Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: 'Anomaly' at the Old Red Lion, 10th January 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

I imagine that having a celebrity in your family is as much a curse as a blessing. Sure, there's someone with a bit of clout to bail you out if things get really bad and probably a couple of neat parties you get to attend, but at the same time your identity is forever in someone else's shadow and your family name is in their hands. 

This is the territory covered by Liv Warden's Anomaly. Taking cues from the #MeToo revelations (and particularly the case of Harvey Weinstein), the play covers the problems of high-profile Preston family. Weinsteinian film producer and entertainment mogul Phillip Preston created 'Preston International' in the 1980s, which has risen to Oscar-winning dominance. Along the way, he fathered three daughters: business heir Piper (Natasha Cowley); A-list actor Penny (Katherine Samuelson); and the reclusive Polly (Alice Handoll) (who begins the show in rehab).

Their lives are thrown into chaos after their father is been arrested for violently attacking their mother, following which a surge of revelations about his predatory treatment of women explode into the media. The three women are torn between loyalty to their family and their own individual reputations - not to mention the growing suspicion that to some degree they were complicit in his actions.

I've always had a fascination for how people deal with their loved ones being suddenly revealed as monsters. How must it feel to be, say, the family of Kevin Spacey? For decades he's been the golden boy and his family and close friends would have basked in his shared glory. When that limelight curdles, what on earth do you do?

Anomaly makes an attempt to answer this. Various reactions include a call for family unity and a warning on making judgments before the facts are clear, a violent separation from the family via publicly disowning them and a PR led hedging of bets - trying miserably to take no position at all. On top of that Piper and Penny have careers of their own to consider and must quickly decide how this is going to affect them - if they cut and run and their father survives this it's going to make for some awkward family get-togethers.

Anomaly is at its best when picking at this knotty situation. Unfortunately, there's a whole bunch of structural flaws that prevent it being half the play it could be. First and foremost there's the very strange decision to geographically separate the characters from one another and have them interact solely by phone. It means the drama stays cold-blooded and that we never see the conflicts between the characters boil over into catharsis. It also affects the performances, denying the actors the chance to feed off each other's emotions and results in what feels like a series of stitched together monologues rather than dialogues.

Along the same lines, it's a little confusing as to what's going on with the voice-over dialogue from various media presences - who seem to have supernatural powers of insight as to what's going on. I'm all for a bit of surreal blurring of reality, but in a play that's already far from straightforward them being perpetually undefined. Plus, the play's treatment of media is just a bit off, with lines that refer to the characters being together on "international radio" sounding weirdly archaic.

Then there's the theoretically simple plot becoming bogged down with needless twists. As it transpires, Philip Preston isn't just a predatory misogynist, he's an increasing number of other awful things as well. Throwing out melodramatic revelations towards the end of the play just felt like empty drama and added nothing to the core ideas about the ripples created by a #MeToo scandal.

Anomaly is striding across some incredibly fertile dramatic land, but somewhere along the line a number of bad decisions were made about how the piece should be structured and the finished product simply doesn't engage.

Anomaly is at the Old Red Lion until 2nd February. Tickets here.

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