Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Internationalist, Gate Theatre

Review: The Internationalist, Gate Theatre

Published in The Stage, 14.04.2008

Transformed into an airport departure lounge, the Gate’s tiny foyer conjures anticipation of an exotic elsewhere.

Our destination, Anne Washburn’s unspecified Central European country, turns out to be grey and claustrophobic – strangely familiar yet truly foreign.

Not so fresh from a five-hour delay in Istanbul, Lowell (Elliot Cowan) touches down, all hollow sophistication, civilisation and cultural relativism. He soon falls into bed with colleague-to-be Sara (Jennifer Higham), before shattering her relationship fantasies on realising her to be the office clerk. Amid the missed connections and overbearing shelves of his new workplace, Lowell finds himself not so much lost in translation as adrift in it.

Washburn’s writing is best in the safe territory of miscommunication, losing its way with narrative pressures. While the fictional Slavic language becomes tiresome, the broken English and literal pronunciations of Lowell’s colleagues are frequently amusing.

Cowan and Higham give capable performances scattered with nice moments, while Gary Shelford and Madeliene Potter provide crucial energy and comic flair. Tom Scutt’s design and Ben Pacey’s lighting combine beautifully for a silhouetted filmic effect that neatly encapsulates the clash of Hollywood fantasy and dreary reality.

For Sara (and seemingly Washburn), “people are always more appealing when they’re unintelligible.” Sadly, the same is not always true of plays.

Photograph: Hugo Glendinning

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