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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

A good marriage depends on your ability to bring home the right brand of breakfast cereal
--- Jan
Hugh Bonneville as Jan
(Photo: Ivan Kyncl)
Cloaca is a play which was very popular in the Netherlands. Though translated into French, Spanish and German it remained undiscovered in the English speaking world until Kevin Spacey chose it to open his new management at the Old Vic.

Like Art, Cloaca is about men in middle life discussing what they have made of their lives and is very, very funny. It parallels many people's lives. After a full of hope for the future opening, the centre brings some doubts and it ends badly.

The four men who come together to compare notes on their exaggerated mid-life crisis. have known each other for a long time: Pieter (Stephen Tomkinson), a gay government servant, has some awkward questions to answer. Some years ago he "rescued" the paintings of a now "discovered" and expensive artist from a government repository. . . Jan (Hugh Bonneville), a successful politician hoping to be promoted to the Cabinet is a philanderer with a failing marriage and teenage children. . . Tom (Adrian Lukis) is a solicitor with mental health problems and a cocaine habit. . . Maarten (Neil Pearson), a theatre director who has the mid-life angst of finding himself impotent.

The situation takes place in Piet's warehouse conversion apartment which, judging by the shape of the gable at the top of the building, is probably in Amsterdam. The title comes from the Latin word for a sewer or a gutter which the quartet used as their ritual childhood greeting to each other, but it has a deeper significance than all except Tom realize.

Hugh Bonneville as Jan is the real star of the piece. His complaining about his wife and family gives him some of the funniest lines in the play. He displays the perfect blend of childlike petulance and self-centred unreasonableness and his delivery is impeccable as he sprawls on the sofa. Adrian Lukis as the hapless Tom does a professional job and his speech to Jan pointing out where Jan has failed his wife and family hits the spot and is maybe the point at which the play should have ended. I was not convinced by Piet's lacklustre character and didn't really care enough about Maarten to be interested in anything about him. His main function in the play seems to be to make Jan face up to his conduct with his girlfriends as these particular chicks come home to roost.

On Jan's birthday, a stripper is hired and the group perform one of the numbers from The Blues Brothers repertoire. This is wonderfully executed and I enjoyed watching these grown men parade in black suits, dark glasses and white socks with all the dance moves in place full of amateurish enjoyment. The stripper makes a long speech entirely in Russian so that we can only guess at the meaning. The set is fine though it looked very like the New York loft in The Mercy Seat the London production of which was also designed by Robert Jones.

I wish I could have left after just three-quarters of the play rather than being subjected to its unsatisfactory and mawkish ending. I turned to my companion after the interval and asked how Maria Goos was going to end this? Her choice proves to be deeply flawed and leaves every theatregoer on a low note even though Spacey may have already made some cuts so that the play is currently running twenty minutes less than originally billed.

Kevin Spacey has no public subsidy for the theatre company at The Old Vic. He has to stage commercial plays which can draw large audiences into the depths of Waterloo. Sir Peter Hall tried a few years ago with his fine repertory company at the Old Vic but lost his backers before his company could break even. Running the Old Vic will be a steep learning curve but I hope to see the combination of Spacey directing and Bonneville acting again soon.

Written by Maria Goos
Directed by Kevin Spacey

Starring: Hugh Bonneville
With: Adrian Lukis, Neil Pearson, Stephen Tomkinson, Ingeborga Dapkunaite
Designer: Robert Jones
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6628
Booking to 11th December 2004
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th October 2004 performance at the Old Vic Waterloo Road London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
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