Life & Culture

Radio review: The Christopher Boy’s 

The plot goes awry in this new play by David Mamet, says John Nathan


ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 18: David Mamet walks a red carpet during the 11th Rome Film Festival at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on October 18, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)


'My memory can be as clear or as erroneous as required,’ says Joan, the matriarch at the centre of David Mamet’s latest play. First seen during a try-out on stage in the US it now receives its UK premiere as an audio version.

Joan, impeccably played in Martin Jarvis’s production by Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pidgeon, will do anything for her son. Yet she is about as far from a Jewish mother as it is possible to imagine.

This is to say she is a Catholic whose teenage son is about to be tried for murdering a Jewish girl and mutilating her body.

Joan’s candid offer of malleable evidence is made to her lawyer Mr Stone (David Paymer) whose Jewishness is a savvy tactic in diminishing any thoughts the jury may have about antisemitic motives.

For in private Joan is steeped in such attitudes and, in private at least, has the integrity not to shroud her contempt for Jews in euphemism.

When Stone asks if she has met the victim, she replies, ‘She was a Jew and we do not live in that world.’

If Mamet can be accused of deploying tropes of religious rancour — and he can — he certainly defies expectation with his plot. Instinct tells us we are heading for a courtroom drama.

However, we are instead set on path to the supernatural.

This is the first Mamet play I have encountered since seeing Theatre Royal, Bath’s recent revival (during a brief window in the pandemic) of the master’s classic Oleanna and the second since his Harvey Weinstein debacle Bitter Wheat of 2019 which had the all the punch and wit that one would expect from Mamet, but unfortunately none of the rigour of a well-wrought play.

I had expected the anti-PC soul of Oleanna (about a female student who destroys the reputation of her male professor) to be obsolete in today’s post-MeToo world.

Instead I found a work that has lost none its shattering power. Thanks in part to Lucy Bailey’s production, and Rosie Sheehy’s unforgettable performance, which melded aggression and vulnerability, it proved that the 1992 classic can be recalibrated for the times in which it is staged.

Like the best of Mamet plays it was born out of the world in which we all live. The problem with The Christopher Boy’s Communion s that it seems to exist entirely in Mamet’s head.

The Catholic matriarch here has been likened to a modern Lady Macbeth. And granted, Joan certainly has murder in her heart, such is her compulsion to free her son.

But she also has slightly ridiculous tendencies, and sometimes she brought to my mind Morticia from The Addams Family, which was a little distracting.

Still, the characteristically staccato, pugilistic rhythms of Mamet’s dialogue make for a terrific audio piece.

And it works well as a riff on how vulnerable truth is to lies told with conviction.

But on a stage I suspect the play will generate no more than the disquiet of gothic horror, rather than ground shifting disturbance of his real world plays.


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