The Low Road – Royal Court Theatre, London – review by Carole Woddis.

Think of Tom Jones.  Then again, think of Lucy Prebble’s Enron and you’ll get an idea of Bruce Norris’ rollicking The Low Road.

Norris’s previous Clybourne Park and The Pain & the Itch have been one of the transatlantic success stories of Dominic Cooke’s tenure at the Royal Court – small scale but biting satires on middle class American values.

Cooke is now leaving for fresh pastures but for his final flourish The Low Road is very much in the 1970s mould of historical, picaresque epics, deeply ironic, very tongue in cheek but underlying it all a serious critique of free market capitalism, especially the American variety and its moral implications.

The Low Road couldn’t be more different to Clybourne Park and The Pain and the Itch, both set in modern USA.  Then again, Low Road, with its 18th century background, doesn’t shy away from contemporary parallels.  The beginning of the second half sees us in Davos, or somewhere very similar, at a world economic summit arguing the merits (and not) of the free market in the present climate with business and banking execs from the UK, Russia, India, Africa and a smirking American businessman.  He is the ancestor of a young man we have seen from birth as a baby left outside a brothel with a note attached purporting to be signed by one G. Washington, of Virginia.

From there, we follow Jim Trumpett’s adventures, a young man with a fierce eye to the future and an entrepreneurial spirit to match, encountering on the way slavery, the Puritan brethren, English colonialists and in a hallucinatory epilogue, a starship of bees predicting the end of mankind because `your lifespans are of such brief duration that the lessons of each generation are lost upon that which succeeds it.’

Norris has many laughs at the free market’s expense but his intent is clear.  `All profit is theft’, argues the daughter of the Puritan Elder who previously, disguised as a highwayman, has robbed Jim and John – a very funny scene – of all their worldly wealth, leaving Jim naked as the day as he was born.

For Jim, self interest is king and nothing should be allowed to stand in its way.  Taxation, he argues, is another form of theft.  `If you were to take the collective wealth of a citizenry and redistribute it to the poor and indolent they would surely squander it within the year.’

Cooke’s triumphant production almost hides Norris’ slight tendency to over-egg what is otherwise a hugely enjoyable dissection of our current economic woes with its Brechtian nudges and winks and wry commentary from narrator, Adam Smith (the wonderful Bill Patterson), the Scottish economist/philosopher whose The Wealth of Nations has influenced subsequent American generations with, some might argue, such arguably unsustainable consequences.

To May 11

Carole Woddis © April 1, 2013.