"High tension viciously dark comedy-drama"
by Rachel Knightley for remotegoat on 07/05/16

The Old Red Lion Theatre’s production of The Local Stigmatic marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh’s production and its transfer to the Royal Court. The shock has lost none of its force and this is partly because, unlike much that would follow, there are no shortcuts of swearing or obviously-worded threats. Instead, its astoundingly high charge comes from the fact that the language is entirely character-driven, giving a sense of relationship, place and high stakes despite this being a slice of life in which nothing really changes – yet manages to be all the more sinister and compulsive for it.

This was a well-attuned company of actors and a night without a weak link, merging comedy and darkness with unapologetic force. Almost filmic in the perfection achieved in the timing, wordless scenes and moments are choreographed to a soundtrack of sixties pop, much of it innocent and loving, building the tensest and most violent moments. The greatest treat is Graham’s humourless, coked-up focus and monotone, from the silence of the dog track that opens to play through moments of comparative calm to the regular explosions through which he moves with elegance and truth.

The play remains timely thanks to, among other things, our celebrity-obsessed culture. Graham and Ray have nothing to do but bet on the dog track, bicker, debate – with no power to change anything – and read the gossip columns. Their flat is articulately portrayed with a collage of celebrities on a corner of the corner wall (the With The Beatles cover on the back of the door is used for dart practice), a single mirror and an armchair; the space conveys both the claustrophobia of their home and lack of escape from their own lives but also, using the table and chairs on the other side of the space, the enormity of the outside world that is right there in London but inaccessible from a position of poverty. The contrast of Graham and Ray’s lack of trajectory with David, the actor they befriend and victimize, combines with Ray’s need to be led by Graham and excitement at being ordered into violence to show the only kind of power available to feel is the power of cruelty over someone else.

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