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The Cause review at Jermyn Street Theatre, London – ‘staid and conventional’

The cast of The cause at Jermyn Street Theatre, London. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge. The cast of The Cause at Jermyn Street Theatre, London. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge.
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Jeremy James’ conventional and quasi-historical drama offers an oblique look at the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the event which sparked the Great War.

In 1964 ailing artist Sandor Teleki – gruffly, gently played by Tony Wredden – is undergoing psychotherapy sessions. He recalls his youth in the coffee houses of Hungary where he and three other idealistic artists argued the toss about Cubism and plotted to kill the Archduke. What he didn’t know was that a secret military organisation called the Black Hand, despite gross ineptitude, would pull it off first.

James offers a meticulously researched insight into both ‘the cause’ of the Great War and ‘the causes’ for which men and women fight. But the play is awkwardly and unevenly weighted between its three storylines. Wredden remains onstage throughout with nothing to do, occasionally reacting to the action but often just remaining an inert presence.

The third storyline – the Black Hand’s inability to kill the Archduke – sits inconsistently next to the other two, playing more like farce than historical drama, though it highlights Mark Joseph’s excellent comic timing as Major Tankosic.

The Cause often feels more like a mildly entertaining history lesson than a play. The ‘how far will you go for your cause’ message sits brazenly on the surface, and the production – from its paint-splattered, canvas-covered design to the clunky debates about right and wrong – doesn’t offer much in the way of subtlety. Although served by a strong cast, it’s a staid and passionless piece of drama, unwilling to settle on a purpose and unable to find its own cause.

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Staid, conventional historical drama about the events that sparked World War One