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Those of us given to complaining about the lack of good new political plays, and the lack of plays that are not predictably left-wing, will now have to stop, if only for a while. The Royal Court, home to everything that is bien-pensant and right-on, has, rather surprisingly, given a world première to a new political play - Christopher Shinn's Now or Later - which is unusually independent in spirit. To many theatre-goers it must seem far from predictably left-wing, and possibly rather predictably right-wing. It is also very good, with a central performance by Eddie Redmayne that is absolutely exceptional. One should see the play for that alone; without him it might not have been so convincing.

Now or Later is set on the eve of victory of an American Democratic presidential candidate. It's confined physically to the hotel room of his gay son John (Eddie Redmayne), who is a student at an Ivy League university, and to a set that is about as minimal as a cheap TV studio drama. That is what the playwright wanted; he recommended in the text of the play "a Spartan design in all areas", and he certainly got it. Perhaps that's just as well, as the play is verbally very demanding; designerish flourishes might have been distracting.

The central question of the drama is whether John can be persuaded, against his judgment and feelings, to apologise for a recent prank at a campus "naked party". Behind the prank lies his disgust at what he sees as the decadence around him - college rich kids who attack everything American, yet refuse to criticise other cultures, who tearfully sympathise with oppression of Muslims in the form of some cartoon on campus and refuse to defend freedom of speech; most absurdly with college feminists who are silent about the oppression of women by Muslims but actually go to a free-for-all orgy. So John goes as well, to stage a drunken little protest; he arrives wearing a turban and a T-shirt marked Muhammad, with his friend Matt dressed as a fundamentalist Christian evangelical. As a gay man, John has particular reason to hate radical Islam for its homophobia and its repression of human rights. Someone has posted a few blurry photos of this on the internet but John feels they cannot matter much.

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November 8th, 2008
4:11 PM
Wow! Unfortunately, I don't think those of us living in continental Europe will ever have to chance to see the play.

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