May 29, 2007

Alaska at the Royal Court

Alaska’s writer DC Moore is the latest shiny new talent to step off the much-esteemed Royal Court Young Writers production line, and it shows. His intriguing debut play is built on a series of sparkling dialogues that bristle with energy and wit, complemented by a subtly palpable sense of menace.

With these carefully polished bricks Moore constructs a slight but thought-provoking story of the murky racial politics of ordinary Britain, with the action largely taking place in the suitably mundane multiplex cinema in which most of his young characters work.

Fred Meller’s design effectively suggests this averager-than-average environment through fragments of miserable looking carpet and a stainless steel table that could have been pulled from any cinema or nightclub or student union in the country. Similarly Maria Aberg’s direction politely and effectively realises Moore’s interesting script, drawing a series of wonderful performances from her young cast. Particularly from Rafe Spall in the central part of Frank, a character whose zealous prejudices Moore uses to reach under the skin of his nondescript environment.

It is Spall’s explosive performance, all sullen, simple charm and concealed venom, that sets the audience on edge, forcing their attention onto the quiet inconsistencies and aching hypocrisies of our day-to-day attitudes to race and discrimination. Black face, absurd impressions and casual digs at gypos, spastics, women, black men and “pakis” all fly by at the same nonchalant pace. The audience is left constantly re-evaluating - is that offensive? Should it be? Moore also hints at, though never fully explores, further complications; whether class is used to explain or legitimise prejudice and whether sex can similarly influence our attitude to race.

Moore’s play is not about the sharp end of race problems in Britain; it is not about race riots or hate crimes. It’s set in St Albans. Yet it is in these softer, greyer places that the patchwork of prejudices that Moore’s play revels in can exist most comfortably. Yet Moore never falls back on lazy assumptions that these undercurrents lead inevitably to violence – his characters are deliberately almost all talk. The audience is left to decide for themselves what the connection is between what makes it to the news and these quiet scenes of mutual distrust and disdain.

Against such a muddled, messy Britain, the thought of Alaska, when it finally comes, seems a welcome escape to simplicity and purity (not of race, but of meaning and intention). But it is only a thought. The play remains firmly rooted in a more familiar and complicated landscape.

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