Unreachable, Royal Court

Anthony Neilson didn’t come into Unreachable rehearsals with a script, but an idea – a director obsessed with finding the perfect light. From this starting point, the cast sculpted a modern satire of the film industry and the people that exist in that world. Over a six-week devising and rehearsal period, six actors worked with Neilson to create the play, a rarity in anything other than small-scale and student theatre. The end result is wickedly funny with on-point performances and, whilst the story isn’t anything remarkable, its execution makes for delicious relief from the chaos of modern Britain.

Maxim (Matt Smith) is Palme d’Or winning writer and director of Child of Ashes, currently filming in an unnamed location. He pushes the self-absorbed, whimsical artist stereotype to the limit with full-on strops, totally inappropriate comments and decisions that blow his producer’s budget. He is camp, temperamental and a fantastic physical comedian. His lead actor Natasha (Tamara Lawrence) is an unfeeling, blunt force of a sociopath who clashes with lead actor Ivan “The Brute” (a sidesplitting Jonjo O’Neill in ridiculous hair extensions). On his production team are the pragmatic producer Amanda Drew, frustrated DOP Richard Pyros, and deaf financial backer Genevieve Barr. Their grounded personalities create plenty of friction (literally, in some cases) by clashing with the flamboyant artists as the shoot goes over budget and over time. Some of the arguments are petty, others deserving, but all just as hilarious. Nielson mocks artists’ egos, but it’s not nasty – anyone working in the arts will have met at least a couple of these personalities in real life.

The comedy lies in the exaggerated characters and brilliant one-liners devised by Nielson and the cast. Even though the scenarios are fairly mundane and the story not particularly interesting in itself, it doesn’t matter one bit. There are some moments of poignancy and genuine intimacy, but Unreachable is really about the laughs. Even without familiarity with working in the arts, even the hardest, most cynical of hearts will find the outstanding performances hilarious. The scenes are often short and episodic, and half an hour could easily be trimmed, though the current two hours doesn’t feel overly long.

Chloe Lamford’s set is the reflectors, flight cases and lights of a film set until the final sequence, when she and lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan can pull out all stops in an impressive display of visual mastery. The only issue with this moment is the fox. Instead of a puppet or forgoing the image all together, an animal that should be in the wild or a sanctuary is paraded about on a lead. It’s a totally unnecessary and cruel device.

In these post-Brexit, unelected Torycore prime minister days where cracking a smile takes immense effort, Unreachable is welcome relief. Even though the play itself is nothing special, experiencing devised theatre in anything more than a tiny fringe venue that doesn’t go more than a couple of minutes without triggering a laugh is a welcome escape from real life.

Unreachable runs through 6 August.

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4 thoughts on “Unreachable, Royal Court

  1. Anthony Neilson says:

    I take animal welfare very seriously. The animal you refer to is domesticated – rescued and hand reared by its owners – and if it were returned to the wild now it would die within weeks. He is not at all stressed; nor is he “paraded about”. Sometimes you see him, sometimes you don’t. It’s completely up to him what he does: The lead trails free simply so his handlers can get a hold of him after the few seconds he is 9sometimes) on stage. If this is a cruel act then so is leaving your dog alone for ten minutes. You do not help the cause of animal welfare by making a fuss over nothing; it’s a self-serving act, calculated to make you look virtuous; nothing more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jo says:

      Anthony, I saw Unreachable last night and it was incredible. I loved the characters and the style of the piece as a whole.

      My one criticism is that regardless of whether you believe the fox was in safe hands, it did show obvious signs of stress. It remained far on the side of the stage and was hissing at whoever had just placed it there. As we were leaving, everyone around me was talking about how scared the fox looked and it left people feeling very uneasy, despite the enjoyment of the rest of the play.

      It is completely unnecessary and adds nothing to the scene itself. The play is brilliant without the use of animals so please do not include them in future! Thanks.


  2. Agreed re: the fox. You can’t domesticate a fox. More broadly, though, it’s as though everyone’s afraid to point out just how tedious and self-indulgent Unreachable is.

    When are we going to start seeing some London theatre reviews with truth and integrity, rather than courting the favour of PRs and directors?


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