Royal Court Upstairs, runs until June 23. Director: Maria Aberg. Cast includes Rafe Spall, Fiona Wade, Thomas Morrison, Christine Bottomley
Alaska, the debut play by the young playwright DC Moore, closes tonight at the Royal Court Upstairs. It deals with the mechanisms of power, race and sex within the young staff of a blockbuster cinema. Frank is an university drop-out who justifies his blatant racism through his interpretation of the bible. His colleague Emma, who gives him a “sympathy fuck” explains his behaviour with his hard upbringing and the fact that he lost his father in the Falkland War. The young Chris adores him and plays Dictators Top Trumps with him in their break. When the young Pakistani Mamta joins the staff, the heady mix is set to explode but not necessarily in a way that you expect. At first, it seems as if the plot will follow My Beautiful Laundrette where the racist falls in love with the Asian and the wound of the world is healed. There is a brief moment in Alaska where this seems to be also possible. Mamta declares her love to Frank and takes his hand. For the fraction of a second, Frank seems to be confused what to do next, embarassed by her gentleness and closeness. “What you doing?”? he asks, smiling. But instead of kisses and salvation, he decides to withdraw his hand, “I don’t need you. Touching me”, and lunges into a full blown attack on Mamta who is bound to become his supervisor. Later in the play, he will chillingly fantasise of beating her up, crucifying and finally raping her dead body. But this is much later in the play, when her brother has reduced his face to pulp…. The play is especially strong in describing how sexual and social rejection leads to aggression, not only in the case of Frank but also Mamta who comes crushing down on both Frank and Emma in the end. However, the final revelation that Frank’s father is still alive and that he is in fact a posh kid feels like a major let down. I had the impression that DC Moore didn’t want us to feel too sorry for Frank in the last scene – lonely, unemployment and beaten up – so he invented this final twist which makes Frank’s character rather inconsistent.
Still, this is a remarkable debut for a playwright who is under 25 and a remarkable performance by Rafe Spall who plays Frank. From the moment he enters the stage he is electrifying, capturing the aggression and vulnerability of his character on the dot. His enormous sexual charisma reminded me of Marlon Brando’s performance in A Streetcar named Desire. Aggressive and alluring, he is a character you love to hate. Fiona Spade is weaker as Mamta, only coming into her own in her final confrontation with Frank, shouting that “Emma was genuinely mad for letting you and your tiny white cock anywhere near her.” Christine Bottomley as Emma and especially Thomas Morrison as the besotted Chris give solid supporting performances. The director Maria Aberg chose to overlay the different scenes in the tiny space of the Royal Court Upstairs which works very effectively, especially when Emma and Mamta discuss Frank in the penultimate scene who already lies bruised and battered in the background for the next scene.