Autobahn ****1/2

Theatre Jezebel’s inaugural production makes for great theatre.  It’s well directed, acted and designed.  It also marks the play’s European premiere.  All of this is exciting stuff.

Written by Neil LaBute originally as a fund raiser for a New York theatre, the play is a collection of scenes that have no connection save one fact: they all take place in the front seat of cars.  About any conversation that can be had in a car is onstage here, all to a variety of degree and pathos; some are rather touching, but most are very wickedly funny.

Each scene is between a man and a woman.  However, rather than turning this into a major two-hander, each scene is played by different actors.  This choice (though perhaps expensive) actually allows one to better appreciate how different each scene is in construct, and it means that no actor commands the entire evening.  Every performer, from those with large parts to those who just listen, is given a moment to shine.

Many have accused LaBute of misogyny, and one’s viewing of this play may allow them to see why.  True, most of the female characters are perhaps nasty pieces of work (though in all fairness most of the male roles aren’t any better in morals), but from an acting point of view the female actors certainly have far better material to work with.  LaBute has practically handed large gift-wrapped possibilities to the women, almost giving them carte blanche and permission to do what they want.  Half of the men, however, have to just sit there and ‘take it’.  However, the fact that all twelve actors ‘go for it’ with full gusto makes for one of the best ensemble performances of the year.

I also have to congratulate directors Mary McCluskey and Kenny Miller for the handling of this production.  Both have managed to strip this production down to its core elements and have escaped the staging traps that most plays set in cars fall into.  They allow their cast to shine, focusing more on using LaBute’s dialogue for action rather than any unnecessary theatrical ‘business’ to punch things up.  Miller’s design is also exquisite.  Who knew that candles and toy cars would make such a great freeway?

It’s a shame that this only performed for a week.  With its edgy script, solid direction and almost masterclass approach to performance, Autobahn proved to be theatre at its best.

Run complete

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