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Grimly Handsome review at Royal Court, London – ‘playfully philosophical’

Alex Beckett and Amaka Okafor in Grimly Handsome at Royal Court, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Alex Beckett and Amaka Okafor in Grimly Handsome at Royal Court, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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What to make of this? Julia Jarcho’s Obie award-winning 2013 three-hander  here making its UK premiere in a lightly immersive staging created by Chloe Lamford and Sam Pritchard – is billed as a darkly comic thriller, but that’s a bit misleading. A darkly comic, playfully philosophical perplexer is closer to the mark.

It’s bitter winter in New York City. Two Eastern European men sell Christmas trees in an empty lot, plotting violence and murder. Two hardened homicide detectives search for the notorious Christmas Ripper. Three red pandas squabble over the bones of a human carcass.

Once you get all these pieces in the right place, Jarcho’s gnomic curiosity starts to make sense. These three interlinked episodes, proceeding one after another, are just different versions of the same story. The same characters, the same actors, the same emotions, the same suspicions, echoed across a city.

Lamford and Pritchard’s production – located in the Site, the Royal Court’s new found space out back – plays out partly in a disused storeroom, partly through the space’s frosty windows, and partly via video links to richly decorated, clue-laden surrounding rooms, which you can explore yourself pre-show.

There’s a hint of film noir fun to proceedings, and several nods to screwball Coen Brothers comedy too. The whole thing is helped along its way by a game, multi-roling cast, emerging as an off-beat ode to the coincidental complexity of city life. It’s baffling. It’s borderline barmy. But it’s also kind of brilliant.

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A gently immersive staging of Julia Jarcho's baffling but brilliant three-hander