DramaLondonReview

The Coral – Finborough Theatre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Writer: Georg Kaiser

Translater: BJ Kenworthy

Director: Emily Louizou

With a new Prime Minister cutting taxes and calling for “growth, growth, growth” the debate which sets accumulating wealth against achieving social justice can seldom have been more topical in our country. So, can a German play which denounces the evils of capitalism, written during World War I, make a useful contribution to modern day arguments? The short answer is “no”.

Georg Kaiser’s The Coral, seen here in an uninspiring translation by BJ Kenworthy, centres around an unnamed millionaire factory owner (Stuart Laing) who exploits his work force and shows no regard for their welfare. His secretary (Adam Woolley) is also his doppelgänger distinguishable by a small piece of coral which, known only to a security guard, he always wears. Getting round obvious casting problems, the secretary wears a bright red face mask, matching the shirts, ties and socks worn by both he and his boss.

The millionaire has two daughters (Esme Scarborough and Joanne Marie Mason), both of whom loathe their father’s greed and callousness, lecturing him on the error of his ways repeatedly. A murder takes place and two bungling detectives arrive (we know that they are detectives because both wear Columbo-style raincoats). Characters threaten to outnumber the audience and much doubling-up of roles is essential, not helping the play to achieve clarity. The aforementioned actors, along with Arielle Zilkha, work hard, but they fight a losing battle against the text.

Director Emily Louizou’s bleak production seems unable to make up its mind as to whether it wants to be a surrealist nightmare or an absurdist comedy and it misfires on both counts. Designer Ioana Curelea offers little by way of sets, but an eye-catching collection of costumes (not necessarily relating to any specific period) are the stars of the show.

No doubt Marxism was very fashionable when the play was first performed in 1918, but its theories have become tarnished by several decades of being put into practice, resulting in the play’s sentiments feeling naive and not relevant to modern society. Kaiser is merciless in attacking the beleaguered millionaire and those of us who are consigned to lives of relative poverty are made to feel grateful for our good fortune.

The play’s first act is almost unfathomable and the second act, packed with inept comedy and turgid philosophising, is far worse, leaving the audience entitled to question whether the evening would have been more entertaining if the actors had simply recited extracts from Das Kapital. The Coral has not been performed professionally in London for close on 100 years and, if this revival serves any purpose at all, it is to explain the precise reasons for that omission.

Runs until 29 October 2022

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