AGAINST is a new play by Christopher Shinn, directed by Ian Rickson and featuring Ben Whishaw currently at the Almeida theatre in Islington. A great combination of one of our finest actors, directors and playwrights of today, but something has gone missing.
Luke, played by Whishaw, is a Silicon Valley Ellon Musk billionaire to whom God has spoken to and has made the request to go where violence exploded. As the play is located in the States; a busy journey presents itself ahead. Whishaw brilliantly manoeuvres the ups and downs of being a celebrity genius, a human being and what society expects from a superhuman. He is incredibly strong and fragile, tender and, at some occasions, ruthless and manipulative. For someone who performed next to icons such as Charlotte Rampling and Jim Broadbent in the BBC drama London Spy with such easiness, the stakes were high and I was no disappointed.
Next to him, Sheila, played by Amanda Hale, as his PA/Communications Manager and part-time lover, brings the protective and pragmatic character. Sheila follows Luke with passion and the duet exchanges brings some of the best lines. On the other hand, the canteen love story is simply irrelevant.
Against attempts to respond to the philosophical question of what makes a human being resort to gratuitous unprovoked violence that usually ends in killings. Luke, as mentioned previously asked by God, starts a tour in campuses, high schools, and any other spaces where violence, of all sorts, has taken place. Debates open up involving more people in activism and good causes. The definition of violence, and therefore the inclusion or exclusion of victims, becomes a controversial issue in itself. Everybody seems to have a clear idea what they expect from Luke and the me-me-me society seems to start taking over developing the play in unforeseen ways.
Excellent cast, perhaps Fehinti Balogun deserves special mention. His acting perfectly blends in into the narrative as a drop of water in an ocean. But terrible lighting. Almeida Theatre like many other institutions aims to improve their green credentials, however, a play is as a narrative as a visual experience and lighting is key to produce that. They even managed to make Whishaw look unattractive on some occasions!
Having said that, I still recommend watching the play for its courage and relevance to the times we are living now.
For more information, please visit their website on www.almeida.co.uk