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The Pain and the Itch

Published Friday 22 June 2007 at 09:50 by Aleks Sierz

The first play to be directed by Dominic Cooke in his new role as artistic director of the Royal Court is an excellent choice: Bruce Norris’s social satire about a liberal American family is both a fiendishly clever story and a dangerously taboo-scratching account of intimate relationships. For Thanksgiving dinner, a married middle-class couple, Clay and Kelly, invite his brother, Cash, and the brothers’ mother, Carol. Cash also brings his new girlfriend, a Eurotrash youngster called Kalina, and at first things go well. Then, as Clay and Kelly’s daughter Kayla develops a mysterious itch and a rodent problem is discovered, a black farce explodes onto the stage. Norris’s play, which was first staged at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2005, has considerable satirical bite and is immensely satisfying in terms of its structure. What begins as a joke on liberal values, and the guilt involved in having material wealth, soon morphs into a dark tale of sexual and moral depravity. But, despite a fine set by Robert Innes Hopkins, Cooke’s production feels oddly lacklustre, and his cast only occasionally reach the comic heights that the piece demands. As Clay, Matthew Macfadyen is best when he lets rip, and exposes the wild beast beneath the moderate exterior. By contrast, Sara Stewart’s Kelly, Peter Sullivan’s Cash and Amanda Boxer’s Carol all seem rather too restrained. The real scene-stealers are Andrea Riseborough’s vivid, high-energy performance as Kalina and Shannon Kelly’s delightful debut as the infant Kayla. So although the production only comes alive in fitful spurts, there is enough disturbing content in Norris’s acerbic worldview to keep the mind occupied long after you leave the theatre.

Production information

Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, June 14-July 21

Bruce Norris
Dominic Cooke
Royal Court
Cast includes:
Amanda Boxer, Matthew Macfadyen and Andrea Riseborough
Running time:
2 hrs 10 mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014