Review – Now Or Later, Royal Court

Sunday 5 October 2008

Quick! Wheel out the Bagnold Barometer!

To be honest it’s in need of a bit of attention. We didn’t dream that we would be needing it again so soon hence it has been sitting neglected in Andrew’s attic between the exercise bike and the vegetable steamer and just in front of his last five (still wrapped) Christmas presents from Phil.

But now it’s needed.

Now or Later is written by the absurdly young (33) American playwright Christopher Shinn and to his eternal credit it is just 75 minutes long.

Squeezed into those 75 minutes are so many arguments, questions and paradoxes that a less audience-focused writer would have lazily explored them over something more like three or four hours.

It is election night in the USA and the son of the President-elect John Jr (Eddie Redmayne, Angel Clare in the BBC’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles) is performing his filial duty holed up in a hotel with his family and his father’s advisors as the results of the election come through.

John Jr is a college student with a highly developed sense of political right and wrong. A fierce advocate of freedom of speech and expression, he has clashed publicly on campus with students who consider any criticism of Muslim values to constitute a hate crime.

When pictures appear on the Internet of John Jr and his friend lampooning religious figures at a party his family and the party machine press him to allow them to issue an apology on his behalf. But John Jr is determined to stick to his guns.

At breakneck speed Shinn delivers a whistle-stop debate on an impressive range of moral issues including private life v. public consequences, pragmatism v. idealism, freedom v. responsibility, moral relativism v. absolutism. That sounds dry, but it isn’t at all.

Shinn cleverly makes both Johns broadly liberal, thus avoiding a clunky Democrat v. Republican debate but the most astonishing thing is Shinn’s ability to deliver conflicting ideas with equal weight.

For people such as the Whingers who are easily swayed the result is quite bewildering as they found themselves agreeing with whatever point of view had been most recently expressed.

And how timely: think Bristol Palin, pregnant at 17 The unmarried daughter of the moose-huntin’ vice presidential candidate (and Megan Mullally lookalike) Sarah Palin is apparently set to marry the father Levi Johnston (18). One wonders if Bristol was subjected to similar pressures in the interests of the Republican campaign.

But it’s not exclusively relevant to the other side of the Atlantic: it even features the line: “something stupid that starts on a blog”. How the Whingers could relate to that.

Director Dominic Cooke manages to combine an admirable pace with occasional moments of surprising emotion. Hildegard Bechtler‘s hotel room set is perfect (neither Whinger has ever stayed in a hotel room with a closet that big but we’ll assume that is more a reflection of our budgets than Ms Bechtler’s professionalism) and there is some sterling sound from Ian Dickinson.

And the whole thing backed up by a terrific ensemble of actors.

If there’s anything to whinge about, it’s the instantly forgettable title – Now or Later – which neither Whingers could remember, much less understand. Slim pickings indeed, whinge-wise.


We’ve just read this back and realise how utterly boring it is. Sorry. Blame Sue K for making us go to something outstandingly good. This was a rare Saturday night theatre outing for the Whingers who are of the general opinion that weekends are far too valuable to waste by going to the theatre. But if all theatre were this good, we would possibly be prepared to revisit our credo.

3 Responses to “Review – Now Or Later, Royal Court”

  1. she with he of Xanadu on stage seating Says:

    For dgs1 – see, I told you even the whingers would like it!

  2. The Hon. Mrs Bryan Guinness Says:

    Good grief. I’ve got tickets for this next week. Can’t believe the Whingers approve.

    Two more miracles like that and we can canonise Card. Newman.

  3. […] was referred to this by the WestEnd Whingers (really just the best theater blog out there if you’re looking for hot tips for shows to see, […]

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