REVIEW: Turandot/ The Whitewashers’ Congress, Hampstead Theatre

PUBLISHED: 14:47 24 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:24 07 September 2010

Two star rating Brecht never completed Turandot, his last play, a political comedy. But now Edward Kemp has translated the text and bridged the gaps to create this British premiere, some 50 years after the German playwright s death. An admirable feat a

Two star rating

Brecht never completed Turandot, his last play, a political comedy. But now Edward Kemp has translated the text and bridged the gaps to create this British premiere, some 50 years after the German playwright's death.

An admirable feat and an exciting prospect, then.

Sadly, slapstick humour and Christmas cracker-style jokes have turned this production into a confusing pantomime. It's a pity when the cast can only be praised for their energy and engaging performances.

The premise of the play - the use and abuse of intellect by those in power and those with an eye on their own advancement - still resonates today.

These themes are explored in an Oriental setting.

The emperor of China is facing bankruptcy due to the falling price of cotton.

To remedy the problem, he is advised to create a shortage by hiding large quantities of the commodity in his warehouses.

While this boosts the royal coffers, it creates even greater hardship for the already downtrodden masses.

The emperor, fabulously played by Gerard Murphy, resumes his life of indulgence while all around him there is increasing unrest from his poverty-stricken subjects.

As they rise up against him, the emperor's answer is not benevolence but to command his spin doctors to come up with a suitable line to explain away the cotton's disappearance.

Empty, uninspiring speeches follow that are as worthy of your attention as those presented by many of today's political white-washers, paid to churn out soothing words in the wake of a public enquiry.

There are some moving moments in Anthony Clarke's production but they are few and far between.

Despite the valiant efforts of the well-cast actors, Turandot is largely unsatisfying and at times the script is just plain tedious.

Until October 4.

Jo Cooke

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