Common at The National Theatre review: This sweary stinker is neither big nor clever

 
Melissa York
Follow Melissa
Common
1.0

“If I were a man you’d call me a ‘rogue’,” says Mary, played gamely by Ann-Marie Duff. But as she’s a woman, she suggests we can call her something beginning with “c” and ending in “unt”. She goes on to offer a disclaimer, telling the audience that if they’re offended by her language then “fist fuck you all and everyone you love.”

There were scattered, childish titters among the audience, but for the large part, they remained stony-faced, a state of affairs that hadn’t improved two and a half hours later. National Theatre-goers are generally a hardy bunch, subjected to all sorts of avant-garde theatrics, but Common’s reliance on coarse language for every joke wears thin quickly. The c-bombs were even more jarring for being dropped from a great height, unceremoniously detonated in the midst of a poetic register constructed to emulate the convoluted semantics of 19th century dialogue.

The story follows Duff’s Mary, a country bumpkin done good in London returning to spirit her sort-of sister who she sort-of fancies away to Boston to start a new life. In the mean time, the villagers have gone all Wicker Man, dancing around menacingly in wheatsheaf headdresses wielding scythes, in protest against an obscure – and never adequately explained – piece of historical legislation that’ll see their land sectioned off for profit.

Then there’s a local lord and a pregnancy and a brief lesbian subplot and someone getting their entrails torn out. It’s a rambling bastard of a script that feels like it’ll never end – and the version I saw had been cut by half an hour. Preview audiences had to sit through three hours of lesbian Wicker Macbeth.

The cast threw what they had into it, and the staging is softly spooky, with red-tinged skies against a backdrop of shadowy spires. Ultimately though, all the enthusiasm and animatronic crows in the world wouldn’t redeem this pastoral nonsense.

Related articles