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Review: The River

Royal Court Upstairs, London SW1

    How do you follow the expansive, all-conquering Jerusalem, one of the finest plays of the modern era?

    Jez Butterworth and his long-time collaborator, director Ian Rickson, do it with a claustrophobic exploration of true love that suggests the emotions that come after experiencing the real thing are a kind of deceit.

    Set in the cosy rural cabin belonging to Butterworth’s nameless, damaged hero — played with understated charisma by a grizzled Dominic West — this enthralling 75-minute play keeps us guessing as to whether his heart has been won by either of his two lovers.

    Butterworth is the playwright who revealed the dark, primeval heartbeat of the English countryside.

    In The River, there are lyrical meditations on the landscape and fishing — though none more lyrical than a Ted Hughes poem.

    But while the drama intrigues, The River is much shallower than the playwright’s previous offerings.

    Its rather narcissistic concern is the range of emotions experienced by men. The women are not much more than cyphers.

    They are played by Laura Donnelly and Miranda Raison, both of them fine actors.

    Though as they took their curtain calls, I could not help wondering if each night they rather resent playing the baubles in a bloke’s play about the male psyche. (www.royalcourttheatre.com)

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