. Is Mr Big from nothing-to-lose, ever-invaded and impregnated Estonia, or uber-organised, database efficient Germany?

The experiment, according to the programme, was to see what happens when you amalgamate three different theatre styles. Unfortunately the resulting experience overload by the time we do find out who dunnit, means it’s almost impossible to feel anything, let alone surprised.

Three Kingdoms runs until 19 May. 16+ only.



May 11, 2012