Tuesday, June 9, 2015

'The Legacy' at The Hope Theatre, 8th June 2015

The Legacy is a bad play. This is, I think, inarguable. From the dull staging to the half-arsed characterisation to the crummy dialogue it stinks pretty bad. Worse, it's one of those bad plays created with good intentions; namely exploring misogyny, gender stereotypes and class conflict. Problem is, it goes about communicating that in the most boneheaded of ways.

Set within a solicitors office, we follow three characters awaiting the reading of their father's will. We first meet Adam and Rebecca Booth (Jim Mannering and Lucinda Westcar). Painted as the epitome of aspirational middle England (he works in the City, she makes hummus), the Harpenden-based duo are a pretty gruesome twosome. Adam constantly objectifies and infantilises his wife, giving her cute nicknames and explaining to her her likes and dislikes. Rebecca bears this with bovine stoicism, apparently having  convinced herself that these are the slings and arrows she must suffer in order to maintain her materialist lifestyle.

But hello! Who's this? Why, it's Esther (Claira Watson Parr), crusading feminist art-protester and newspaper columnist fresh off the mean streets of New York City! Having left the UK following a storm of media protest over a radical piece of performance art (not that this really makes a lick of sense but hey ho). Now, after 12 years, she's back. So what happens when this switched on feminist agitator rubs up against regressive conservatism?

Well, to be honest, not much. Esther and Adam are quickly defined as polar opposites. She's liberal, progressive, socially conscious and empathetic, devoting her life to challenging gender norms and battling misogyny. He's Conservative to the marrow of his bones: reactionary, money obsessed and brayingly sexist. This leaves Rebecca as the battleground to fight over; Adam tugging her towards a traditionally wifely 'shut up and look pretty darling' role and Esther urging her to stand up for herself. This process is marked by dramatic revelations - each more shocking and unexpected than the last.

Now, I've got to be fair. There is one aspect of this play that deserves straightforward praise, and I'd be remiss not to mention it. It's just an hour long. This refreshing brevity functions as a lifeline - it quickly becomes apparent that the play is bad - but you can at least take solace in the fact that at least your suffering will be mercifully brief.

The Legacy's fundamental problems are baked into its script: to say these characters are two-dimensional is an insult to dimensions. They should be normal people working through a difficult emotional situation, instead they're flimsy scarecrows written with the sole purpose of having ideology projected upon them. 

The most extreme example is Adam, in whom patriarchy is concentrated way beyond believability. I have no doubt that there are people who share his viewpoints, but he's caricatured so far that he ends up as more punching bag than person. This are compounded by the similarly implausible Esther. It is not exactly difficult to get me to root for an outspoken women's rights campaigner, yet Esther's Christlike goodness, wholesome charity and tendency to spout statistics quickly rankle. 

That this dynamic feminist is so annoying throws up two possibilities. The first is simply that Esther is poorly written. If we're supposed to be rooting for her the character fails, the end product eerily similar to right-wing fantasies of forthright feminist demagoguery. The second, (more troubling) possibility is that Adam's misogyny and Esther's feminism are being equated as two sides of the same coin - each at fault for trying to define Rebecca according to their politics. This South Park-ish 'maybe the truth is in the middle' argument is straight up intellectually dishonest bullshit. Whatever it is the core problem remains - you don't give a toss about these people.

I should point out that the cast are largely blameless. There isn't an actor alive that could rescue this, but these three do their best, nobly suffering through the overly melodramatic reveals and tin-eared dialogue like the professionals they are. 

That's about all I've got to say about The Legacy. I could go on, but frankly this isn't even fun to criticise. It's just a bog standard bad play without even the decency to be particularly interesting in its badness. At least it's short. 

Thank god it's short.


The Legacy is at The Hope Theatre until 13th June. Tickets here.

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